CNN has run a good article about a debate that I KNOW is going on in countless households as the tattoos become more mainstream and accepted. Teenagers will see their favorite athletic, singer, or actor sporting their latest piece of body art and they will want to run right out get one, too. Or, they may have friends who already have ink and are cajoling them into getting it, too. In most of those situations, there is a parent standing there with their iron boot firmly planted against that happening. ‘Fun’ family arguments ensue.
This article is not about whether or not someone should EVER have a tattoo. Instead, the main question is “when is it ok to get a tattoo?”. It is true that modern tattoos and tattoo culture have been around for generations, and a variety of ethnic tattoos go back centuries. However, the current mainstream explosion of tattoos is a far more recent development, dating back to the mid to late 1990’s. The drawback with the increased acceptance is that previous barriers to getting inked (family disapproval, hindrance of job prospects, and social unacceptability) are not as strong anymore. So, as a result, not as much time or thought is put into the decision to get one. However, they are no less permanent.
So, is there an age when it is appropriate to get that first tattoo? That’s really hard to say? However, I stand firmly in my belief that no one under 18 should get them. Being able to decide on something to permanently etch on your body is not something most are ready for at that young age. 18 as an age of majority exists because, no matter how mature someone may be, they still aren’t prepared to make certain life-defining decisions. Honestly, there are people who are 40 years old who are ready for those decisions.
In the rush to get inked, that subconscious knowledge that you’re getting this for life gets lost. Expensive and painful mistakes are made (which has led to a removal industry that is almost as strong as the tattoo industry). Many college freshman, who are at least 18, find this out after giving into that impulse in their first semester.
The key message is that tattoos are a very big and important decision to make. That’s why education and discussion should go into the topic of tattoos. Understanding that whatever tattoo you get, regardless of what your intention was, will be a reflection of you and a statement on what matters to you. Parents know that their children will eventually get one with or without their approval. It’s better that when they are armed with the best knowledge possible when making that choice. Regardless, parents must still be parents and draw the line on what is acceptable at a young age.
I firmly believe that it is my age group (I am currently 35) that will be last one that still remains very polarized about tattoos. However, the constructive discussions have started among us and worked. Education is starting to spread. Over time, I believe most will make those decisions based on what is right for them and not any other reason.