Dr. Henry Paul, MD

Psychiatrist, Author and Educator


February 18th, 2015

“In the last 10 years, we’ve seen more and more teenagers getting tattoos and getting larger tattoos,” said Patrick Dean, owner of the Tattooville Tattoo Parlor in Neptune, N.J. to ABC’s Good Morning America in 2010.

Tattoos– those permanent ink sketchings are now mainstream, and teenagers want them. Celebrities, big-name athletes and musicians are sporting more and more “tats” and teenagers are taking notice.

2126311_sWith some teens, wanting a tattoo may be a personal choice but for others peer pressure is a factor. In 2010, a Pew Research study found that nearly 40% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 had a tattoo. An interesting trend in this study was that parents were increasingly supportive of their teenagers getting tattoos. So what do you do when your teenager comes to you and asks to get a tattoo?

First, parents need to have a frank discussion with their teenager about tattoos. Things to think about and discuss includes the risk of infection, the physical dangers, permanence of tattoos, how a tattoo might affect a job down the road and more.

What to Do

  • If your teenager is considering getting a tattoo, or has already gone out and done it – let this be an invitation to open a dialogue. First of all, give your teen the facts about the dangers and possible permanence of body markings. While you should be alert to possible deeper meanings or turmoil in the teen that tattoos may represent; talk to your teen about them. There is no need to overreact, especially if they are considering a small tattoo. You may want to suggest a temporary tattoo, which will give the same effect but be removable.
  • If you and your teenager come to an agreement about getting a tattoo you need to take some precautions.
    1. Make sure the tattoo place is clean, and that gloves and disinfectants are used. Make sure any pigments, trays or containers are new and unused and the needle and tubes should be taken from sealed packages before the procedure begins.
    2. Sterilization of equipment is most important. The tattoo artist you choose needs to use a heat sterilization machine (autoclave) to sterilize all non-disposable equipment between customers. Those things that can’t be heat sterilized — including drawer handles, tables and sinks — need to be disinfected with a commercial disinfectant or bleach solution after each use.
    3. Know that most tattoo parlors are not regulated by state or local regulations, so it is up to you to do the homework. In some states like New York it is illegal to tattoo a minor even with the parent’s consent. For information on regulations in your area, contact your county of city health department.
    4. Watch for an allergic reaction. The dyes used can cause irritation including redness and itching at the site.
    5. Tattoos generally heal in one to three weeks but be careful to watch for infection. If you suspect infection contact your doctor.
  • Communicate with your child before, during and after they get their tattoo. Threats are not the answer; calm and informed discussion is. Use this as an opportunity to increase communication with your teenager.

Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.

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