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Guiding Your Child Through The Adolescent Years
Middle Adolescence Features
Understand your teen's desire for tattoos and piercings.
InteliHealth Medical Content
Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School


You need not look very long or hard before seeing someone with a tattoo and/or a body piercing. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that your teen, who is fast becoming an adult and may want to experiment with new things as he does so, also may be interested in having one of these. It is important that you know all the facts, so you can give the best advice to your teen.

Although some people may think tattoos and body piercings go along with being gang members, prisoners or rebellious teen-agers, this is not true. In reality, people from all walks of life decorate their bodies in these ways for different reasons. For example, tattoos and piercings can be used to make a personal statement, allow a teen to be like his peers or simply be a form of art. Be sure to talk with your adolescent about why he wants to get this done. He should be doing it for the right reasons, not because someone is pressuring him into it.

When talking with your teen, make sure he has thought everything through carefully, including all the risks involved, and takes his time making a decision. There are possible side effects to having any procedure done to our bodies and these procedures are for the most part permanent. If later in life he is not happy with his decision and wants a tattoo removed, it can be difficult (sometimes impossible) and very painful. Removal can be costly, too, as it may require many laser treatments for which most insurance companies will not pay. Remind your teen that what he thinks is "cool" at age 16 may not be cool when he is 35.

It is most important to remember that just because your teen is interested in getting a tattoo or body piercing, this does not mean that he will turn into a "bad kid." If the final decision is to have the procedure done, explain to your teen that it is critical that he choose a reputable tattoo or piercing studio, because his health may be in danger if he does not. Most reputable studios require individuals to be 18 years old before they will do a tattoo or body piercing. Let your teen know that if a studio will give them a tattoo without parental permission, then it is probably not a safe place and they should not do business there. Encourage your teen to talk with others who have been tattooed or pierced to see how their experience was and to get recommendations about where it is safest to get it done.

Your teen should check out several studios before selecting one for himself, and he should spend time watching the artist place a tattoo or do a piercing on someone else. The artist should use disposable gloves and disposable or properly sterilized needles before each procedure. The body site for either tattooing or piercing should be thoroughly cleaned with a germ-killing solution (antimicrobial). The studio should also supply appropriate "after care" instructions so that your teen will know how to care for the site to best prevent infection.

Both tattooing and body piercing can have side effects. You can decrease this risk by choosing a reputable place as mentioned above. However, your teen needs to understand all the risks involved. These include:

  • Pain. The procedures can be painful and topical numbing medications are not routinely used.
  • Infection. Tattoos and body piercing can result in all types of infections. Painful skin infections (and sometimes blood infections) can occur if the tattoo or piercing is not done under sterile conditions or if the site is not properly cared for afterward. Even more dangerous is the possibility that the procedure may cause the spread of one of several viruses that can result in serious whole-body infections, including hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS). Because these viruses can be spread from a dirty needle, it is important that your teen choose a place that uses proper sterile technique and sterile needles.
  • Allergic reaction. Anyone may develop allergic reactions to either tattoo dye or body-piercing jewelry. To reduce this risk, it is recommended to use jewelry made of surgical stainless steel, 14K gold, niobium or titanium.

If your teen does get a tattoo or piercing, it is very important that he follows the "after care" instructions. These instructions vary depending on the type of tattoo or the part of the body pierced. In general, the site should be kept clean and dry. Covering outer-body piercing sites with an antibiotic ointment helps with the healing process, which can take up to several months, depending on the location. Your teen must watch the site carefully for any signs of infection, including redness, pus, tenderness or fever. If any of these signs develops, he should contact a physician right away.

Body piercing and tattoos are popular among adolescents. Although most do not cause health problems, some can lead to problems. It is most important that your teen know all the facts and has thoroughly discussed all the risks involved, so he can make an informed decision.

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side effects,viruses
Last updated August 06, 2014

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