Wise Words to the Pre-Tattooed Teen

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Our 21 year old took a summer job in a tattoo shop. It seemed perfect at the time because he was an alternative, artistic kind of a guy. That was until the night when “Oh hell, he came home with a ring of black and red bats tattooed around his neck.”

Guess what tattoo artists do when they’re bored and out of customers? Try new designs out on each other. After the open-mouthed shock wore off, my second thought was, “He’ll never land a job again.” Fortunately that last thought didn’t come true and he’s gainfully employed in an art design shop, working behind a computer and not up at the front desk waiting on customers, but what do people my age r-e-a-l-l-y think about kids with tattoos?

A 2005 study entitled “Body Adornment: a comparison of the attitudes of businesspeople and students in three states” published in The Academy of Educational Leadership Journal, indicated a “generation gap” in perceptions about the presence of tattoos or piercings. ““Business people … averaged 51.71 years of age compared to students with an average age of 19.88, a more than 30 year difference in all three states were more likely to have a negative attitude toward body piercings by over 25 percent with 67.25 percent expressing negative attitudes toward most body adornment compared to 41.28 percent of students. Californians were significantly less negative than the business people in either Ohio or Arkansas by 18.99 percent. All business people had a negative attitude toward body adornment.”

It may not be the actual tattoo that caused angst for business owners, unless it was a symbol commonly associated with anti-social groups. According to this study, the perception of the use of drugs or alcohol use, tied with the tattoo caused the business owner to scrutinize the job candidate wearing a tattoo a little bit more than a candidate without a visible tattoo. I added that qualifier because 72 percent of students in a 2010 Pew Research survey say their tattoos are hidden by clothing.

Since young adults have body piercings six times the rate of other generations, including belly buttons rings, large gauge earrings and even nipple tattoos, this may be a factor in increasing unemployment rates in this large group of young people. The reasons why our kids are getting tattooed at a rate higher than any generation before may be less about rebellion than an expression of individuality. According to an article in the Dermatology Nursing,“ …collective behaviorists regard fads as examples of relatively short-lived behavior which is usually associated with objects (hula hoops), ideas (‘Red scare’) behavior (streaking), or people (Elvis). Fashion trends are often much more enduring and tattooing is more a fashion statement than a fad.”

If you want to guide your young adult into making a wise decision so that they don’t end up with a tattoo of Mickey Mouse on their buttocks, it’d be helpful as a parent to understand what drives them to get a tattoo in the first place. The 2010 Pew Research report stated that “…approximately 38 percent of all adults born between 1981 and 1991 have tattoos, and about 23 percent have piercings other than an earlobe.” This is something that’s becoming the norm as I look around at the students on the college campus where I work. Even the military, which seems like a restrictive environment reports that 37 percent of recruits are tattooed usually between the ages of 15 and 21 years.

According to a study by a group of nursing professors from Texas Tech University, “Of those who were tattooed, over half (56 percent) had obtained them while in college, usually as a lower classman… Most (78 percent) still liked their tattoo and 65 percent would do the tattooing again.” Most of the respondents in this study completing the Armstrong Tattoo Attitude Survey (ATTAS) indicated that their reasons for getting a permanent tattoo affixed to their body was truly lame. It may not be the actual tattoo, unless it was a symbol commonly associated with anti-social groups that caused angst for business owners. According to this study, the perception of the use of drugs or alcohol use, tied with the tattoo caused the business owner to scrutinize the job candidate sporting a tattoo a little bit more than a candidate without a visible tattoo. I added that qualifier because 72 percent of Millennials in a 2010 Pew Research survey say their tattoos are hidden by clothing.

This same study came up with a list of barriers to getting a tattoo that would stop a young person from committing themselves to a lifetime of Marvin the Martin or a skull popping out of their upper arm. Barriers were:

  1. Permanence (80 percent)
  2. Cost (65 percent)
  3. Parents (62 percent)
  4. Hepatitis (61percent)

Other barriers, such as being labeled a deviant (25 percent) and a risk-taker (16 percent) were of low concerns to both the tattooed and non-tattooed respondents. Some of the respondents did worry about a tattoo preventing them from obtaining a promotion or a goal (15 percent).

So my best advice to a parent who has a young adult considering permanently altering a body part, would be to provide straightforward, nonjudgmental facts about the process, the risks and the downsides of choosing to tattoo a pair of wings on their back when on vacation at Panama City Beach and under the influence of mind-altering chemicals. Talking about this BEFORE your sweet teen comes home with bats out of hell tattooed on his neck might reduce conflicts in your home.

One thought on “Wise Words to the Pre-Tattooed Teen

  1. Now working in the corporate world, I am surprised by how many people have tattoos. In fact, a large percentage of the men in my office have visible tattoos, and these are people meeting with executives at some of the largest companies in the world.

    While I certainly agree with what you said about permanence and regret, I think tattoos and piercings are becoming increasingly normalized. Gen Y won’t see the same discrimination that Gen X sees.