It has long been known that the teen years are full of self-discovery and exploration of independence. The choices of exploration are often confusing to parents; however, it is important that we allow them to explore their identity within boundaries and with our guidance. The following is “my take” on some of the current trends in identity exploration.
Spiked, purple or a rainbow of shades. Jet black. Odd cuts. Shaved. Hair has become a sometimes radical expression of self. While it sometimes can be worrisome to a parent – especially when you have to be seen with your teen in public – this is one form of expression with which little real damage can be done.
Hair grows back. Dyes fade and color can be restored. There is not permanent disfigurement when it comes to hair. Let’s face it – when women become dissatisfied with themselves or the circumstances, what is the first thing they change? Their hair. It is a natural choice because of the fact that almost all choices are reversible – or at least fixable.
What is important when it comes to a teen’s self-exploration is the purpose behind the change. If your teen is simply exploring self, then adverse changes should not extend to other areas of their lives. Purple hair without the dropping of grades or lack of interest in long-time friends is not a major concern. However, if a new, negative attitude comes along with it, then you need to find out what is really going on.
Much like the hair, make-up is temporary and can contain a wide variety of possibilities to explore. I have two edicts when it comes to make-up: 1) Make-up that gives the permission of a street-walker is not permissible. 2) Make-up that will transfer to clothing, furniture or other objects is not permissible. Respect for self and property are of utmost importance.
The same words of caution apply as with hair. Unless you see other drastic changes, the need for extreme concern is minimal. Goth make-up on a healthy, smiling face with clear eyes and a normal interest in life should not be disturbing.
Piercings have a more permanent quality to them. True, piercings can be allowed to close up, but this takes time and often leaves scarring, regardless of how minimal. My general rule has been that the only thing my daughters could pierce until they were 18 were their ears. They could have up to two holes in each ear, but no more until they were 18 and able to pay for it themselves. In our state, piercing of cartilage requires the piercing to be done by a licensed body piercer. One who simply does ear piercings is not allowed to pierce cartilage. Additionally, up until the age of 18, parental consent is required. In short, I didn’t really have to worry about my daughters going against my rules unless they were willing to risk obtaining their piercings illegally.
We had many lengthy discussions about piercings, the need to take special care of piercings and the risks of piercings. Infections were on the top of the list, but the particular risks of tongue and belly button piercings were also discussed. Along with these discussions was the emphasis on using a licensed piercer, thus the need to follow state laws.
Bottom line is that I will not give my permission for any piercings other than ears; thus, they must wait for anything else until they are 18. At that time, I will concede that I realize that piercings can be a legitimate form of self-expression. As long as it is tasteful, done by a professional, and they understand piercing care, there is little I will say against it. However, I will quickly point out the disadvantages to piercings in particularly prominent places such as the face and particularly sensitive places, such as nipples.
I also use the example of a friend from college who went into the piercing business to pay his way through school. He felt it necessary to have quite a few piercings of his own, in order to display his handiwork. However, when he graduated from business school, he quickly found out that the business world was not interested in having him in their board rooms with those piercings intact. He had to remove the body jewelry and allow the piercings to close. Most left very small scars; however, he wished that he had considered his future goals before he obtained the first piercing.
Even with the process of tattoo removal, I consider tattoos to be truly permanent body art. The removal process leaves scarring that is permanent and often, especially with the heavier lines and darker colors, the best the process can do it to fade the tattoo.
In the state in which I currently live, you must be 21 or have the signature of a parent in order to obtain a tattoo. I told both my daughters that I would never sign for them to get a tattoo. If they were going to get tattoos, they would have to be 21 and have the money themselves. As soon as my oldest daughter turned 21, she got a tattoo of angel’s wings and her great-aunts name on her back in remembrance of a woman who meant very much to her. What could I say?
A parent’s job is to keep a child healthy by maintaining a high level of safety and well-being for said child. This being said, tattoos and piercings are not something for which any parent should give permission. Children who require permission to obtain a process that permanently alters their bodies should not be permanently altering their bodies. If they still want these processes when they are old enough to take responsibility for themselves, then the choice is their own. Until then, parents should have the good sense to provide boundaries.
Every child and every parent are different. No one piece of advice will cover all situations. The most I can offer on an individual basis is that you be certain – in every situation – that your child’s healthy and well-being is the top concern. Remember that you are the parent and it is your job to guide and to provide boundaries that serve as the groundwork for a healthy, productive adulthood.