Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens


by Kristy Campbell


My girlfriend sent me a message on Facebook: "I can’t believe you let Katie get a tattoo!" My friend has small kids all under the age of 10, so I understood her shock. My reply was simple: I didn’t let her. I didn’t even approve…but I did support her. Rules change when your kids turn 18.


My daughter has wanted a tattoo for her 18th birthday for years. She used to talk about what she would get, where she would put it, and I always ignored her. I don’t like tattoos. From my midlife perspective, I don’t see the need for ink. And if anything, I’ve heard too many stories of job applicants losing jobs or teachers with tramp stamps peeking out of their clothing at back-to-school nights, and the overall image that tattoos send to me isn’t a positive one.


As my daughter’s 18th birthday month approached and the tattoo talk gained steam, we sat down to discuss it. Much like when she wanted her belly button pierced, we had a conversation around the whys, the hows, and the risks. Unlike a piercing, though, I focused my argument on the fact that a tattoo is permanent. When you are 18, it might be cool. When you are in your 30’s and your kids ask about it, it might not be so cool. When you are in your 60’s and the skin is sagging and the tattoo is distorted, you may wish it weren’t there. I pointed out that Kelly Ripa has a tattoo of a rose on her ankle and every time is comes up, she says how much she regrets it. Katie asked who Kelly Ripa is.


It seems every one of my daughter’s contemporaries has one if not multiple tattoos…every actress, every singer, and most of her friends have been inked. It is de rigueur for this generation. I don’t really get it, but it reminded me of when I begged my parents for a double piercing in one ear. My dad couldn’t understand why one hole in each ear wasn’t sufficient. Truth is, I didn’t really understand either, but I just knew I had to do it. I begged and begged and begged until finally one Saturday, my dad took me to the mall and I got the third hole put in my head. I’m pretty sure the hole was closed up by the following year since I never really liked it. Every once in awhile when I see the tiny scar on my ear, I remember the conviction of my youth…must have ear pierced, must have ear pierced, must have ear pierced. Oh, maybe not.


Katie went ahead with her plan to find the best possible tattoo artist at the best possible tattooing shop. She made her appointment on her actual birthday and began to design her tattoo. I chose not to deal with it secretly hoping she’d change her mind. But, alas, her birthday came and after cake, she left with her friends to start the process. I met her at the shop about a half an hour too late. When I walked in and saw the design covering what looked like her entire torso, I wanted to faint, throw up, and strangle her…all at the same time. Why would she ruin her beautiful body?


This was a great read. I'm a 32 year old mother of 3 under 4. I have three tattoos, the first of which I got at the age of 19. I always put a lot of planning into my tats, and was mature enough to stay away from anything I knew would be something regrettable. My tattoos tell the stories of my coming of age, a reminder of my strength during a particularly depressing time in my life, and my marriage. My husband is covered in tattoos. He too thought ahead and does not have any that cannot be covered should he need to for work.

You handled this situation as well as my mother did, who repsected my decision to mark my body, which meant the world to me that she would trust me.


Love this article - and I think all us moms with older teens can relate! My youngest just turned 18 and she went straight to the tattoo parlor to get ... two more ear piercings. All I could think was, oh thank goodness! That said, I know there are tattoos in the future. But body ink doesn't change who my kids are, and a tasteful tattoo (oh please, make it small and discreet! and cover-up-able, in case you change your mind!) is not worth shredding our relationship over. Besides, I'm starting to feel like I'm the only one who DOESN'T have one!


AMEN Lengeft1!
Kristy-Welcome to the free world, open your's pretty interesting here. And, holding your daughter to the standard of Kelly Ripa...sad on SO many levels.
As for regretting tattoos when you're "old" sounds like you've been old your whole life. As for me, my wrinkles are going to be colorful!!


Why would your grandchildren be in any way affected by your daughter's tattoo? I apologize, because I truly do not understand this mentality. I am 51 years old, and have two sons, 19 and 13 years old, respectively. I have two tattoos at present, and I am currently actively planning three more, including one that will be highly visible, as it will be on my scalp. My older son never had an issue with my ink until he became heavily involved in his grandparents' church, and their extreme right-wing, conservative beliefs. My younger son is a kind, compassionate, loyal friend, who actually worries about the feelings and needs of his friends, loves animals and people, is exceedingly intelligent, imaginative and creative...and who, by choice, dresses like "all the other kids". He thinks my planned ink is fascinating, he just doesn't want any...or piercings for that matter (he doesn't like needles). But my eclectic, sometimes eccentric taste is acceptable to him, without defining him in any way.
Tattoos are not a statement of low moral fiber, impulsiveness, irresponsibility or frivolousness. Not everyone regrets them, or becomes embarrassed by them due to later life decisions (the most typical seems to be being "Born Again"). Counted against many other decisions, you are correct, they are, in comparison, trivial (however, one's sexual orientation is not a choice, but a fact of life that sometimes comes as a realization as an adult when parental issues with lack of acceptance, possible rejection, and condemnation are no longer an immediate threat).
You say that you will strongly voice disagreement with decisions she makes as an adult that are not within your boundaries. I say that this is an excellent way to drive an adult child away from you...particularly when it comes to her children, should she choose to have any.
Personally, it would not sadden me if my son chose not to ever have a tattoo. But it would hurt my heart if he wooed and wed a religious fanatic married more to some nebulous creation of humanity than my child. It would deeply sadden me if he turned from his pursuit of paleontology, or the sciences, for some dust-dry job climbing the corporate ladder, the sole purpose of which was to gain social advantage, money, and best his spoiled yuppie neighbors in pursuit of the most toys. It would kill me if he became a racist, a slave of a dogma that preached hatred of others because of their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion (no, I don't despise Christians...I loathe all religious institutions, believe in no supreme powers, and I am an iconoclast. I am not, however, an atheist, but my husband is, as is my son, at least for now. We allow him his choice), choice to exercise their reproductive rights, or gender. Yes, I would be deeply disturbed then.
But not by a tattoo. Or an odd piercing. Good grief.


I think it is different, and very normal, for this generation. Half of the preschool teachers at my daughters school have tattoos, and I don't think anything of it. One has a hello kitty on her ankle that the kids love. Of course, this is San Francisco, where pretty much anything goes, it might be different in more conservative towns, but judging by how many young adults these days have tattoos there will be plenty of teachers, Doctots and lawyers walking around with them in ten years. I'm actually thinking of getting one for my fortieth birthday. Mid life crisis, maybe I'll regret it when I'm 55! I think your reaction is normal but your response just perfect, your daughter is a lucky girl to have you!


you hit the nail right on the head! we had the exact same experience when my daughter wanted to pierce her nose. i, too, thought she'd forget. she did not. so i took her. held her hand while they did it all the while thinking "why?" she loves it and how she looks with it. she didn't even mind covering it up with a band aid for her summer job (nose piercings weren't allowed!). and i had the same revelation you did - parenting an adult child calls for a different set of tools. they still need us, and we can still be there for them, just in a different way. GOOD JOB!


Great read. They do grow up and make their own decisions. No matter how hard, all we can do is love them. *takes a gulp of wine*


I play this scenario in my head when I fast forward to the future when my kids are at that legal age of getting a tattoo, the only difference is - I have several tattoos of my own. some of which are large and most can only be hidden if I wore a turtle neck and long sleeves. So what would I do? Since I can't completely say no, I would rather be involved in the decision making of getting a tattoo than be excluded from it and have my kid come home with a permanent and regrettable marking on their forehead any day. At least in the end, my kid was comfortable and honest enough to have me be part of that rite of passage. What I have said about my own tattoos are they are a stamp to my life's travels. Each one unique and with it a story - is it for everyone? no, it isn’t. And I’d like to think I turned out all right. I work in a large design/sustainable construction firm and hold a college degree as well as a LEED AP certification.


GREAT article. I am going to save it... for when my sassy 7-yr-old is 17 and talking tattoos.