Raising your daughter

Sugar and spice and all things nice... or moods and malice and meanness? What is your daughter made of? How can you support, guide and enjoy her?

To tattoo or not to? The dilemmas of piercings and tattoos...

Aged 13, I witnessed part of a DIY earlobe piercing in the middle school loos. The equipment was a needle and a box of matches for sterilisation. Interestingly, only one ear became horribly infected, finally resulting in parental involvement, several visits to the doctor and a course of anti-biotics.

This was not a complete deterrent. A few months later, pocket money paid secretly for my own ‘hygienic’ ear piercing with a gun. I had not heard of other forms of piercing and tattoo parlours were too grimy then, the displayed designs too crude and rumours about infection too graphic.

Nowadays, of course, ear piercing is common and facial piercings familiar. Celebrity role models sport a wide range of tattoos and there is much discussion of body modification too private to display. Associations with decorative individuality and rebellion make it unsurprising that many teenage girls form strong views and are keen to experiment. As we encourage our daughters to become independent thinkers, objecting to piercings and tattoos on the grounds of our own personal preference is unlikely to hold much sway. When I consulted my sixth form students, their responses showed common sense and considerable consensus about basic issues:

‘A girl’s body is her own, but the piercing/tattoo thing might be just a phase that I’ll regret.’

‘Right now we’re ‘cool, independent teenagers’, but walking down the aisle you might want the option of a strapless dress without your ex-boyfriend’s name scored across your back!’

‘Parents shouldn’t forbid it. I was forbidden from getting certain bits of my ear pierced – so obviously I went and got them done as soon as I could at a festival (a really bad idea).’

Girls agreed that piercings and tattoos should be treated differently, echoing the current legal restrictions. They view many types of piercings as acceptable. As a parent you could set a reasonable period of time, ‘six months’, to test your daughter’s resolve but ultimately helping to ensure hygienic and safe treatment is essential; if things do go wrong, it is better that you know and are involved.

Concentrate on open discussion of facts, for example that tattoos (and facial piercings) might deter potential employers, the way in which tattoos blur and spread with age, the scarring that can result from tattoo removal, the problems that lower back tattoos may cause for pregnant women who need epidurals. Girls are usually aware that some forms of piercing have a high incidence of infection and can scar but does your daughter know that a tongue stud may damage the enamel on her teeth or that infected ear cartilage piercings usually result in surgery as antibiotics will not work? I was seriously advised against ‘corset’ piercing (thank goodness!); there are plenty of off-puttingly gruesome images on the internet.

Do make sure that you are well informed before entering into debate. There are many websites available; some you might prefer your daughter not to see but which she may well have reviewed already. Web pages which seem to be particularly informative and dispassionate include the following:


If your daughter still wants a tattoo as she approaches eighteen, the website About.com: tattoos/body piercings is produced by an enthusiast; adult in its approach but absolutely clear about the health and safety issues involved, it might have more impact than obviously ‘safe’ NHS advice.

Caroline Drennan
Head of Sixth Form
The Godolphin and Latymer School

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