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Tattoos and Teens - Too Young for Tattoos?

The tattoo industry is one of the fastest growing segments of culture and lifestyle geared towards teens and twenty-somethings today. Visit any mall or ...if you have had your meds and are feeling especially centered ... any Hot Topic and you will see wall to wall tattoos on clothing, merchandise, posters, books, bands, and every single person working in that store. I'm not sure if tattoos are a requirement to get a job at Hot Topic, but your giant neck tattoo of a bat sitting on an open coffin is definitely not a "job killer" in this environment - and that is a good thing.

I have lots of tattoos (but by Hot Topic standards I am old as dust), so it's not like I am anti-tattoo or anything. I am just amazed at the amount of ink very young people are sporting today. I have a teen who is curious about tattoos and she has some friends that are eager to start getting ink. I must look like the only mom in the car pool who won't freak out, so quite a few kids ask me about getting tattooed - namely what is the legal age. Here is where it gets tricky. It depends on what state you live in. You would think permanently marking your body would require an age requirement but no... not really.

Here is a comprehensive state by state list of age requirements for tattooing (and piercing) minors. Most states simply require written consent from a legal guardian. Some states require those guardians to be present. Then there are the outliers like Illinois where it is illegal for someone under 18 to even be present where tattooing is happening without a guardian. I get it - tattoo shops can be sketchy - but that minor is most likely milling around the shop because their guardian is getting inked. How about Iowa? You can get tattooed under the age of 18, but only if you're married. Um...what? According to Iowa law, it is unlawful to tattoo an unmarried minor under the age of 18. Wonder what the marriage laws look like - and who the hell is giving permission for the tattoo? The child bride or groom? Forget about getting tattooed under 18 in Maine; Yankees don't mess around, but in Nevada it's a free for all as they do not regulate tattoos or piercing in any way. Shocker.

All of these laws and by-laws overlook the obvious. You can buy tattoo machines and equipment at Walmart and if you go to any teen heavy event you can see the fall-out of this fact first hand. I went to Vans Warped Tour this summer with my teen because (1) I'm awesome, (2) I enjoy crowds and heatstroke, and (3) I wanted to taste a $14 beer. In addition to watching some great bands and having a fun day, I was also subjected to a literal sea of crap ink splattered all over young teens. Great googly-moogly it was a shit show. I have never seen such a dense collection of poorly rendered tattoos in my life. If these kids got inked in a shop, then that shop should be closed immediately. Then exorcised and possibly raised to the ground because they have NO business "tattooing" anyone. More than likely though, these kids "did it themselves" or got a nice scratcher tattoo from a "friend". Yikes. I wanted to commandeer a tent and host an impromptu workshop titled, "Why you should never get tattoos under the age of 25". 

Are all teen tattoos a bad idea? No, but it definitely depends. While at Warped Tour, I also interviewed several bands (it's amazing what kind of perks you can get as a blogger) and of course I grilled these young twenty-somethings about their tattoos. Everyone had gotten their first tattoo when they were very young - maybe 15 or 16. They all admitted it had been a mistake. They were poorly done, some got seriously infected, and everyone’s mom was pissed. But they also loved those early tattoos because of the story they told and the way it made them feel. Of course these kids turned out to be future rock stars so bad tattoos - now mixed in with their great tattoos - are all a part of the mystique so it worked out. But for non-rock star kids? A bad tattoo is just a problem that needs to be fixed down the road.

A friend of mine was dismayed when she found out her 15 year old daughter tattooed herself after watching a stick-poke "how to" video on YouTube. She was SO pissed she made her kid have it lasered off and pay for the laser removal herself by working weekends in the family business. Go mom - way to lay down the law. Secretly I was sort of impressed with the girl’s brass, though. I mean stick poke?! That shit hurts! What did she tattoo you ask? A human tooth...on her ankle bone. I never told her mom, but that kid is kind of awesome in my book and I'm sort of sad she had to have her first tattoo lasered off. And that is the grey area of teen tattoos. It's a bad idea 98% of the time. You should wait until you are sure of what you want and can afford a good artist in a clean shop, but there is always that special kid who puts the edginess back into an industry that has become shockingly mainstream. You go stick poke tooth girl! Maybe you can get a job at Hot Topic.

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