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Will You Let Your Kids Get Pierced/Dyed/Tattooed/Etc.?

Taylor Hengen Newman

I’d be a huge hypocrite if I didn’t answer this post’s leading question with a ‘yes’. I have a whole bunch of tattoos, and am working on plans for one more, but in the event that Kaspar one day asks me to get some ink of his own (many years in the future—he’s a year and a half old now), that ‘yes’ won’t come without a conversation. Other questions may come in earlier, of course, regarding piercings, hair dye, and so forth. And to be honest, those questions will also get a ‘yes’, and the conversations will be shorter. As long as any piercings are procured from a (hygiene-law abiding) professional, and as long as my bathtub isn’t permanently stained neon green, any modifications that can be un-done get the go-ahead in my book.

Now, since I have tattoos (and was formerly pierced), Kaspar probably won’t think they’re cool at all, so this may all be moot. But two recent events got me thinking about the subject, which then got me curious about where you all stand on it. The first was that, as much as we love Kaspar’s big blonde mop of curls, we started noticing that it was getting into his face—and disrupting his activities—a few weeks ago. Aaron had gently initiated some haircut-related discussions months before, but I’d changed the subject on him and evaded it since (I don’t know why, actually! It was more about sentiment than style, for sure, being a ‘first’ and all). Until now. Now it was obvious that Kaspar needed either hair clips or a hair cut, so I gave in and allowed Aaron to ever-so-slightly trim Kaspar’s hair in the front and back. … And I couldn’t sleep that night until I got out of bed to transfer his trimmings from the trash to the back yard, sprinkling them about ‘for birds to build nests with,’ as my mom had always done. By morning, I was totally normal, and over it.

In fact, I was gunning for a Kaspar Mohawk, as I recalled a hypothetical question I’d presented Aaron with back before I was even pregnant: “If we ever have kids, and we have a little boy, can he have a Mohawk?” I asked Aaron last week, too, if he remembered saying, “Um… sure,” and— bless his heart—he said he does. BUT, he said, “not yet. Let’s wait until Kaspar’s a little bigger.” Whether this hesitation is sentiment or style driven, I’m not sure, but it does bring to light that, when it comes to these kinds of decisions (whether we’re making them, or our kids are) timing counts for something. And it probably all depends on the particular kid (or mom), what they want to do, and a million other factors that are unique to each situation and family (here’s a blog post by a mom whose six-year-old son came home from school one day wanting both of his ears pierced. I think she handled it wonderfully).

The other event that got my wheels spinning on this subject was Kaspar’s school’s Fall Festival, which we attended today. It was a BLAST. Kids were running all over the place, painting pumpkins, eating fruits and veggies harvested from the school’s garden, petting animals in a little traveling zoo (a very humane one, I should add), dancing to a live band, and getting their faces… and arms, and legs… painted. After which some of them ran up to their parents and said, “Look at my tattoos!” (or “meow”, depending on their chosen artwork). Now, I didn’t hear one word of discouragement around that correlation—this was obviously just a fun fair activity, and paint washes off in the bathtub (plus, Austin is arguably the most tattooed town in the nation)— but it reminded me that kids like to dress up their bodies for the same reasons adults do. It’s fun. It’s a form of creative self-expression. All that jazz. And while we, as adults, know that minds might change about whether one wants to permanently resemble a cat (especially when one is between the ages of three and six), letting kids play in this way gives them the chance to try on their different costumes and get comfortable making decisions about how they’re going to present themselves, even for the afternoon.

If and when the time comes for any real conversations with Kaspar around physical modifications, I’m going to ultimately hand the decisions back to him. Whether we pierce our daughters’ ears when they’re babies, give our toddlers Mohawks or even just choose one pair of shoes for them over another (and we all do that), we make decisions for our kids regarding their appearances, as they grow up, and then we must eventually transfer the decision-making, in full, to them.  I hope Kaspar knows that I respect that his body is his own, and that he’ll likewise respect it, too. Honestly, too, a couple of my tattoos are pretty stupid, and I probably wouldn’t get them today if they weren’t already there (don’t tell my mom she was right about this). They’re a part of my skin and my story, though, and they’ve never held me back (my dad was pretty shocked that I was actually hired into the corporate world, and not mistaken for a gang member, at 22. It’s a generational thing). I know that the worst case scenarios here aren’t ultimately all that bad.

For now, Kaspar doesn’t yet have a Mohawk, but he does have a new hair feather—I’m telling you, this Fall Festival was off the hook! He sat incredibly still, in my lap, while it was put in, and then pointed to it all afternoon. The little girl next door was seriously impressed, and I think it’s just the cutest thing ever. Whether I’ll think poorly-dyed green hair is cute when he’s in seventh grade remains to be seen, but my own parents survived it, and so, perhaps, will I.

What’s your take on body modifications? At what age is it appropriate to let kids start coloring their hair? Do you let your kids wear fake tattoos, or have they gotten any piercings? If you have very young children, do you dress them up in one way or another, get them cool haircuts, and so forth? I’m curious to see what your opinions are here: no big deal, no way in hell, or does it all depend on the situation?