The Grapevine

Tattoo Stigma On The Decline, But Many Parents Still Have Concerns

Parents have health as well as social concerns about teenagers getting tattoos, according to findings from a national poll. Conducted by the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at the University of Michigan, the findings of the poll were published online on Aug. 20.

Since tattoos have gained significant mainstream appeal, many parents have had conversations about them with their children. Participants were comprised of a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 parents who had at least one child in the 13-18 age group. 

Seventy eight percent of the parents said their answer would be "no," if their teenage son or daughter wanted to get a tattoo. However, another 1 in 10 parents said they would grant their permission it the tattoo was meant to be a reward, to mark a special occasion, or if it could be hidden easily.

"Many parents agree that tattoos are a form of self-expression but worry that teens may not consider potential health risks, how a tattoo may impact them professionally or the chance that as they age and mature, they may regret getting a permanent tattoo," said Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott pediatrician who was the co-director of the poll.

Around half the parents reported feeling concerned about potential consequences such as scarring, infection, or the transmission of diseases like hepatitis or HIV. These risks are typically linked to unlicensed tattoo artists and the use of unsanitary needles.

People are advised to inquire about the training and licensing status of tattoo parlors. In fact, parents should also encourage their teens to speak to a doctor beforehand, Freed said.

"While medical complications aren't common, it's important for young people to understand and consider all potential risks associated with body modifications like tattoos," he added.

On the social side, parents were worried employers might judge or stereotype their teen unfavorably if they had a tattoo. But recent data suggested their concerns may not be warranted after all.

Stigma surrounding tattoos in the workplace has heavily declined, according to a report from the University of Miami Business School. After analyzing 2,000 subjects from across the United States, researchers found even a visible tattoo was not linked to discrimination in terms of individual employment, wages, or earnings.

"Given the increasing prevalence of tattoos in society—around 40 percent for young adults—hiring managers and supervisors who discriminate against tattooed workers will likely find themselves at a competitive disadvantage for the most qualified employees," said lead author Michael French.

Putting employment aside, parents also believed teens could experience a personal sense of regret in the future. While laser removal may help, expectations should be set since the sessions are expensive, lengthy, and could still leave behind a faded mark or a bit of scarring.