Why teenagers like tattoos and body-piercing

Young people get tattoos and body-piercings for lots of reasons, including:

  • as a fashion statement
  • because they want to be like their peers
  • as an expression of identity and individuality
  • because they want to rebel against their parents’ values
  • as part of a traditional rite of passage for their cultural group.

You’ll see lots of people, young and old, with body-piercings and tattoos. Even if you have mixed feelings, it might help to know that many people feel OK about them – or don’t even notice them.

Tattoos: legal issues

The legal situation with teenagers and tattoos and body-piercings varies around Australia.

In Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, it’s a criminal offence for a tattooist to do tattoos for someone under 18 years.

In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and Western Australia, teenagers under 18 years need to get their parents’ permission for tattoos. As a parent, you have to give your permission either in person or in writing, and you have to say what type of tattoo you agree to and where.

In Tasmania and the Northern Territory, there are no specific rules about getting a tattoo. In practice tattooists have their own industry standards and teenagers are often asked to get their parents’ permission for tattoos.

Body-piercings: legal issues

Non-intimate areas
In the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania, teenagers under 18 years can get body-piercings as long as they can make a sound and reasonable judgment.

In Western Australia, teenagers under 18 years can get body-piercings with their parents’ permission.

In Victoria and New South Wales, teenagers under 16 years need their parents’ permission for body-piercings. As a parent, you have to say where the body-piercing can be.

Intimate areas
In New South Wales, body-piercers aren’t allowed to give teenagers under 16 years piercings in intimate areas, like the genitalia or nipples, even if teenagers have parental permission.

In Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia, the same applies to teenagers under 18 years.

In the other states and territories, there are no specific rules about piercings in intimate areas.

Tattoos and body-piercings: risks

Getting a tattoo or body-piercing does come with some risks. These include:

  • infection
  • serious infectious diseases like hepatitis C and HIV
  • thick scars called keloids (these are more common among people with darker skin)
  • allergic reactions
  • eczema flare-ups
  • gum disease or damage to teeth from mouth piercings.

Talking with your child about tattoos and body-piercings

If your child wants to get a body-piercing or a tattoo, talking about it with him is a good first step. Here are some ideas to help you have a positive conversation with your child.

Pick a time to talk
You can help the conversation go well by choosing a time when you can both think and talk calmly without being interrupted.

Listen to your child
Your child is more likely to be open with you if she feels that you value her thoughts and feelings, so start by listening to her point of view. Let her talk about why she wants a tattoo or body-piercing and why it’s important to her. Try to respect her view, even if you don’t agree with it.

Talk about your feelings
It’s OK for you to let your child know how you feel about the tattoo or body-piercing. You might feel fine about it, you might really hate the idea, or your feelings might be somewhere in between.

If you do have negative feelings about tattoos or body-piercings, your child might be more willing to listen to them if you calmly ‘own’ your feelings, rather than trying to put your values on your child or tell him what to do. For example, ‘I don’t like the idea of you getting a tattoo at 16 because you might decide you don’t like it in five years time. And then it’ll be difficult and cost you a lot of money to get rid of it’.

Find a compromise
You might try to find a compromise. If your child wants a very visible or very large tattoo or body-piercing that you don’t want her to get, you might compromise on its size or location. Another option might be delaying the tattoo or body-piercing until she’s older. For example, you might offer to pay for it for her 18th birthday, if she still wants one.

It’s worth being careful about banning tattoos or body-piercings completely because this might result in your child getting one anyway without taking the proper safety precautions.

Talk to someone with a tattoo
You and your child might find it helpful to talk to someone who has a tattoo or a body-piercing to get a different view. You could ask how the person felt about the tattoo or body-piercing at first and how the person feels about it now. You could also ask whether it has had negative consequences or whether the person would do things differently now.

Tattoos and body-piercings: other considerations

There are some other things that are worth talking about with your child if he wants a tattoo or body-piercing. These are:

  • caring for the piercing or tattoo in the first weeks or months, while it heals
  • getting a tattoo removed in the future – for example, cost, pain and difficulty
  • getting a job – for example, how a facial tattoo or piercing might affect your child’s job prospects
  • feeling regret in the future if the tattoo is of a boyfriend’s or girlfriend’s name.

People with certain conditions, or on some medications, should avoid body-piercings or tattoos, because they have a higher risk of infection or complications. If your child has a medical condition or is on medication it’s a good idea to check with her GP about whether getting a tattoo is safe.

Tattoos and body piercings: health and safety

If you agree to your child getting a tattoo or body-piercing, or if he’s going to get one no matter what you say, protecting his health and safety is really important. You can do this by helping him look for a tattooist or body-piercer who:

  • uses gloves
  • sterilises all equipment
  • uses new needles for each client
  • has staff with the relevant qualifications and licences.

You can also talk with your child about the dangers of do-it-yourself and backyard tattoos or body-piercings.

Some parents ask for references before choosing a tattooist or get recommendations from friends who’ve had good experiences.

If you’re finding it hard to talk about tattoos or body-piercing with your child, our articles on negotiating, managing conflict, problem-solving and difficult conversations can help.