Why teenagers like tattoos and body-piercings
Young people get tattoos and body-piercings for many reasons. For example, they might want to:
- make a fashion statement
- be like their peers
- express identity and individuality
- mark a significant event in their life
- show loyalty or connection to a particular group or cause
- protest against their parents’ or family's values
- be part of a traditional rite of passage for their cultural group.
You’ll see many 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
Laws about teenagers and tattoos and body-piercings vary around Australia.
In Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, it’s a criminal offence for a tattooist to do tattoos for someone under 18 years.
In the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales, teenagers under 18 years need to get their parents’ permission for tattoos. As a parent, you must give your permission either in person or in writing, and you have to say what type of tattoo you agree to and where.
In Western Australia, teenagers must be over 16 years and have their parents’ permission for tattoos. Permission must be in writing and must explain the type of tattoo you agree to and where.
In 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
In the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Queensland, teenagers under 18 years can get body-piercings if they can make a sound and reasonable judgment about them.
In Western Australia, teenagers under 18 years can get body-piercings with their parents’ permission.
In Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia 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.
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, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia, body-piercers aren’t allowed to give teenagers under 18 years piercings in intimate areas, even if teenagers have parental permission.
In the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, there are no specific rules about piercings in intimate areas.
Talking with your child about tattoos and body-piercings
If your child wants to get a body-piercing or a tattoo, talking about it together 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 making a time to talk with your child. It should be a time when you can both think and talk calmly without being interrupted.
Listen to your child
Start by listening to your child’s point of view. Your child is more likely to be open with you if they feel that you value their thoughts and feelings. Let your child talk about why they want a tattoo or body-piercing and why it’s important to them. Try to respect your child’s view, even if you don’t agree with it.
Talk about your feelings
It’s OK 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 your child 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 5 years time. And then it’ll be difficult and cost you a lot of money to get rid of it’.
Discuss the legal issues
It’s a good idea to talk about the legal issues related to tattoos and piercings in your state. Your child might not know that they can’t get a tattoo until a particular age.
Look for compromise
If your child wants a very visible or very large tattoo or body-piercing that you don’t want them to get, you might compromise on its size or location. Another option might be delaying the tattoo or body-piercing until your child is older. For example, you might offer to pay for it for your child’s 18th birthday, if they still want one.
It’s worth being careful about banning tattoos or body-piercings completely because this might result in your child getting one anyway, but 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: risks
Getting a tattoo or body-piercing does come with some risks. These include:
- bacterial infections
- serious infectious diseases like hepatitis B, 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.
People who have certain conditions or use certain medicines have a higher risk of infection or complications, so they should avoid body-piercings or tattoos. If this sounds like your child, it’s a good idea to check with their GP about whether getting a tattoo is safe.
Tattoos and body-piercings: present and future considerations
There are some other things that are worth talking about with your child if they want 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 former partner’s name.
Tattoos and body-piercings: health and safety
If you agree to your child getting a tattoo or body-piercing, or if your child is going to get one no matter what you say, protecting their health and safety is important. You can do this by helping your child 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.