As tattoos become an increasingly mainstream art form, more and more parents are finding it an important topic to discuss with their teens in anticipation of the question: “Can I get one?”
For most parents, that answer would be “no” according to a recent survey published by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. The survey of parents of teens 13-18 years of age found that 78 percent would not give permission their teen to get a tattoo at the age of 16-17 years. The number includes the 32 percent of parents who already had a tattoo themselves.
The subject has definitely come up in many households. The survey found that twenty seven percent of parents of teens 16-18, and 11 percent of parents of teens 13-15, said they had been asked by their teen for permission to get a tattoo.
Of those surveyed, 63 percent agreed that getting a tattoo is a form of self-expression similar to dying hair or clothing choice, but 82 percent thought state law should require parental consent for those under 18.
Current Michigan law prohibits body modification on anyone under the age of 18 without written, parental consent. There are currently 14 tattoo facilities in Washtenaw County licensed by the State of Michigan.
The Big Picture
Dr. Gary L. Freed, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan and co-director on the National Poll on Children’s Health said the biggest take away from the survey is that “most parents feel strongly that children under 18 should not be able to get a tattoo without parental consent.”
Freed said parents do have concerns and it is important to give parents a voice to provide the “best help, the best voice and the best information” for them to make decisions regarding their children.
A big concern among parents, he said, is that their children may regret their decision later when their attitudes and tastes change. Survey results showed 68 percent of parents worried their teen may regret the decision later and 50 percent worried employers might judge or stereotype their children if they had a tattoo.
Freed said parents also worry about the health effects with 53 percent being concerned about infections or scarring from the tattoo and about 50 percent of the parents worrying about diseases like hepatitis or HIV being transmitted through dirty needles.
If parents are going to allow their teen to get a tattoo, health risks can be minimized by choosing a clean, sterile environment in a facility that abides by state and local regulations and health protocols. They should also ask about the process the facility uses to sterilize equipment and make sure the tattoo artists wear gloves during the procedure.
A Word From Local Artists
Many Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti area tattoo shops contacted said they do receive a lot of requests from older teens for tattoos, but many, including the Lucky Monkey, Depot Town Tattoo, Name Brand Tattoo and Vivid Inks, won’t tattoo anyone under the age of 18 even with parental consent.
Many of the local tattoo artists also said they are cautious about giving tattoos to teens and young adults, wanting to make sure their customer is not making a quick decision so that they will be happy with the results. Some even encourage teens to come in for a consultation before their 18th birthday to discuss plans for a tattoo so they take their time with their decision on artwork.
Dana Forrester, who co-owns the Lucky Monkey Tattoo Parlor in Ann Arbor with her husband James Trunko, said they are getting many requests and because of that, her other shop Lovely Monkey Tattoo and Piercing in Whitmore Lake will tattoo those 16 and 17 with parental consent and on a case by case basis. Many times it is a memorial tattoo. “We would rather they get tattooed at Lovely Monkey instead of in somebody’s basement or homemade/house party tattoos, which we we’re seeing lots of, with typically low quality artwork/execution.”
Forrester’s shops are both licensed by Washtenaw County’s Department of Community Health and the State of Michigan and undergo a 100-point inspection annually. Their tattoo artists are also trained in blood borne pathogens.
A Note About Piercings
While tattoos are increasingly an issue parents and teens are tackling, piercings are a topic or increased conversation, as well. In addition to typical ear piercing shops like Claire’s and Piercing Pagoda at Briarwood Mall, there are other options for piercings.
Laura Leonard, who owns Gamma Piercing with her husband, Jef Saunders, said their shop, which does many adult piercings, will also pierce ear lobes for children age 4 and up with a parent present and a birth certificate of the child. Children who are over 15 years old can get limited facial, oral, ear and navel piercings at the shop as well.
She said their shop does not use ear piercing guns, believing there is no safe way to properly clean an ear piercing gun. “Ear piercing guns can also be traumatic for the child,” she said.
They use single-use sterile needles and implant grade jewelry and offer a “safe and friendly environment,” Leonard said. The business also prides itself on educating on aftercare and providing guidance if there are any issues after the piercing. Gamma is one of six piercing shops listed on the Washtenaw County Health Department’s website. For more information on specific age restrictions and services, call the individual business with questions.
For more information about the C.S. Mott Children’s
Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health poll visit
To view the list of piercing shops licensed by Washtenaw
County’s Department of Community Health visit