On the Younger Side Part 2: For Parents
Jessica Bitner stretched her ear lobe piercings to about an inch when she was 13 years old. Now she wants to join the the Air Force. Oops.
She says now, “I love them, but when you get serious about your life, you can’t do stuff like that.” Here’s a video from a CBS news story, about her plastic surgery to reconstruct her stretched lobes:
As unfortunate as this story is (and I can’t help but think how much her parents are paying for this surgery), this isn’t the worst-case scenario when it comes to teens and piercings. That would be reserved for botched self-piercings, infected, neglected piercings, and family-come-to-blows piercings.
I love piercings; I think that’s very evident. I can still remember (in the dim reaches of pre-history) wanting my ears pierced so very, very badly. I begged my parents for years until they finally relented at age 15. Not only did my Dad think it was “mutilation,” but there was a social stigma attached to ear piercing at that time. My mother, in particular, regarded it as a low-class practice which only Catholics indulged in (and she did not like Catholics!)
Nevertheless, I don’t like to see very young people permanently alter their bodies with large piercings, like the young lady in the video, or with visible tattoos before they know for certain what their path in life is.
Most of the information you will find about teens and piercings is of the sort I term “health class” information, i.e., piercings are bad, piercings are a fad they will grow out of, teens are just rebellious. This kind of information, and there are several books about it, is not what I’m offering here, because I’m not part of the PTA, a health care worker, or anything else like that, and again, I love piercings.
Note: It’s not my intention to tell anyone how to raise their own children. Just like with the babies’ post, if you are a parent, I encourage you to do your own research and make up your own mind about what is appropriate for you and your family. The following represents only my own personal opinion. (And a further note: if you have babies or very young children, you can read my post about them here.)
If you are lucky, your son or daughter has come to you asking for permission to get a piercing; say, a nostril piercing or a navel. You may think piercings are a stupid teen fad, are gross, unsanitary, or will just mar your precious little baby’s body. Whether or not this describes you, I urge you to consider your response carefully. You do not want your child to go behind your back and pierce himself, or to a friend or non-reputable piercer who pierces in an unsafe manner, which is what may happen if you are unlucky, or your attitude makes you unapproachable.
Some things for you to consider:
- Acknowledge that it’s normal for teens to want to be different than their parents and that they will experiment with style. Relax and let them express themselves.
- Most piercings can be removed with no more permanent consequences than a small hole, scar, or divot. (Large gauge piercings or stretched piercings are another story.)
- It’s true that piercings have more inherent risks than changing hairstyles or clothes, but with a little bit of knowledge, these risks can be minimized.
- Lobe piercings heal quickly and are fairly forgiving of mistreatment. This is NOT the case with most body piercings, including cartilage and navel piercings. These piercings can take many months to heal all the way through.
- Piercings need regular cleaning and care throughout their existence.
- If you are presented with a fait accompli, and your progeny shows up with a lip ring or eyebrow piercing, or something similar, watch for signs of infection. Keep in mind that removing jewelry completely from an infected piercing isn’t a good idea, because it can trap the infection underneath the skin with no place to drain, creating an abcess.
Is your kid ready for a piercing?
Is it something they want and are willing to care for? If they are considering any other piercing than lobes, they must be capable and willing to engage in an appropriate aftercare routine. This means regular cleaning and soaking for the first few weeks, and maintenance care thereafter. If your kid keeps up with routine hygiene tasks without being nagged, like brushing their teeth, cleaning their ears, keeping fingernails clean, and bathing regularly, they can probably be trusted to care for a piercing. Take a look at the picture below:
I like this picture of a Japanese Cosplay girl, but almost didn’t use it, because a close up look shows that the piercings are not clean. (You can get a closer look at theeruditefrog’s Photostream at Flickr.) Although I don’t think piercings are disgusting, of course, I do think uncared for, unclean piercings are! Piercees, no matter what their ages, need to be meticulous about their personal hygiene and clean their piercings regularly. Can your child be counted on to do this?
They must also have enough self-discipline and patience to Leave It The Heck Alone. This means not touching it (especially with dirty hands!); not messing with or playing with it; and not changing the jewelry too soon!
Some Practical Advice:
DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD GET PIERCED WITH A PIERCING GUN. Just don’t–it’s not safe. Those things were created for tagging cattle–they inflict blunt force trauma on the wound, the design of the jewelry traps bacteria near the wound, and most of all, the piercings gun can not be sterilized. Even if they have “single use” cartridges, the plastic part of the gun itself cannot be sterilized and is often just thrown into a drawer. Go to a professional piercer! A reputable, professional piercer will only pierce a minor with parental consent and presence. Yes, this means venturing out of your comfort zone and actually entering a tattoo or piercing studio. It can be intimidating, but you can do it!
Use the carrot and stick approach. Negotiate with your child for positive behaviors and use a piercing as a reward. Realize that all people want control over their lives and their bodies, and you are empowering your teen by allowing them to have control over their bodies.
Proper jewelry for healing piercings is not cheap. Buy good quality jewelry from a reputable piercer for starting jewelry. The jewelry that a teen can buy at the mall, at Hot Topic for example, is not good quality and should only be used after initial healing is completed. (I wouldn’t use it even then, but I’m trying to be realistic here.) Understand that sometimes jewelry needs to be adjusted for proper fit and healing, and that may mean another trip to the piercer, and another piece of jewelry. Accordingly;
Discuss money issues with your teen. Let them save money from their allowance or earn their own money for the piercing. One of the main excuses for kids to pierce themselves is they have no money for a proper piercer and jewelry. Unfortunately, a trip to the emergency room for an infected piercing costs far more.
Do your research about piercings, and encourage your son or daughter to do likewise. The single most important thing to do to ensure a successful piercing experience is to educate yourself. Check out the Body Piercing Basics, resources, books and refs, and links on this blog. At a minimum, review the info on choosing a piercer and Piercee’s Bill of Rights posted by the Association of Professional Piercers.
Pretty much all that is needed for aftercare is sea salt and mild soap. Hygiene is key! Do not let your child put stuff on it–no ointment, hydrogen peroxide, “ear care solution,” or, heaven forbid–Bactine!
It’s normal for a new piercing to be swollen, irritated, or red. You have to keep close watch for signs of infection, however, which requires diagnosis and treatment by a physician.
And finally try to relax about it! The majority of teens who get into piercing do actually grow out of it. On the other hand, some of us never do . . .
Yes, there will be a part 3 to this “Piercings On the Younger Side” series, for the teens. Pic above is from Shekynah’s Photostream at Flickr. I don’t know how old she is, but I just chose that one ’cause she’s pretty!