Friday 24 May 2019

Dear David Coleman: My daughter wants a tattoo and it's causing lots of rows

How you perceive any tattoo may be informed by your prejudices and beliefs
How you perceive any tattoo may be informed by your prejudices and beliefs
David Coleman

David Coleman

My 17-year-old daughter is insisting on getting a tattoo. Her dad and I are so against this and have forbidden her. For now, we have the law on our side as she's still under 18, but it is causing huge rows at home. We are afraid she will sneak off and get one done using fake ID, just to spite us. How can we get her to realise that she will be permanently marking her body and that she just isn't old enough to make that kind of choice?

A Short-term planning (if there is any planning at all) is part of adolescence. The brains of youngsters your daughter's age are still maturing, and so, their executive functioning (decision-making, planning, problem-solving, impulse control etc) is still under-developed. Therefore, it may be difficult to help your daughter realise the long-term impact of her current, immediate desire.

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It sounds like you have a strong sense that her decision-making might not be the best. In forbidding her from getting the tattoo, you are helping her to put the brakes on her decision-making, with your greater awareness of the permanency of a tattoo.

I wonder, however, how will you know when your daughter is well-enough practiced at decision-making, and is mature enough to be able to cope with the consequences?

Ultimately, it is neither healthy nor helpful to continue to "forbid" her. Sooner or later, you must give her the greater freedom to make choices, even if you feel those choices may be bad. She can only learn about the consequences of decision-making when she is allowed to actually make decisions. Have you had other opportunities to both allow her to make decisions and to review the outcomes of those decisions with her?

The other thing you need to consider is an exploration of your own attitudes towards tattoos. How you perceive any tattoo may be informed by your prejudices and beliefs, rather than simple, impartial rationality. You may just not like tattoos, for example.

Even though you (and the tattoo parlour) may continue to hold the line and make her wait until she is older, it is critical that you keep the lines of communication with her open. When you describe worrying about her sneaking off to get one done anyway, and having lots of rows, that suggests that your ability to discuss the issue may be compromised.

If you are having a lot of conflict with your daughter about this issue, then it may be that she feels you haven't listened to her, and her opinions, about tattoos.

Have you discussed the kind of tattoo, the size and the location of the tattoo that she wants?

You may have closed the door on this kind of discussion, fearing that talking about it may appear to be hinting that you will change your mind. But, I think your daughter would welcome an opportunity to be heard about why this tattoo seems so important to her right now.

It is quite likely that there is a cultural mismatch between her views and yours. But her attitudes towards tattoos may be equally valid. Listening, openly, doesn't mean that you must change your mind and "give in" to her, but it does mean that she will feel you are making a more fully informed decision, rather than a gut-reaction decision.

The other thing you may want to do is to acknowledge the impact on your daughter, of your decision to forbid her from getting a tattoo. When we make decisions for our teenagers, it can be hard for them to deal with that decision.

Some empathy from parents goes a long way to reducing the disappointment or frustration that might have come with the decision we have made.

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