| 12.3°C Dublin

Melanie Morris: My advice to teenage pop wannabes -- don't do like Cher, think before you ink

Is it an act of rebellion, a fashion statement or a whim? What makes a teenager decide he or she wants a tattoo, and, more to the point, what makes a tattoo artist think they are above the law to indelibly ink someone under 18?

Whatever the reason, the number of hearts, bows, Sanskrit words, Chinese symbols and butterflies that adorn kids as young as 15 these days is alarming.

They see David Beckham with his full sleeves of ink, Cheryl Cole with her thorny thigh, and, more recently, busy back. Lady Gaga is telling kids it's okay to be different while waving decorated limbs in the air, and now teenage sensations such as Miley Cyrus are blatantly breaking the law and getting multiple tattoos before legally being entitled to.

We all know that getting a tattoo is a serious matter, but can any teenage brain actually appreciate how long 'forever' actually is? These kids can barely commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone fathom that a design they doodle in the back of the classroom will accompany them into the boardroom, should they tattoo it on their body and progress accordingly through life.

I was 28 when I got my first tattoo. A tiny sheep on the inside of my right ankle. I was so terrified my parents would find out, I kept it covered, and the design a secret, for five years. Eventually, my eagle-eyed mother spotted it one summer and said, "oh, you've a little sheep". It's never been referred to since.

Then, in 2004, I got a series of coloured discs inked on my back. I 'fessed up to that one, but my folks were less than impressed. At least I was old enough to be responsible for my actions, though, and I'd thought about it both long and hard before embarking.

Nor did I get them in parts of my body that would be on show, or would become unflattering over time.

A teenager can't possibly have the depth of wisdom to know what they're committing to. Like all youngsters through time, they are easily led by their peers -- and flavour-of-the-month celebrities -- and are then being indulged by 'artists' who turn a blind eye to age.


Look at X Factor finalist Cher Lloyd. Just 17 and already she has clocked up a whopping eight tattoos, most of them on constant show, most taking up vast amounts of her tiny body.

At her first audition, she already had one hand inked, inspired by Cheryl Cole's similar work. This week Cher has had 'Daddy' emblazoned across her other hand.

Without sounding like an old one, what was she thinking? Or, more to the point, what sort of adult guardian has she, who would okay such endeavours?

And it's only in later years that the horrid truth sets in, something no amount of laser removal can erase.

I remember a good few years ago being so amused at the tattoo on a rather short-lived (polite euphemism) ex's arm that I had to take a photo of it while he slept and send it to my gal pals. I don't think that was why the poor guy had a fighting leprechaun put there, but I guess stupid is as stupid does.

Of course, there are tattoo artists that take their profession seriously, that abide strictly by their industry's code. Equally, there are the ones who will indulge youngsters and encourage them.

Cher Lloyd won't be 18 until next July. Until then she's performing in front of tweenies and no doubt filling their heads with distorted ideas of what's cool and acceptable when it comes to body art (among other things, no doubt). I guess it's back to the age-old question -- why are youngsters so keen to grow up so quickly?