Family, Kids & Relationships

How to respond when your teen asks for a tattoo

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When your teenager comes home and begs you to let them get a tattoo, it can be a challenging conversation for parents. You don’t want to flat out refuse, as there is every chance they’ll rebel as a result.

There’s a lot for families to consider, so take your time, do some research together, and help your child understand the long-term implications. Good tattoo shops will also be willing to chat about the design and make sure that your teenage child has thoroughly thought through the details and potential repercussions of a tattoo.

If you instantly rule out your teen getting a tattoo, your response could have a negative impact on your relationship with them, undermine their sense of autonomy, and fuel more arguments at home. Instead, take them seriously and have a meaningful discussion.

What do you do when your child wants a tattoo?

First, it is important not to panic and give an annoyed response, even if you’re terrified of the idea. Telling your child “no” instantly will give them the impression that you haven’t really thought about it, or that you aren’t being considerate of their needs.

Understand the laws on getting a tattoo in your state. In some states, your teenager might need written permission to get a tattoo before the age of 18—while in others, it may be illegal altogether for minors, or possibly even legal without a parent or guardian’s consent. 

It also helps to do some research on the industry itself. Look up reputable, licensed tattoo shops in your area and find out what measures they take to make tattoos safe from a health perspective. Also research the options for things like laser tattoo removal in case your child does get a tattoo and then they do not want it at some point in the future.

Pros and cons of getting a tattoo as a teen

There are both positives and negatives to consider about getting tattoos as a teen, and these should not only be part of your discussion, but can also help inspire further research.

Pros:

  • It provides a form of expression and can potentially help boost your sense of identity and confidence.
  • Tattoos can help you to pay tribute to a loved one or to remember someone who has passed away.
  • Tattoos are becoming much more mainstream, so discreet ones may not impact your chances of employment in the future.

Cons:

  • The pain. It is definitely worth thinking about the fact that this is going to hurt, particularly on certain areas of the body.
  • You might change your mind in the future, and this is much more likely if you are a teenager because teen brains typically aren’t wired to think long-term. While you have the option of laser tattoo removal, this can also hurt, not be 100 percent effective, and be prohibitively expensive.
  • The cost. For some families, spending money on a tattoo may not be a financially responsible decision right now.
  • Health risks. Tattoos can lead to allergic reactions, infections, scarring, and additional complications, especially if you have sensitive skin or certain health conditions.
  • Teens’ bodies may not be done growing, so tattoos done at a young age could stretch out or look different in the future.

Ask their reasons for wanting a tattoo

Try to understand why they really want a tattoo, without judgment. As well as helping you to connect and communicate, this discussion could also demonstrate to a teen that their reasons might not be the most sensible. For instance, they probably shouldn’t get a tattoo of the initials of someone they have been dating for a short time.

When discussing why they want a tattoo, there is always the option to remind them that there is no rush to decide, and that since it will be permanent, there’s no harm in waiting until they are a bit older.

Present different forms of personal expression

Tattoos are a powerful form of expression, and this is one of the main reasons that so many young people are drawn to them. The teen years should be full of expression, and if your teen doesn’t have the chance to express themselves via art, music, or other hobbies, they may be more likely to want a tattoo.

If you can provide another outlet for young people then there is every chance that they might be less inclined to make any rash decisions. Discuss options that are less permanent, such as dyeing or cutting hair, experimenting with makeup, trying out different clothing or jewelry styles, or starting their own creative project.

If you do agree they can get a tattoo at some point, talk about what size, location, colors, or design might be smartest for a starter tattoo. If they’re really into the art and design aspect of getting inked, suggest that they try it out by ordering their own custom-designed temporary tattoos, or inking the design onto their shoes.

Do not give in to pressure

As a parent, you should not give in to the pressure your child may put you under if you say “no” or “not yet.” If you are still their guardian, and they need to ask you for permission to get their ink, then you have the right to withhold your consent.

We know how persistent teenagers can be and they may not give up on the idea of their tattoo once they’ve decided what they want, but this doesn’t mean that you should give in and provide your consent if you are not comfortable. It’s also important to ensure that your teen is not giving in to pressure from peers, either. 

Agreeing on an age when you will support them in getting a tattoo may help them feel listened to, while also teaching them delayed gratification and allowing them to think on it for a longer period. While you’re at it, also decide who will ultimately pay for the tattoo and where that money will come from.

Engage in respectful conversations

It is common for parent and child relationships to take on a familiar pattern. If you’re the sort of parent who’s more likely to say “no” to the idea of a tattoo, it’s tempting to just tell your child that they’re not allowed—but this doesn’t really give them any context or reasoning.

It’s important that your teen is allowed to have autonomy over their own body, so there’s a balance to strike here. Show that you respect them by framing the discussion in terms of the long-term effects on their body and identity expression. Without judgment, ask genuine questions about what they hope to be doing with their lives in 10 years—and ask if they can see themselves doing these things with the same design on their skin.

Be sure to have real, meaningful conversations about it where you can both share your points of view. This can help you to understand if your teen’s wish for a tattoo is genuine and long-term, and it can help them to understand why you might choose to say “no” or “not yet” to their request.


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Jacob Pullman is an enthusiastic writer and educator, who also handles content marketing at Skin Design Tattoo by day and is a movie fan by night. Jacob’s ultimate goal is to spread knowledge about relationships (but only theoretically, he is still single), body art and a healthy lifestyle, and of course everything related to tattoo art.