The inside scoop on piercing, branding and tattoos
The inside scoop on piercing, branding and tattoos
Older folks who grew up in another day and age call it "weird," "sick" and "disgusting." It draws stares of curiosity and disapproval. Some of it is extreme enough to set off airport metal detectors. It's officially known as "body modification" or "body decoration" and, whatever you think, it's not just the long-haired guy on the Harley-Davidson who's darkening the door of the local tattoo parlor anymore. Today, there's a good chance the 13-year-old girl next door is going to have holes pierced in more than her ears. Same goes for her 11-year-old brother! And the 15-year-old freckle-faced boy in the church youth group might just show up in a sleeveless shirt to show off his new tattoo. Forget your stereotypes. This is the '90s and yesterday's fringe extreme is today's youth culture mainstream.
What are today's kids doing to their bodies? What's the attraction? And, should we be concerned about this growing fascination with body modification?
Piercing is the most popular form of body modification among teens. Single and multiple ear piercings have been popular with girls and guys for years. Now it's becoming increasingly common for kids to sport piercings on their neck, eyebrows, tongue, navel, nose and lips. The July 1997 Journal of the American Dental Association reports that as many as one in 30 dental patients sports some sort of oral jewelry. Of course, dangers include infection, choking on vomit, chipped teeth, speech impediments and blocked airways.
Other types of piercings are more daring and sexual in nature. Growing in popularity are piercings in areas including the nipples, penis, scrotum, clitoris and vagina. Experts believe that some of this more extreme piercing is actually a form of self-mutilation. It's not difficult to see why!
Tattoos, long associated with tough guy stereotypes of sailors and bikers, are now commonplace among both male and female teens as a form of self-expression. Running the spectrum from a small picture on an inconspicuous part of the body to elaborate artwork for all to see, the rage is being fueled by their popularity among pop culture icons, particularly sports stars and musicians. When we asked tattooed Christian high school students "why?" they answered: "This was something I really wanted to do," and "It says something about who I am." In fact, when asked about their choice of design, all said their body art expressed the importance of their faith in God. Tattoos are usually chosen to express something that lies under the individual's skin.
Health professionals are concerned about the growing practice of homemade tattoos, which increase the risk of HIV, infectious hepatitis and other illness. With a needle and $2 bottle of India Ink purchased from an art store or stolen from the school art closet, kids are tattooing themselves and each other. Sometimes they gather at weekend tattoo parties for a few hours of drinking and tattooing.
Branding is another form of "body art" that certainly isn't for the squeamish. Bent pieces of sheet metal shaped in various designs are heated up to 1,800 degrees and pressed into the flesh leaving intricate and elaborate raised scars. Branding parlors are popping up in major cities across the U.S. Psychologists believe that, unlike those who get pierced and tattooed, many branders are actually masochists who do it for the pain and "rush" of the process rather than the resulting design.
"Branding parties" are becoming increasingly popular with teens who press their flesh with coat hangers and paper clips heated over kitchen stoves or butane lighters.
What will you do if your kids indicate an interest in branding, tattooing or piercing? Of course, CPYU strongly encourages children and teens to respect and obey the God-given authority of their parents. But parents should realize that it's extremely important to get to the reasons behind these wishes and behaviors in order to better understand and more effectively minister to your kids. Here are a few of our thoughts:
First, realize that as body modification moves into the mainstream culture, more and more kids will express interest simply because that's what their friends are doing. In other words, just because a child expresses interest doesn't mean he or she is crazy, rebellious or psychologically unstable. While an earring on your son may seem revolting to you, it could just be a matter of personal preference and style, not something that's morally and ethically wrong. While we know of no Biblical prohibition for the practice, CPYU respects your parental right and responsibility to make the call.
Second, we should examine whether their desires and behaviors are a sign of something deeper. Is it part of a "uniform" that facilitates identity with a group consciously rebelling against parental authority for one reason or another? If so, does the absence of an earring or tattoo because of parental prohibition indicate outward conformity to parental wishes without addressing the real root of the problem expressed in the body modification? These are questions we should ask as we evaluate our relationships with our kids.
And finally, is the behavior the outward expression of extreme inner anguish? Rather than the modification serving as an attempt to be stylish, is it an expression of an attempt to survive? In these cases, kids aren't simply enduring a little pain for a look that will add to their personal appearance. They are seeking the experience as a release for inward anger and pain. In these cases it is extremely important to recognize that forcing outward conformity rarely is an avenue to inward change. The root problems must be addressed.
At the present time, it appears body art and modification will continue to increase in prevalence throughout youth culture. Our job begins with the process of discernment as we ask, "Why?"
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For more information on resources to help you understand today's rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.
©1998, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding