Tattoos, Piercings, and Your College Student

How much control should we exert over our college age children who we still financially support? Should they be able to pierce or tattoo themselves even if we don't agree?


Twice in the last month I've had conversations with friends whose college age children had either tattooed or pierced themselves after their parents had told them not to. In both cases, the kids had already been tattooed or pierced at least once before.

In both cases, the parents wanted to threaten the end of financial support as punishment for the body art. They were that angry. Of course, both eventually calmed down. But it got me to thinking...is it okay to demand that our college age children (over 18) handle their bodies the way we want them to?

My husband, seventeen year old daughter, and I all talked about these incidents. I wanted to see what they thought. My initial feeling was that once a child reaches eighteen, we can't really tell them what to do with their own bodies, though I would draw the line at drug or alcohol abuse. (With drug or alcohol abuse, I think it's appropriate to do whatever it takes to stop the habit.)  But with tattoos or piercings, as long as it's not my money being used, I don't think I have the right to tell my child she can't do that to her body.  Technically, she's an adult.  If she regrets it later, I chalk it up to a learning experience, and she can then pay to have the tattoo removed or allow the piercing to close.

My husband agreed with me that there is little or nothing one can do when an adult child makes this decision.  We both thought cutting off financial support seemed drastic. But our daughter had the opposite reaction. She felt that parents have the right to tell a college age child (or any adult child being financially supported by his or her parents) not to become pierced or tattoed and that cutting off financial support could be an appropriate reaction.  My husband and I were surprised, to say the least. I had thought for sure she would agree that anyone over eighteen has the right to do what she wants to her body, regardless of what her parents think. It turns out that I was wrong to assume that.

The years from eighteen to twenty two are years of huge growth and development for kids. They go into college as children, often unsure of what they want to do, having never made big or even daily decisions on their own before.  In four years, they have to decide who they are, what they want, and become adult enough to go into the workforce.  If, in that four years, they try to claim themselves in other ways, I say let them.  If, in the future, they decide they made the wrong decision, you can say, "I told you so," even if you only say it in your own mind. . .

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morrigan November 30, 2011 at 04:05 AM
I would be interested to know what your daughter's reasons were! If a student is being financially supported by his or her parents, does that mean he/she does not really have the rights/responsibilities of an adult, even if over 18? I'd love to know what she thinks about this. I would imagine that most parents have experienced the cringe factor when their young adult offspring make unfortunate decisions. However, you are right -- we all learn from our mistakes. Learning who we are -- and who we aren't -- is a lifetime adventure!
Judy Walters November 30, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Morrigan, As hard as it is for parents to watch, it's important, I think, to let your kids make mistakes, as long as their lives are not being put in danger.
Judy Walters November 30, 2011 at 06:43 PM
Concerned SB Citizen, So if you had a 50 year old who was making a decision you didn't like, would yout ell him/her? Are you also saying that people with tattoos or piercing are not capable of getting a college education? Who are they wrongly associating with? And are they unable then to have good jobs?


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