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Monday, October 11, 2010

Does Ink Stink?

Body art, once sported by bikers, longshoremen, marines, and punks, is going more mainstream, showing up in white-collar workplaces. As more young employees – both women and men – opt for ink and piercings, they face decisions about how much decorated skin to bare or not to bare.

Mary Pflum , ABC News reporter stated, "A 2010 Pew Research study found that nearly 40 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 have tattoos, and of those, half have two to five tattoos.
The study also found that parents increasingly support their kids' decisions to get tattoos." The research found that gender is not a factor in either tatooing or untraditional hair-dyeing -- men and women are about equally likely to have done either. ("Teens and Tattoos: Would You Let Your Teen Get Inked?" Good Morning America - ABC News, October 11, 2010)

And, according to Plum, a ballot on reported 15 percent of moms say they'd allow their teens to get a tattoo while 30 percent say they're either uncertain or are open to the idea, depending on a teenager's age.

Why Do Young People Get Tattooed?

Noted psychologist David Elkind. Elkind emphasized that the growing ability to engage in abstract thinking, first prominent in early teens during a period of tumultuous physical growth and change, causes teens to wonder what others are thinking. The combination of these two forces creates the notion for them that everyone is thinking about the same thing, namely themselves.(M.C. Graham, A. Teall. "Fron Self-expression to Self-harm: the "Normal and Abnormal." Program and abstracts of the American College of Nurse Practitioners National Clinical Conferences; October 11-15, Orlando, Florida; 2006)

This belief that "everyone is looking at me and thinking about me because that's what I'm thinking about" leads to Elkind's concept termed the "imaginary audience." This leads to teens filtering their behavior through the lens of others' perceived views and observation, and leads to the self-centeredness so typical of late middle school and early high school. The logical conclusion of this belief that "everyone is looking at me" is that the reason for the audience's attention is that the teen is someone indeed special. (D. Elkind. "Understanding the Young Adolescent." Adolescence 13. 1978)

Adolescents are commonly observed to be trying to be "on-stage, noticed, and visible." For example, the student who thinks that simple, small pimple is noticed and stared at by everyone or the adolescent who is convinced everyone sees that tiny stain on his or her pants is experiencing feelings of an "imaginary audience."

This belief in their own uniquenesss and specialness, termed by Elkind as a "personal fable" (egocentrism by over-differentiating of one's experiences and feelings from others to the point of assuming those experiences are unique from those of others) leads to the concept that the laws of nature do not apply to oneself, which is the underpinning of adolescent risk-taking behavior. Teens believe that nothing bad will happen to them, that they will not suffer the consequences of this behavior, because it is not part of their image and fable. Such  people might believe they are the only ones who can experience whatever feelings of joy, horror, misery, or confusion they might encounter. (D. Elkind. "Egocentrism in Adolescence." Child Development, 38. 1967.
Whereas wild clothes and make-up used to be rites of passage into adolescence, that's not true today, said Elkind. The preadolescent 11- and 12-year-olds -- the Britney Spears generation -- are pushing that fashion envelope. Body piercing, tattoos, and music are today's "markers" of adolescence. "No self-respecting 15-year-old is going to listen to Britney Spears," he claimed. (J.L. Davis. "Teenagers: Why Do They Rebel?" January 31 2005)

Another dynamic is experience: first love, first sex, first drugs, first drinking. In earlier generations, children weren't expected to be sexually active -- or experiment with alcohol or drugs -- until they turned 17 or 18, when they were better able to resist peer pressure, reported Elkind. "Now they're getting pressure at 13 and 14, when they're too young to resist. It's not that child development has changed, it's that the demands are coming at earlier ages." 

Dr. Andre Martin, who wrote an article on teenagers and tattoos, said, “Tattoos and piercing can offer a concrete and readily available solution for many of the identity crises and conflicts normative to adolescent development. In using such decorations, and by marking out their bodily territories, adolescents can support their efforts at autonomy, privacy, and insulation. Seeking individuation, tattooed adolescents can become unambiguously demarcated from others and singled out as unique. The intense and often disturbing reactions that are mobilized in viewers can help to effectively keep them at bay, becoming tantamount to the proverbial 'Keep Out' sign hanging from a teenager's door.” ("On Teenagers and Tattoos." Reclaiming Children and Youth. Fall. 2000)

Martin also claimed that there’s also the quest for permanence. He said that an adolescent’s desire to cling to a current certainty could motivate him to put down in ink what is valued and cherished today, but may not be the same thing that is valued and cherished twelve months down the road.

Lynn E. Ponton, M.D., professor of child psychiatry at the University of California, reported that it's easy for teens to view their own bodies as canvases as it's what they have to experiment with. "Adolescents today are isolated in their own cocoons, either in front of TVs or computers. There's the notion of "It's my body, and I can do with it what I want," she says. In her book, The Romance Of Risk: Why Teenagers Do The Things They Do, Ponton proposes that teenage "acting out" can be understood in terms of "risk-taking," and that by redirecting this natural impulse into healthy channels parents can minimize the dangers inherent in today's teen culture and help their children develop into mature individuals.

As young people discover the world, discover their own bodies and form bonds and relationships, they deserve time and space, allowing them to make decisions regarding their bodies – up to a certain extent.

But, those like Robert Butterworth, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, is quoted in a recent article on teen body art. "We all know from our teenage years that a lot of the weird things we did were phases," he says. "But when you start doing something that's going to make it difficult to function in the world, then parents have to step in and say, 'Not until you leave home.'” Kids, he says, aren’t going to like it, but ultimately it’s the grown-up who is in charge [Dina Santorelli. Parenting Teens Online. February 2008].

Another large influence on teens and tattoos is the amount of teen celebrities donning their ink. Just last year, at the Teen Choice Awards, which as the name implies, has an audience of mostly 11-17 year olds, a Jonas Brother, a heartthrob among young girls, was tattooed on stage by none other than celebrity tattoo artist, Kat Von D. It wasn't revealed to the viewers at the show or at home that the tattoo was not real. Many parents were again outraged. (Stacie Goldmeier. "Tattoo Influence and Teens." 2010)

The Pocketbook 

Along with the permanent alteration to the body, the health risks associated with tattoos must be considered: tattoo removal, adverse reactions to tattoo colors, and infections that result from tattooing. Many pigments that are used in tattoo inks are not even approved or permitted for skin contact at all.
"It's $50 to get a tattoo, and add a few zeros to get rid of it," says Ranella Hirsch, a Cambridge, Mass., cosmetic dermatologist. Dermatologists are seeing rising demand for tattoo removal by laser surgery, a costly process that often fails to erase them entirely, says Dr. Hirsch, a spokeswoman for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.(Sue Shellenbarger. "Parenting the Teen With the Heart Tattoo." Barron's. September 29 2010)

But the permanence of a tattoo is exactly what attracts many teens. In a digital age of fleeting images and communications, family turbulence and rapid social change, the idea of making a commitment that lasts forever is attractive to some. Among teens, popular designs are quotes or favorite sayings, as well as hearts and flowers for girls, and tribal arm bands or animals for guys. People are even being tattooed as a sign of their lasting commitment to her religious faith.

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