Parents know that when the teen years roll around, there will be arguments. Those arguments typically have been about driving the car, dating, homework or chores. But now you can add a new issue to that list…tattoos.
All you have to do is turn on the TV and tattoo shows are everywhere: LA Ink, Miami Ink, Ink Master, Tattoo Highway. Elsewhere in our culture, the celebrity world is full of tattooed stars in sports, singing and on the big screen.
Even the makers of the iconic Barbie doll have come out with a version in which Barbie sports a tattoo. So is it any wonder that kids who are barely even teenagers themselves want to be tattoed?
The Story of 13-Year-Old Taylar Miller of Elkhart
Taylar, who attends Westside Middle School in Elkhart, says she wants a tattoo so she can have some real art on her arm, body art.
"I actually want to draw the tattoo," Taylar says.
But Taylar already has some horror stories to tell of tattooing that's gone bad for her peers.
"Like one girl at school who does have a tattoo, the artist did mess up and it cut her arm," Taylar explains.
Taylar's mom, Toni Fackelman, is firm when it comes to laying down the law that her daughter must be 18 before she can get a tattoo.
"I told her 18, when you know that's what you want. I want it to be her decision and not me signing a paper saying you can do it. It is surprising, when I was 13, we didn't think about tattoos. They are starting young. It's just too young," Fackelman adds.
According to the laws in Indiana and Michigan, minors need to have signed parental permission to be tattooed and the parent must be present to give permission. There are no laws in either state about how young is too young to be tattooed. That is strictly up to parental discretion.
Taylar and her family watch a lot of the "ink shows" because they love the art of it. But Fackelman is concerned about the career implications of a tattoo for her daughter, especially depending upon where the ink is placed.
"I told her I'd like it more concealed," Fackelman cautions.
Plus, there are potential risks.
"There's always health risks, whether it's a clean shop or not," Fackelman warns. "I think that's my main concern."
Fackelman hopes Taylar won't go to tattoo parties and explore that world with other people in a potentially unsafe environment.
"I hope she waits 'til she is 18 and makes it a special moment," Fackelman adds.
Fackelman has younger children as well and she even takes issue with some of the removable tattoos that are available for kids.
"I don't like to see kids in those at that age. These kids want to hurry everything up, it's not just the tattoos," she says.
The story of 15-Year-Old Ashley Weidman of Mishawaka
Ashley, who is a sophomore at P-H-M, has a number of friends and classmates with tattoos. She got hers right before spring break in March. It covers much of her back.
"I chose a rose, a beautiful flower. I knew I wanted scrollwork. In ceramics, many of the pieces have scrollwork that I've done," Ashley explains.
"It's amazing work. I love it. I'm 15 going on 25. I've had to go through certain situations where I've had to be mature and grow up and it's stuck with me. I can love it for the rest of my life. It's a timeless tattoo," Ashley says of her ink.
Ashley's mom, Dawna, was the one who put the tattoo wheels in motion at the Weidman household. She wanted a tattoo and she got hers first.
"I said ‘All right here's the deal, if you come with and hold my hand, I'll let you have a tattoo,’" Dawna says. "If she wants it seen, it can be seen. If not, not."
"It's a tattoo. I figure in 20 years they're going to figure out another way to get these things off," Dawna muses.
The story of Soon-to-be-18 Langston Blair of South Bend
May 5 is Langston Blair's 18th birthday. He's had his appointment to get a tattoo on the books weeks in advance, so that he can be inked almost just as soon as it is legal to do it without parental permission. He's waited because he's had to. His mom, Pam Blair, says the two have argued about it for several years. But she stuck to her guns and refused to allow him to be tattooed before age 18.
"I don't have to consent then. He can be an adult and make the decision himself," says Pam.
"I prefer he do it in a place that can be covered. When you get a tattoo, it's such a big decision. It's marking your body and it's not like you can wash it off later. Those kind of things are visual and you can discriminate against someone," Pam worries.
Langston had to make his appointment a month in advance because the tattoo shop is so booked up. But he hopes his mom will come along on the big day.
"After my friends had tattoos and I saw how cool they looked, I was like I really want a tattoo," Langston says.
'I chose a sun. I'm an only child so I am an only son. Around it, it says 'On This Great Day a Man of God was Born' and it has my birthday," Langston says of a portion of the design he's chosen.
After he graduates from Riley High School this spring, he plans to attend IU Bloomington in the fall to study business. He believes the tattoo can act as a visible moral compass.
"I just thought why not have that to remind me in case I lose my way, not lose my way, but get discouraged, off track. I can look at that and say 'Oh, I'm a great man of God,'" Langston predicts.
The story of 17-Year-Old Danie'l Odle of Elkhart
On Wednesday, April 25th Danie'l embarked on a goal that she has been working toward for four years. She got tattooed. The Elkhart Memorial Junior chose a tattoo to honor her father, Kenneth Odle, who passed away in April of 2008. The tattoo design is wings in the shape of a heart with a cross in the middle and with her dad's name and his dates of birth and death on her back.
"I wanted it to be big and I wanted it to mean something. I'm not going to forget him. I'm putting it on my back to put it out there that I used to have a dad. I want everyone to know him you know?" Danie'l says.
Danie'l walked into the Vanilla Gorilla Tattoo Shop around 5 p.m. for her tattoo appointment. Her mom, Toni Phillips, was with her and had to sign forms and present ID in order for Danie'l to get her tattoo. Toni and Danie'l had done their homework and checked out other shops and tattoo artists before they made their decision.
"I'm nervous for her," Toni admits.
And with good reason, Danie'l admits that she is petrified of needles. During the tattooing process, Danie'l holds her boyfriends hand and squeezes it until he's in pain. In fact, he had to pass off hand-holding duty to Danie'l's good friend, Jordan, at one point. By 8 p.m., tattoo artist, Micah had to end Danie'l's tattoo sitting before the design was complete.
"No use torturing her. Once you pass your pain threshold, it's pretty much over," Micah tells Danie'l and her family.
"It burns really, really bad and the spine is horrible," Danie'l says of the experience.
Danie'l will need a couple weeks to heal before she can return to have the tattoo finished.
"I just wish I could be done so when I go back to school they'll be like 'Why isn't it done?' You try sitting for three hours!"Danie'l explains in frustration.
But even with just a partial tattoo, Danie'l says she has no regrets.
"It looks really good. I love it. I actually surprised myself. I didn't think I was going to go that long. No regrets, none at all," Danie'l says as she emerges from her first tattoo session.
The story of Micah, the Tattoo Artist
"Micah" (who just goes by his first name, which is customary in the tattoo artist industry) has seen a lot in his decades of inking people's bodies, especially when it comes to teens.
"I try not to give them band names or girlfriend names. I try to talk them out of that stuff," Micah says.
He says home tattooing and street tattooing are still common, even though there are more and more professional tattoo shops around.
"It's really a danger to get a tattoo on the street," he warns.
And in the tattoo business, it's all about location, location, location. Micah says he urges young people to really think about *where* they plan to put that tattoo.
"We definitely ward them away from hands or anything you can't cover up with a short sleeve shirt. It's one of the most discriminated things in the job market," he says.
So why have tattoos become so popular and so much more in the mainstream? Micah isn't exactly sure, but perhaps part of the answer lies in our history.
"We've been tattooing ourselves since we were cavemen. Cavemen striped each other with burning sticks and put ashes on their skin. Way back then we had a fascination with marking our bodies," Micah explains.
The story of Tattoo Removal
For this perspective we sought out Dr. Ronald Downs, a plastic surgeon with the Centre, P.C. in Michiana, where tattoo removal is one of the services offered.
"Actually, the population of patients wanting a tattoo removed has gone up logarithmically over the last three years," says Dr. Downs.
In 2010, the practice saw 80 patients come in for tattoo removal. By 2011, that number was over 200.
"So with those kind of statistics, we expect an ongoing increase. We see a lot of young people coming in to do this," Downs adds.
Dr. Downs says removing tattoos is quite a bit more expensive, and more painful, than applying them in the first place. He says the creams and injections you see for tattoo removal on the market are largely unsuccessful. The state of the art in terms of tattoo removal is lasers. Each color of dye in a tattoo requires a different wavelength of laser to remove it. Dr. Downs says most patients who come in, do so out of career concerns. Many workplaces forbid visible tattoos. And you will never get a tattoo removed completely so that your skin looks like it did in the pre-tattoo days. Downs says homemade tattoos are a whole other subject when it comes to removal and they provide a more difficult challenge.
"Tattoos or body art is becoming more acceptable in society and we deal with much more of it, but with the acceptability comes responsibility and the responsibility of people getting tattoos is to be mature and understand this is a permanent issue," Downs says.