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I will pierce minors but .... a parent and child guide.

This is a subject that comes up over and over in the daily operation of the Axiom and it has been an on going struggle to find a policy that is not only ethical and in the best interest of the piercee. As I have mentioned before a piercing is permanently altering your body. Even if the jewelry is removed the scar tissue will remain. In Western culture there are very few rites of passage that are marked by the body and increasingly teenagers and young adults are drawn to body modifications as a way to mark their way into adulthood. 

Even if your teenage years are far behind you, we all experienced the need to express our independence and reaching adulthood. Either through clothing, musical interests or other activities. Piercing represents a number of different things to different people and I could spend hours listing the reasons why people get piercings but the most common is to mark a time or change in their life. So it shouldn't be surprising that your child wants a piercing.

When I first started piercing professionally at Creative Images, we had a strictly 18 and over policy. I have to admit it made my life pretty easy, all I had to say was no. However I learned quickly that when someone has a desire to get something they will find a way and too often with truly terrible results under very unsafe conditions.  I know as a parent it's hard not to feel like a your relationship with your child may feel more like that of the role of a prison guard looking out for the best interest of your Inmates, I mean child. While they are plotting non-stop way of circumventing your authority. The truth is they are cleaver and smart and more than likely you had a lot to do with that and if there is a will they will find a way.

Time and time again, I have parents contacting me or stopping by the studio and it is clear that they really want me to say that I won't do it. Then are often disappointed when I don't seem to have an opinion one way or another. I've always felt that it was not my responsibility to decide weather a person should get pierced or not.  My responsibility stops at supplying the client and/or client's legal guardian with as much information as I can, so they can make an educated decision. In the end it is up to the legal guardian to decide weather or not the piercee is making the correct decision but I have to point out that it is better to be involved in this decision than to have that power taken away and than deal with the after math.

As parents and kids believe this, we don't like to deny our child anything. We deeply want to honor that pledge we made as a child when we were denied something that we would be cooler than our parents and more open minded. However as parents we have the benefit of experience and a better understanding of the risks and effect of the actions of youth. Now understand there is a difference between prejudice and an educated view point. Piercings are not for everyone but when being involved with the decision of weather or not they are for your child, it is important to put your personal views a side. The fact is that part of the experience of parenting is coming to terms that you didn't reproduce a duplicate of yourself. Now I'm not saying just throw caution and let them do whatever they want. No, one of the most important roles you have as a parent is to make sure that they don't do something that will adversely effect their health or future and make educated decisions.

In the State of Iowa there is no law prohibiting or regulating the piercing of minors. This varies from state to state and city to city and there are a number of businesses that will pierce minors without any form of consent from a legal guardian. Often they will pierce anyone over the age of 16. Now I really don't understand why 16 is a magic number because the fact is the state of Iowa does not consider them adults and responsible for their actions until they are 18. The reason I bring this up is that it does create a situation where the piercer could be held liable if the guardian didn't give consent. It puts the piercer's ethics in question because you have to wonder if they are willing to take the chance of being sued by an unhappy guardian, what other chances are they willing to take to increase profit. 

So that's the first reason that I don't pierce anyone under 18 without parent consent, the second is that I want the parent involved. I think it is important from the question of responsibility.  We all develop at different ages and healing out a piercing does take a commitment and you are a much better gauge of weather your child is responsible enough to make than commitment than the years they have been on this planet. Piercings can take up to a year to heal to the point where they are no longer an open pathway to the body and prone to infection. 

Also on the subject of age, I need to address what age is too young? When I first started piercing minors with guardian consent, I was strict about it being on no one under the age of 16. The biggest concern was that the body is not fully developed and that the piercing can shift and migrate by the time the person reaches adulthood. However the concern is the question of maturity, understanding of the risks and responsibility.  I was a hard liner on this for years until I had a number of minors come in with infections and other problems. What caused me to change my thinking was that a majority of them had contacted me first and I flat out refused. Which limited their options to doing the piercing either themselves or having their friends do it. A couple of them became acutely infected because they had hidden the infection from their parents and not gotten the medical intervention that was needed.

Self piercing is a debate that has been on going for years and many people aren't aware that many place on line and even piercing studios will sell self piercing kits. They usually include jewelry, a piercing needle and maybe set of forceps sometimes sold in sterile packages and including a one page guide. Now too often people under value the expertise of a professional piercer and I could on and on about what goes into doing a piercing correctly. In part I think maybe it is how easy a professional piercer makes it look. What is often not noticed is the expertise and knowledge of the anatomy, cross contamination prevention and access to proper sterilization that is hidden behind the scenes of the piercing procedure. I'm a huge support of DIY but there are certain dangers involved in piercings that don't make it something I would suggest doing yourself.

So, after hearing and seeing first hand the results of countless under 15 self piercings that included sharing of unsterile needs and tools, infections that were not addressed on a timely bases and piercings done with just about every sharp object you would find in your house, I began piercing minors under 16 with the consent of their legal guardian. It took some soul searching but it came down to the right ethical choice and it's a balancing act. On one hand, there is the increased risks of migration and rejection of the piercing but their is also my ethical responsibility to my community to provide safe and well preformed piercings to those wishing to have one. I concluded that it is more ethical to offer the option to minor's with the consent of their guardian then it was to not to.

Now back to the question of how young is too young? Well there really isn't a clear answer. When asked by parents I focus on two topics. Maturity level and how responsible the minor is. It can take anywhere from 8 weeks to a year for a piercing to heal to the point where precautions no long have to be taken. These include cleaning in the shower day, Hot Soaks or compresses for 10 minutes twice daily, cross contamination prevention including not swimming and the restriction of some activity. Also how well they handle pain and fear of the unknown should be considered. There is always an amount of risk to the piercer and piercee during the piercing procedure and if they move during the procedure there is also a risk of needle sticks to both. If you child can not sit still during a shot, they will more than likely not sit still during a piercing. Also movement during the procedure can cause the piercing to be misplaced or cause the separation of the needle and jewelry during the jewelry insertion.

Increasingly, I'm asked by clients to pierce their small child's ears. Usually this is because they have been educated to the risks of body piercing devices and fear for the health of their child. It is my experience that they will not sit still during the procedure and want nothing to do with me. It is best to wait until they are older not only because of the risks of the procedure but because the ear lobe grows a great deal between the pre-teen years and adulthood. I also do not suggest having the piercing done with an ear piercing device or "gun". However you could reduce the risk by using a single usage piercing device but it would be best to wait until they are older.

When it comes to considering letting your minor child get a piercing regardless of their age I suggest you think about the following:

  1. Responsibility - Can your minor child handle the commitment that it is going to take to heal the piercing and avoid infection? Also if there is a problem are they going to make you aware of the problem immediately?
  2. Maturity - How are they going to act during the procedure? Are they going to listen and pay attention to the consultation and understand the risks involved? 
  3. The Risks - The biggest risk with piercing minors is the possibility that the piercing with migrate or shift and move by the time they reach adulthood. Which means that they may lose the piercing completely or have to have the piercing redone. Also if it is an oral piercings there are the increased risks of damage to teeth, gums and bones in the mouth that are higher than they would be in adults.
  4. Your relationship with your minor child - If I've learned anything from piercing minors in the past it is that they often take better care of their piercing than many adults. In part this is because their parent and guardian are involved in the piercing choice and willing to help remind them to take care of the piercings. Also with the parents involved in the piercing, when a problem comes up, the child is more likely to inform the guardian that there is a problem and get it addressed quickly before there is additional problems.

No one knows your child as well as you do. There is no way for me or any piercer to judge weather they are ready to have a piercing. This decision is completely in your lap and often I'm contacted by parents that say, "I'm unsure they are ready for this." It can be a difficult decision but I really suggest that you take this opportunity to involve your child in the decision. Not only because it takes some of the pressure off of you but it also can be a very rewarding experience. Here's some suggestion that I make to parents:

  1. Once your child informs you that they want a piercing be involved. Do not just say, "No" or "I'll think about it." Keep the dialog open.
  2. Research the piercing and piercer. I suggest that both of you do this.
  3. Make a visit to the piercing studio and have a consultation with the piercer before getting the piercing done. It really is the only way to judge your piercer and since you have already done the research, you will have plenty of educated questions to ask. Plus most piercer, including me, have a set of points they will bring up in the consultation that you may not have thought of. Also make it clear to your child that this is for research and that they won't be getting the piercing that day.
  4. Have both you and your child write a pro and con paper about the piercing. I think this is important because it shows that your child has put some thought into this and shows that they are making a responsible decision. 

Now that you have decided to let your child get the piercings, I'd like to cover some of my policies on piercing minors:

  1. I will not pierce anyone under the age of 18 without written consent from a legal guardian. I prefer that the parent or guardian is present and signs the release form.
  2. I will accept a notarized letter consent and make this clear this is a letter signed by the legal guardian that has been notarized by a registered notary public. There are a number of businesses you can have this done. Usually any business that is involved in finical, legal or reality. Though even some check casing and UPS stores offer the service. The key is that it verification that the letter was signed by a guardian by a third party. The letter should state the minor's name, that you are that child's legal guardian, that you are consenting to have the piercer do the piercing, and the date of the piercing. I've created a letter that you can download and print here.
  3. If the legal guardian is not a parent and has court ordered guardianship, I require a photo copy of the court document and the court ordered guardian must be present at the time of the piercing with a state issued ID. 

As always if you have any questions feel free to contact DaVo at davo@axiompiercing.com, by phone at 515-966-4814 or through the Contact Information page. If you are wondering if I pierce infants and small children or are a parent that is thinking about having their child piercings please read my blog on the subject - Piercing Infants and Small Children.

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