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Tattoos, piercings and unnatural hair color is just the next generation's way of keeping up appearances. (Note: This photo is not of a Molinari offspring.)
Tattoos, piercings and unnatural hair color is just the next generation's way of keeping up appearances. (Note: This photo is not of a Molinari offspring.) (iStock)

Our 26-year-old son hasn’t trimmed his beard in three years and wears a brown Walmart sweatshirt every day. Our 23-year-old daughter had her café au lait hair dyed orangey copper. Our 20-year-old daughter wears long, wildly-painted fingernails and a fake nose ring.

If I had my way, they’d be clean cut and all natural, but I encourage these semi-permanent fashion choices. Why? Because today’s kids are under pressure to take risks to fit in, often in the form of permanent tattoos and body piercings.

My parents had it so easy. They never worried that I might come home with a tattoo on my thigh or a bolt through my cheek, because back then, only punk rockers and ne’er-do-wells did that kind of thing.

Well … unless you count Navy sailors.

But today, it doesn’t matter how well we raise our kids. It doesn’t mean a hill of beans what socio-economic category your family falls into. It’s irrelevant whether your kids are on the Dean’s List or in detention, whether your kids want to be doctors or ditch diggers, whether they aspire to live in the White House or the Big House.

Today, behavior that was once reserved for the fringes of society has become mainstream. It’s no longer a question of whether our kids will get tattoos or body piercings, but when.

In 1984, my college dorm mate shoved a needle through my left earlobe and into a raw potato, then inserted a tiny gold stud. That night while dancing to Duran Duran at the frats, I sported my new asymmetrical ears with confidence. The third earring seemed to scream, “Look! I’m not the geek you thought I was!”

That was about as daring as we got back in the ‘80s. But being cool now requires elaborate tattoos and piercings on every body part imaginable: tongues, cheeks, eyebrows, lips, nostrils, and nipples, to name a few.

While we were stationed in Germany, I was at my daughter’s indoor soccer tournament when the moms on either side of me struck up a conversation.

“When I turned 40, I got my lower back tattoo and ...”

“Oh my God, me too!” the other mom interrupted, lifting her shirt to show an Asian symbol. “I’m not exactly sure what it means.”

The moms went on to complain that their jeans irritated their belly button rings, and I began to worry.

With everyone (and their mother, literally) mutilating their bodies these days, to what extremes will our kids go to set themselves apart? And, what will happen when they age?

Does a lower back tattoo that says “Juicy” end up looking more like “Jeewillickers” after stretch marks, age spots and spider veins? Will Grandma look sexy when it peeks out of her elastic waistband during morning calisthenics at The Happy Acres Retirement Village? Maybe Grandpa will stop eating his rice pudding long enough to wheel his chair over and slap her on the tush. Grandma might wink at him, because only she knows that under all that half-chewed rice his dentures are hiding a tongue piercing he got when he was 18.

Wow, that’s hot.

Should we give in and buy our kids gift cards from “Needles R Us”? Should we accompany them for their first bolt-fitting and take them out for ice cream afterwards? Should we pick out tattoo designs for ourselves to fit our parental lifestyles? (I might start with a nice frying pan on my hip, or maybe a laundry basket on my ankle.)

No, we shouldn’t embrace body mutilation any more than we should keep badgers as pets, but we should keep trying to talk sense to our kids.

Soon after that indoor soccer game, my husband and I made a family rule: If you want to get a permanent tattoo or body piercing, you must be a financially independent adult. In the meantime, you are welcome to let your semi-permanent freak flag fly as long as we are paying for your phone, car, college tuition, health insurance, room or board.

And if you really want to take risks, leave your body unaltered and become a true non-conformist.


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