Question: A 12 year-old demands a pierced eyebrow. How should a parent respond to this demand?
Answer: Well my first response to this is: Why is this child demanding? Rather than asking? The parents need, I think, to find out by talking with the 12-year-old [about] what's going on. I mean, what does it mean to have a piercing? Is it because the kid wants to be like other kids that have piercings or is it a way to be different? You know, adolescents are struggling with identity and with issues of separation and independence.
So what we really want to know is, is this an effort to be more independent to separate oneself from the family? Or is it a way to kind of stick it to the parents and get them angry and cause a little bit of a ruckus here? So that's the first issue.
The second is for the parents to understand how it affects them. You know, after all it is the child's body, but what are the risks? Are there medical risks? Did the child, for example, get an infection when her ear was pierced? Is this reversible, irreversible? You know a piercing is not a tattoo. What's the image mean to the parent? Are you worried about how this kid is going to look among your friends? Or are you worried about how the kid is going to appear to other adults, other kids, maybe have trouble getting a job because of a piercing?
All of these are considerations and should be thought about by the parents and discussed. I would urge parents to pick your battles. If this is an important battleground and you're going to draw the line and say no, that's fine, but discuss it with the teenager. It demonstrates respect, it demonstrates consideration, and if you say no, you say no. On the other hand, you might say, "Let's see what happens in a year or two." So there's no hard and fast answer about this except engaging in a dialogue, and it paves the way for more important dialogues that are going to be occurring all through adolescence.