Teens and Tattoos: Would You Let Your Teen Get Inked?

Body art has become increasingly common in high schools across the country.

ByMARY PFLUM via via logo
October 11, 2010, 8:28 AM

Oct. 11, 2010— -- From the arms of A-list celebrities like Angelina Jolie on the red carpet to star athletes like David Beckham on the soccer field, it seems as if tattoos are everywhere.

The permanent ink etchings, once associated with comic strip characters like Popeye and big-screen bad boys like Robert DeNiro in the 1991 blockbuster "Cape Fear," have gone mainstream.

Body art has become increasingly common in the hallways of high schools throughout the country.

"In the last 10 years, we've seen more and more teenagers getting tattoos and getting larger tattoos," said Patrick Dean, owner of the Tattooville Tattoo Parlor in Neptune, N.J.

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.

According to a ballot on Cafemom.com, 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.

Tattoo laws for teens under 18 vary from state to state, and in some cases even from city to city. Kathy Linthicum of Arkansas accompanied her son, Matthew Weiss, to a tattoo parlor last week to present him with his 16th birthday gift: a tattoo of a cross he'd been asking for for more than a year.

"I never in a million years thought I'd be giving my son a tattoo for his birthday," said Linthicum, who admits she was reluctant at first but was convinced after months of conversation.

"It did pass through my mind that someday, is he going to say, 'Mom, why'd you let me do this?' But we talked about it for a long time, and it's something he never changed his mind on," she said.

Advice for Parents: Keep an Open Dialogue

According to child psychiatrist Edward Hallowell, Linthicum's approach of keeping an open dialogue is the right tact for parents to take.

"If you come down hard and say, 'No way,' he'll come home the next day with a tattoo. But if you instead say, 'Let's talk about it. I'm interested. Why do you want it? I wouldn't want one. Why do you? Teach me.' That is disarming," Hallowell explains.

Frank discussion with a teen can go a long way, Hallowell says, in helping teens to realize the permanent nature of tattoos. He suggests starting a conversation even before tattoos become a hot topic in the home.

Chief concerns associated with underage tattoos are worries that teens will later regret their decision, and fears that people, including potential employers, will treat a person with a tattoo differently. Tattoo artists warn that inked art on still-developing bodies can change for the worse over time as skin stretches.

There's also a serious risk of infection associated with tattoos. Unsanitary tattooing practices can expose teens to germs and bacteria that cause serious skin infections, such as staph infections, tuberculosis and hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses. Tattoo artists should use sterile needles and razors, wash hands, wear gloves and keep all surfaces clean to protect their clients from the risk of infections. Only nine states have proper health codes in place for tattoo parlors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Breanna Hembree, 17, says she doesn't think she'll regret her decision to get a heart tattooed on her stomach at age 16.

"I don't think this tattoo will ever get old," she says. "I honestly don't feel as if I'll ever have any reason to get it removed."

Her mom stands by the decision as well. "Breanna is a very mature girl for her age," her mother, Dahloan, says. "We have very good communication so that encouraged me to let her do it."

Though more and more parents are open to the idea of teenage tattoos, many are adamantly opposed. Some moms told ABC News they'd make their teens wait until age 18 and move out of the house to get inked.

Temporary tattoos are increasingly popular alternative for those on the fence about to-tattoo or not-to-tattoo.

A 2008 Harris Poll found that the biggest reason people cited for regretting their tattoos was that they were too young at the time they got one. Tattoo removal can be a very long, often very expensive and painful process.

Temptu, a line of extremely realistic-looking rub-on tattoos, last three to five days before washing off. The company has seen a 1,000 percent increase in commercial sales in the past year.

But for teens like Hembree and Linthicum, a permanent tattoo is their tattoo of choice, a choice they're content to live with for the rest of their lives.

"I like the idea that they are always going to be there," Hembree said. "I like the passion associated with them."

Click here to return to the "Good Morning America" website.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events