Body modification is becoming more mainstream. Picture: Vimeo

Children as young as 15 get inked nowadays, but a few red flags are raised, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

Sebrena Elliott, 22, was 18 when she got her first tattoo. “It was a spur of the moment thing. I saw the tattoo parlour and mentioned it to my mom.
“We ended up having tattoos done together that same day. I found a random photo online of a butterfly and had it tattooed on my thigh.”

Her only regret?

“I had to have it covered up two years later with an owl because I didn’t like it,” she muses.

She does admit that her father still doesn’t approve of her tattoos, and calls it “the devil’s work”. However, that hasn’t stopped her from getting inked two more times.

Elliott says that all her tattoos signify important milestones in her life, and she researches her designs - from the intricate patterns to their deeper meaning.

“I never have my tattoos done on a whim,” she stresses.

Body modification is becoming more mainstream. No longer frowned upon, young people, like Sebrena Elliott are looking for new and creative ways to express their individuality - and now teenagers as young as 15 are getting inked.

In a recent New York Times article, Perri Klass wrote about tattoos now becoming “sufficiently mainstream” among the younger generation.

She makes mention of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ first clinical report on tattooing, piercing and scarification in adolescents and young adults.

Sebrena Elliott managed to cover her first tattoo with a larger design. Picture: Marchelle Abrahams

Ask the right questions

One of the report’s lead authors, Dr Cora Collette Breuner, who is a professor of paediatrics and adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said: “It should be brought up at adolescent visits.”

Breuner noted that paediatricians should be asking questions like: “Have you talked to your parents? Do you understand it’s permanent?”

She suggested a few things that parents can do to be proactive like considering a temporary tattoo before deciding on something more permanent.

Parents can also suggest a waiting period before going ahead with the decision.

Expensive mistake

Ashley from Cape Electric Tattoo says their studio won’t tattoo anyone younger than 18. “We are very strict about that and insist that they sign an indemnity form and show us their ID,” she says when asked about tattooing minors.

But there are other ways around the official route.

A multitude of DIY videos online provide fodder for amateur tattoo artists, and the results can be life-threatening. Skin infections, blood-borne illnesses, Hepatitis C and even HIV could be real dangers.

Then there’s the issue of “I don’t like the way it looks”. In Elliott’s case, she was fortunate to have the option of covering her previous tattoo with a new design.

Laser tattoo removal can be a costly affair, and some say the pain involved is too much to bear. There’s also the off chance that the success of having it removed is not 100%.

Dr Cora Collette Breuner suggests a temporary henna tattoo. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Covering up

Gretchen*, 29, works in the media industry. She has two tattoos and a tongue ring.

“I was 19 when I got my first tattoo. My mom was not impressed at all! She said if she allowed me to get a tattoo, I would come home with a tongue ring next. A few years later I actually got the tongue ring,” she laughs nervously.

Because of the industry she works in, she felt it necessary to cover up her ink. “I used to go for interviews and cover my tattoos with long dresses and stockings; and take out my tongue ring,” she admits.

But she is also quick to add that she is not ashamed of her body art.

“They obviously have a deeper meaning for me, but it’s not something to be displayed in a professional environment. There’s a time and a place for everything, and people have their opinions.”

* Not her real name.