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Piercing: Can parents prevent it?

My fifteen-year-old daughter had some friends over not too long ago, one of whom she'd known since Kindergarten. They, and we, were sitting in our living room, talking. The long-time friend of my daughter interrupted the chat suddenly, squealing, "Ooooo, I forgot to show you my belly-button pierce!" She proceeded to lift her shirt, and sure enough, a small turtle dangled over her navel. The other girls oohed and aahed: "Wow, how cool." "Awesome." Then wistful sighs all around, and in unison: "I want a belly button pierce." My daughter turned to me, "Isn't it cool, Mom?" "Mmmm?" I remarked noncommittally while simultaneously trying not to faint.

According to Jennifer Nelson in her article, "Beyond the Ear Lobes", nationwide evidence suggests that body piercing: eyebrows, nose, tongue, chin, navel and genitals, is on the rise among teenagers. Body piercing is not new (in fact it has been around for hundreds or maybe even thousands of years), but few parents find comfort in this fact when their own teen wants to pierce something.

The question is: can parents prevent their children from piercing body parts? To answer this question fully, we must first look at what piercing means to teenagers and then examine strategies that might open communication between parent and teen about this phenomenon.

Adolescence is a time of separation and individuation. Separation means that the developmental goal of adolescents is to separate from their parents and identify more strongly with their peers. Individuation means that teens must discover who they are as individuals ( people separate and apart from their parents with their own system of values. No wonder piercing is appealing! It solves both issues in one (or multiple) pierce(s) ( helping teens "belong" to the teen culture and separate themselves from their parents values and looks (unless the parents are pierced too.) Between this developmental appeal, peer pressure and fashion, it's not hard to see why body piercing is on the rise.

So the question remains: can parents prevent their teen from piercing his or her body? The answer is" probably not, but it doesn't hurt to try if you're against it."

"The reason that it's difficult to summarily prevent your teen from piercing herself is that when children reach the age of adolescence they have a considerable amount of physical independence, combined with some financial resources. Prior to this period, if we didn't want our children to do something, we could physically and financially prevent it. However, once our children become teens, we lose this kind of "direct" control, and must rely upon influencing them based upon the relationship we've built with them up until this point. According to Mira Kirshenbaum in her book, "Parent-Teen Breakthrough: The Relationship Approach," it is only within a respectful relationship that has been nurtured during childhood that parents will be able to express their opinion in such a way that the teen will listen and perhaps act according to her parents' values.

This is not information that most parents want to hear: " I don't have any control?" "I should have built the relationship before now?" "Is all hope lost?" Not at all. While parents can't control their teens, they can certainly communicate in ways that will hopefully influence their adolescent. Here are some tips that will help you influence your teen away from body piercing:

* Stop trying to control him. I know this sounds extreme, but it almost always has terrible results. At sixteen years old, John wanted to get his ear pierced, and Mom said, "over my dead body." No, he didn't kill her, but he did go out and get a full arm tattoo instead. (He now has two full-arm tattoos, a back tattoo and one on his chest, plus both ears are pierced.) Letting go of control allows your teen to think more clearly and less rebelliously.

* Act respectfully. When your teen says she wants to get her navel (or other body part) pierced avoid fainting, gasping in horror and other signs of distress. Pretend it's a friend of yours saying they want to get a new hairstyle.

* Listen to your teen. Ask questions that convey your interest in this new idea of his. Refrain from judgment. Remember that if he's trying to prove he's different from you there's no better way for him to do so than if you're horrified at something he might do.

* Suggest doing research. Tell her that you don't know much about it, and you're curious. Tell her that you're not against it, provided it's safe. Say you'd like more information, and ask that she talk to her doctor (and dentist if it's a tongue or lip pierce) and let you know what they say about it. Also suggest that you and she go to the Internet to find out more information. (Be careful, though: when you type in (body piercing and teenagers) many porn sites also come up. This is something you should do with your teen. A good site is MedlinePlus (www.hlm.nih.gov/medlineplus).

* Finally, it's never too late to begin nurturing the respectful relationship that will allow you to continue to pass along your values to your teen. Spend time with him. Value and be interested in the things that he's interested in. Tell him about your day, and share your interests. Find ways to truly enjoy him. It will take you further than you can imagine.

All children have a job to do. For babies, the job is learning to walk and talk. For teens it?s learning to pull away from you and be themselves. Respecting the developmental tasks of adolescence may help you and your teen find healthy and non-rebellious ways for that to happen. Most importantly, remember that within every teen is the baby you loved and encouraged in the small developmental tasks of life. Now it's time to love and encourage your teen through the big ones.