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Health Tips for Parents

2008 Issues

What should I do if my child wants body piercings?



Whether driven by fashion or rebellion, school-aged children often are intrigued with piercing earlobes, as well as other body parts. Parents should discuss the legalities, procedures and risks with their children.

In California, parental consent is required for anyone under 18 years of age for ear piercing. Body piercing is illegal for anyone under age 18, even with parental approval. Despite these regulations, children may claim they are older, or allow a friend to perform the piercing.

Deciding to pierce ears Health Tips Article on Body Piercing

In some cultures or communities, ear piercing — especially at a very early age — is a rite of passage, but for others it may be a sign of rebellion. According to Dr. Martin Anderson, adolescent-medicine specialist at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, piercing one’s ears may feed into a pre-adolescent’s or teenager’s conflicting need to assert his or her individuality while fitting into a particular group.

Parents who are not opposed to their child piercing his or her ears, but want to control the timing, might consider agreeing to an appropriate age. Or, establish a series of goals for the child to achieve, and allow ear piercing as a reward. Magnetic or clip-on earrings may serve as a substitute until these milestones are reached.

Being safe

The safest location to get ears pierced is at a pediatrician’s or dermatologist’s office using a oneuse, sterile piercing kit. Piercing salons are another option. Make sure that the practitioners are licensed with the APP (Association of Professional Piercers) and ensure that they wash their hands, wear gloves and use sterile piercing kits. Piercing “guns” are designed for repeated use and, as such, may carry harmful bacteria. A non-sterilized needle can also lead to an infection.

Adolescents should be responsible for the ongoing care of their pierced ears. This includes keeping the area clean using a mild antibacterial soap and patting the area dry. If an infection occurs, see a doctor.

Beyond the ears

Body piercing is another way children assert themselves with risk-taking behavior. Since they cannot legally get their eyebrows, navel, lip, nose or tongue pierced, many children under 18 years of age perform the procedure on each other, which is inherently unsafe. Parents should observe what their child’s friends are doing and discuss body piercing as a family.

Some severe risks associated with body piercing, especially when using a non-sterilized needle, include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • HIV infection
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Allergic reactions (to certain types of metals in earrings)
  • Nerve damage
  • Thick scarring at the piercing site
  • Dental damage, including swelling of the tongue

Non-physical risks associated with body piercing should also be discussed. “Parents should have a frank discussion with their child about the message that body piercing might be sending to the outside world,” suggests Dr. Anderson.

Despite a parent’s best efforts, today’s grade-school-aged child may grow into the teenager that does come home with a nose ring. At that point, Dr. Anderson recommends that parents engage in a sensitive negotiation with the child to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of keeping the body piercing. If the adolescent is doing well in school and is fulfilling parents’ expectations, parents need to decide if this is the battle they want to wage.

This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. UCLA Health pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. See list of physicians by location or for more information call 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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