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Dr. Michael
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience:  Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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My 19 year old college student daughter has begun getting piercings and tattoos since she

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My 19 year old college student daughter has begun getting piercings and tattoos since she entered college, even shaved half her head. She has also expanded the ear lobe piercing she got when she turned 13 with the gauges (I think that's what they call them#. She doesn't believe the holes won't shrink back to normal size when she takes them out. She doesn't believe me when I tell her she will one day hate the tattoos because they'll keep her from getting a better job. She is now planning on getting a sleeve tattoo on her arm. Help! As I'm writing this I can't believe I'm talking about my daughter. She's a beautiful girl that is making herself so ugly with these piercings #in her nose, maybe more that I'm not aware of) and tattoos. Help me understand why she has started doing this and how to make her wake up and see what's sh
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 3 years ago.
Hello. I believe I can be of help to you with this issue. Your daughter is struggling to find her sense of identity and to attract particular reactions from particular types of people by altering her appearance as she does. The botXXXXX XXXXXne is that a good deal of her adornment will eventually become self-limiting, and she will indeed, have a rude awakening once she graduates and has to find work. If you are subsidizing her financially a great deal, you might want to think about cutting back on this and insist that she get a part time job NOW, as this will start her on the road to feedback from people who have money to hire her, but won't because of her appearance. It would be good for her to start experiencing the consequences of her actions at this time.

She will probably have to have plastic surgery to repair her earlobes someday, if she decides she has to do this or wants to do it. I have a close relative who now, at age 30+ realizes he needs to get his armband tatoos removed and is going through the process of doing this. Here is the difficult part for you right now: you are feeling panic because you have run out of ideas for persuading and influencing your daughter and I suspect, you realize your relationship with her is deteriorating because of this issue. The fact is, there is likely nothing you can say to persuade your daughter to not tattoo herself further or stretch her earlobes, given that she is now 19. You have made your opinion known and she has heard it. So, it would be wise to hold fast to your personal values, but stop trying to convince her to change her ways right now; it is actually best right now to try your to maintain high quality communication with your daughter, despite your disapproval of her appearance. If you press an issue with her over which you have no control, you risk damaging your relationship with her further. On the other hand, your other daughter is dead wrong about suggesting that you compliment her on how cools she looks. Complete nonsense on this one.

You may be able to gain a bit of 'peace of mind' by realizing that appearance fads come and go and teens tend to become much more conservative in their dress and appearance, as social pressures to conform mount daily, after they leave college. The odds are that your daughter will HAVE TO moderate her appearance or change it altogether, if she ever hopes to get a really good job with a mainstream company, or attract a driven, quality man who can generate a good income for her family. Such men also tend to be reasonably conservative in dress and don't want their partner looking like an advertisement for a tattoo parlour.

I will pause here and solicit your reaction to this post.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Are there other ways she can start experiencing consequences of her actions than the job? She was recently fortunate to get a job (with Ulta which is make-up etc) , and very soon after she started applying. I truly didn't think anyone would hire her and was surprised at how quickly she found a job. The job was her own idea. Her college and housing is supported by her grandfather and this also gives her money for gas, food etc. She had seen a therapist (for anxiety) at college for a couple weeks and the therapist suggested she get a job. Is there anything i can do to make her change her mind about the sleeve tattoo? I begged her on the phone this morning not to get the sleeve. She's 19 and I can't control her choices anymore. So are you saying I shouldn't hide from her how I feel about her tattoos and piercings but be verbal and not hide my tears (literally, I have to leave the room and go where she can't see me crying)? How do I act when she has been away at school and comes homes with even more done? Like it doesn't bother me anymore or let her see the tears and voice my feelings? Should I give up trying to persuade her or make her understand or see the future she's creating for herself? She mentioned once that her new friends at school think she's a goody-goody because she went to a private christian school and never went to a public school. Could she be trying to fit in better? I never want to hurt her or make her think she's not loved at home. I will love and accept her no matter what else she does but I know others will ridicule her and she'll miss out on some great life experiences because of her appearance. My heart breaks for her.
Expert:  Dr. Michael replied 3 years ago.
I doubt there is anything you can do to keep her from getting the next tattoo, except to ask her to hold off until she is 21, because you believe that at that point, you doubt she will really want it. As you note, she is 19 and you can't control her choices anymore. You have already expressed how you feel about her body modifications. You can write her a heartfelt letter if you wish. But, then I'd drop it and try your best to maintain decent communication so you don't damage your relationship with her long term.

You should try to keep the faith so to speak---ten years from now, she will almost certainly look back with some regret over what she's done to her body. Nearly every teen and young adult who has obtained major tattooing and piercings outgrow them and 'undo' them when they are faced with the norms of the adult world and employment. They may keep a modest, hidden tattoo for sexual adornment, but nothing that is 'public'.

Indeed, as you suspect, I would wager that she is almost certainly trying to "push the edge" of her appearance so as to fit in better, attract attention, etc. Kids will swear they are doing this sort of thing for 'themselves', but all of the best research suggests they are mostly deluding themselves---they get tattoos and piercings to display who they are to the world, to attract attention. A long-time body modification artist, with years of experience suggests that there are 4 reasons people get extensive body modifications: 1) artistic adornment; 2) shock/attention value; 3) perceived sexual attraction or enhancement; 4) reflection of search for self and identity. People usually have more than one motive.

I'm sure you feel that it is unfortunate that she didn't internalize more of the values of her private Christian school because she does NOT have a well-rounded frame of reference regarding how most other young people view her and especially prospective mates and employers. I say that with great confidence and 25 years of experience at this. Though she landed a part time job----she will receive quite a different reception when she looks for a full time CAREER position. I would lay heavy bets today that if she is repeatedly part of a job pool of 25 qualified applicants, she will be repeatedly turned down and of course, the employer won't tell her that it is about her appearance. Also, as someone who interacts daily with incredibly bright young adults in their 20s from all over the country and ethnic backgrounds, I can also tell you that most will quietly, negatively judge her and even privately ridicule her, though they are friendly, polite etc., to her face. The only individuals who will think she is 'cool' are individuals who are also pierced and tattooed---a sort of subculture. So you daughter is rebelling a bit against her Christian schooling and is searching for her true sense of 'self'.

As I inferred before, I would give up trying to persuade her repeatedly about her appearance---tell her once how your feel, or write her a letter and then drop the matter. When she visits, you should act as dignified as you can; you don't have to act in a phony or dishonest manner, but you have to realize that your urge to comment and talk to her about her appearance is merely another persuasion attempt---which will probably be futile. You don't need to emotionally accept her appearance personally, but on the other hand, if you try to persuade or become preachy, you will gradually erode your relationship with her. I suppose her grandfather could step in and tell her he didn't want to pay for any more spending money for gas, food, etc., if she gets another tattoo--until she is age 21; that is his prerogative of course.

Please let me know if I have overlooked any aspect of your original question. You might want to share this post with your daughter. I do believe I have a very good frame of reference on issues like this and it may help her see that some of the assumptions and beliefs she holds about herself are not grounded in facts and norms. Please click on the green Accept button at the bottom of the screen. Thanks.
Dr. Michael, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 2177
Experience: Licensed Ph.D. Clinical Health Psychology with 30 years of experience in private practive and as a clinical psychology university professor.
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