Regret and grandma prove time-tested deterrents to teens’ tattoo pleas

Tim Skillern
The Lookout

“What is it?”

That’s the question Gable Rhoads often fields about one of her tattoos, a black-and-red creature that crawls up her right arm. Is it a skeleton? A bird? A bat?

It’s a dragon. But you might not know it, she says, because not only have the colors and lines of the 27-year-old tattoo faded, but "it was just too large to properly visualize on my upper arm in the first place."

Rhoads, now 49, was no kid when she chose her tattoos. "I got my first tattoo when I was 22 and a recent graduate from Marine Corps boot camp; I thought my tattoo signaled to the world there was a tough woman under my shy, quiet exterior," she says.

But one of her daughters, Jade, was not quite an adult yet when she wanted to get hers. And that, as they say, can be a whole different story.

Rhoads' first-person account for Yahoo News was in response to our question: How do parents, especially those tattooed themselves, advise their children against them? That quandary arose somewhat amusingly on Wednesday when President Barack Obama told NBC’s "Today" show that he had warned his daughters that if they got tattoos, he and first lady Michelle Obama would get the same tattoos in the same place—a “family tattoo,” if you will—and show them off on YouTube. Embarrassment, he implied, is ample deterrence.

Time speeds forward inexorably, and many who get inked face a problem: The tattoo that screamed undying love for a high-school cheerleader, say, or a boyfriend, or paid passionate allegiance to Def Leppard may have been badass back then, but now, not so much.

So, first family aside, what strategies do everyday parents employ to dissuade their kids from getting inked? Yahoo News asked them to share their tactics.

“I never forbade my daughters from getting a tattoo, but I did tell them to think long and hard before permanently changing their bodies,” Rhoads, who also has “Semper Fi” and her ex-husband's name on her arm, says. “The Minnie Mouse tattoo may be cute now, but what will the grandkids think when Minnie is wide and wrinkled?”

Her ex-husband, she says, was more direct: He told Jade—now 25 with a tattoo of her own daughter's name and another of a flower—that women with tattoos were trashy. He later gave her the silent treatment. Those ploys didn't work.

"[My] tattoos are a part of me, and I do not regret them,” Rhoads, of Highland, Ind., says. “Time will tell if she will come to regret [hers].”

Grandma is the first line of defense

The admonishment of “Just Say No” worked in keeping Daniel A. Willis’ teen boys from drugs. But keeping them from tattoos? Not so much.

When Joey, Willis’ older son, turned 15, he offered the logic of "I want a tattoo, all my friends have one, I don't fit in without one.”

Enter Grandma.

Willis says his mother-in-law, Charlotte, is a very conservative woman. Raised in post-World War II Germany, she readily offers her perspective and doesn’t hesitate to dole out punishment. So, Willis issued Joey two ground rules: First, no tattoos on the face or below the shirt-sleeve. Second, he had to show the tattoo to his grandmother.

Condition No. 2, says Willis, who lives in Denver, was “a show-stopper.”

Now 29, Joey didn’t get a tattoo until college. His younger brother, 27-year-old Keith, is ink-free.

Gravity can lead to regret

R.D. Hayes had trouble responding to her 7-year-old daughter’s pleas for a tattoo on her arm. Gracie’s age wasn’t the issue. It was because she was intent on copying her mom’s memorial tattoo of Gaje, Gracie's 6-year-old brother, who had been killed in an automobile accident.

Hayes, who lives in Oklahoma City, decided to simply tell the truth: Tattoos mean pain, gravity and regret.

“I remind [my kids] of all the dangers that can come from tattoos and how they may wake up one day and regret it,” Hayes, 28, says. “I told them that gravity seems to take over as we age and, besides, tattoos can be some of the [worst] pain that you ever felt.”

Hayes, who had been a rebellious kid, says when she got her first tattoo—a small dot between her thumb and index finger—she waited patiently for her father to notice. She doesn't expect her kids will show any less spirit.

Her stepson, Brie, got his tattoo, a colorful teepee on his foot, right after he turned 18. “It looked a bit girlish,” Hayes says. “It was something that I wouldn't have placed on my body. He said it was to show off his Native American pride, but I couldn't help but laugh. [H]e now regrets it."

Which added fuel to her belief that parents should stress regret. Failing that, she recommends taking teens to a professional tattoo artist who can explain why it’s important to wait—or not get tattooed at all.

Read other parents’ strategies:

Fake Infections Convinced Our Kids to Abhor Tattoos

How I Kept My Son from Getting a Spider-Man Tattoo

Mom to Kids: If You Really Want the Tattoo, Wait for It

No Tattoos—at Least in Inappropriate Places

In Warning Kids Against Tattoos, Sometimes Logic Actually Works