On this week's 'Parenting' segment on the Moncrieff show, one listener sought advice about her son's horrible tattoo.
Joanna Fortune, psychotherapist specialising in Child & Adult Psychotherapy, joined Moncrieff to answer this and other listeners' questions.
“My 17-year-old son has got a gigantic tattoo down his arm and it’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen. He thinks it’s cool but I’m horrified that he went ahead with it.
"How can I get him out of this phase and discourage him from getting any more tattoos? How does he even know that that’s what he wants on his body for the rest of his life?
"I’ve been trying to talk him into getting the one he has removed but he won’t listen. I’m worried it might affect his job prospects.”
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“I mean isn’t that just a perfect example of parental perspective? He’s at a stage where autonomy - in every sense of the word, bodily autonomy, emotional autonomy, developmental autonomy - is the task of adolescence.
“It is about moving to that place of independence. And that process and adjustment that happens in adolescence is partly around estrangement - experimenting with new styles, new tastes, new friends, music… but also things like this.
“I don’t want to dismiss this as a phase he’s going through because many people chose tattoos [and] body art as a form of self-expression and there’s a lot of soft-level studies between linking this expression to who you are and allowing parts of the self to be seen through the body art that you get tattooed on your body as linked to greater self-esteem, self-confidence, self-belief… He might love it, he might never regret this tattoo!
“I’m sure - and I’m hopeful - he didn’t just take himself off to a tattoo parlor and say, ‘Put this tattoo the whole way down my arm’ - and not have given that thought."
“I’d be curious about what is the tattoo? I know you think it’s ugly but he didn’t go out of his way to put something ugly [on his arm], so he has a different perspective.
“I wonder could this parent come at this in a different way and say, ‘Look, it’s not what I would chose for you but you clearly put a lot of thought into it, tell me the story of this tattoo. Who designed it? What does it represent? What does it mean to you?’
“And if he says, ‘I plan to extend it and to do this and to do that.’ You could, as his parent, express your worry in a way of, ‘I get it, I’m a bit worried that you might regret it. I wonder could you do the tattoo that you’re thinking about in a temporary ink for three months and if you don’t get sick and you don’t begin to resent the look of it, then you can look at making it more permanent.’
“You could do something like that as a middle ground compromise on it but he is 17 and it does sound like, in spite of your counter-advice, this is what he has chosen to do.
“So I would say, don’t push him away, don’t isolate him, it is his arm. You’re worried about job prospects, he can wear a shirt, he can wear a jumper, an arm can be covered. And it depends on what job or career he’s going to pursue.”
“Even though you don’t like it - and you’re allowed not to like it… you can still tolerate his choice.”
Main image: A tattoo artist works on a man's arm. Picture by: istockphoto.