Bulldog on his chest? Tattoos for teens: Everyone, even tattooists, agrees parents must sign off on this latest fad.

November 13, 1996

CONSIDERING THAT adults can't agree whether teen-agers opting for abortions should have to tell their parents, the overwhelming support for legislation to stop the tattooing of children without parental consent might seem a bit ironic.

Abortion, after all, is fraught with more serious consequences than emblazoning a bulldog on one's chest. Yet even those of us who believe the law must protect teens in trouble from intolerant or abusive parents -- those who would automatically demand abortion as well as those who would veto it -- appear gung-ho for giving intolerant parents the final say on tattoos.

This is not as inconsistent as it sounds. Teen-aged pregnancy involves incredibly complex and powerful circumstances and emotions, and a life decision of such import that the person most affected cannot be rendered powerless, even if she (or he) is a minor.

But when it comes to tattoos, green hair and nostril-piercings, parents see clearly. The issue is uncomplicated and juvenile: the age-old attraction of kids to passing fads in the effort to win acceptance, to look cool, to be like or unlike everybody else. Parents know what's best with a high degree of certainty because the issue is simple, the ramifications of an unpopular decision trivial. That is why proposals to outlaw the tattooing of minors seem to be generating zero controversy, and why county and state lawmakers are standing in line to sponsor tattoo legislation. Even the more reputable tattooists agree on this one.

Moreover, the issue of tattoos for minors raises legitimate concerns about the overall lack of regulation of the tattoo industry.

In Baltimore County, tattoo parlors are not mentioned in the zoning code, an omission which community groups and the industry agree must be corrected.

Also, tattooists are not subject to licensing, health and environmental rules that cover people who cut hair and do

facials, even though tattooists use invasive needles that can spread infection. State health officials are completing tattoo regulations, a move that promises to provoke little uproar because, again, most tattoo businesses agree.

If only the more serious issues we face could be resolved so painlessly.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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