When teenage rebellion becomes a health hazard

September 07, 2001|By Anne Werps

CHILDREN in adolescence will rebel, and that is as predictable as falling leaves in autumn.

When I was a teen-ager, I wanted to pierce my ears, but that was strictly forbidden. My best friend finally persuaded her parents to allow her to get her ears pierced, but her mother insisted that a medical doctor perform the procedure. Ten years later, we wondered what the fuss was about. By that time, even our mothers had pierced ears.

Now we know what the fuss is about because there are serious health issues regarding piercing and tattooing.

While the risk of HIV infection is low, there is a high risk of Hepatitis B and C infection. In a worst-case scenario, unclean needles could allow hepatitis transmission because the infectious life span of the hepatitis virus outside the body is 72 hours. Infected blood remaining on a needle could still be active two days later.

I learned of this the way most of us do: when it affected me personally. Only after my 14-year-old had piercing done without my permission did I become aware of a Maryland law stipulating that minors must have parental permission. With the help of my elected representative, I learned that such permission must be in writing and kept on file for three years.

On making further inquiries at the local health department, I was shocked to learn that no license is needed for piercing and tattooing and that neither the state nor local health department is involved. Who checks the facility to make sure the instruments and premises are clean? No one, apparently, because it is not required by law.

Baltimore County Councilman Vince J. Gardina has recently introduced legislation to prohibit piercing of minors without parental consent whereby violators would face a fine of $500, 90 days in jail, or both.

This would certainly send a message that body shops need some accountability. But does it go far enough?

If identification is required by minors, what is to stop minors from using false identification? This is a common occurrence with tobacco and alcohol, so why would body piercing be any different? Then proprietors would be off the hook, claiming that they had fulfilled their responsibility by asking for identification and putting the responsibility back on the parents.

Legislators could remedy this by having the law require that two forms of identification with photo be shown. For example, a driver's license and a school ID could be used. This might provide more protection. But that would only be a first step.

Getting the health department involved should be next, because piercing and tattooing these days are about far more than body adornment. Our children's health may be in the balance.

Anne Werps lives in Perry Hall.

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