Monday, January 16, 2012

What Do You Think?: Body Piercings

Angelina just entered 8th grade and has fallen head over heels in love with a 9th grade boy at the near by high school.  He is so edgy and different that she worries she is too simple for him and he will never feel the same way about her that she does about him.  Angelina knows that he likes girls that are counterculture and dye their hair or have piercings so she starts thinking about what she can do to be more like that. 
Her 22 year old cousin just got her dimples pierced and she always gets so much attention from boys that Angelina decides she wants to do that too. However, she is too young to get a piercing without parent permission so she chooses a sketchy shop where they won’t ask too many questions and begs her cousin to go with her and pretend to be her guardian.  She knows that her parents would never allow her to do it but if she already has it done what can they do about it then?  Angelina tells her cousin that she will say that she got it done by herself so that no one will get blamed, and her cousin agrees to help her out.  They make a plan to go to the piercing studio the next day and Angelina is so excited to get her new sparkly dimples so she can show her crush.

Questions For Discussion:
  1. Do you think Angelina is making a good decision?  What is she motivated by?  Why do you think most teenagers get piercings?
  2. What are the potential positive and negative outcomes of getting her cheeks pierced? (Physical, social, financial, emotional etc) How could such visible piercings make her life more difficult now and later on in life?
  3. How will Angelica feel if her crush still doesn’t want to be with her even after she gets pierced?  Have you ever changed yourself (appearance, actions) just to get a person’s attention?  How did that work out?
  4. What do you think about her cousin’s part in this, is she doing the right thing by helping Angelina?  What would you do if you were her?
  5. How will Angelina’s parents feel when she comes home with piercings?  What do you think they will do?  

**Piercings have been around for centuries, and can have a variety of personal and cultural significance for a person.  However, because teenagers are experimenting with their identities they may be drawn to piercings or tattoos as a form of expression, rebellion, or attention seeking. This may be especially true when a teen's friends have piercings or when role models they admire do.

**Teenagers need to feel a part of their social network while also asserting their uniqueness and independence, and piercings are an increasingly common way to accomplish this. One or two piercings is considered normal and healthy while more than that could signify emotional or psychological problems, and might even be considered self-harm.

**If you are under 18 you must have parent consent to get a piercing, otherwise the person who pierces you can be arrested on misdemeanor charges.  Having someone impersonate a parent or guardian in order to give false consent is fraud and can be a felony offense.

** Twenty-three percent of teens are pierced and a twenty percent are thinking about it.  Piercings are more popular among females than males. They are also more common with teens who:
  • Have less self control
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Are more likely to engage in dangerous thrill-seeking behavior
  • Act impulsively
  • Have more negative emotions
  • Tend to lash out verbally when angry 
**Body piercing may be associated with risky behaviors, and common stereotypes often imply that people with piercings might:
  • Abuse alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
  • Engage in sexual activity, especially risky sexual activity
  • Gamble
  • Display antisocial behavior
  • Have suicidal thoughts
  • Have mental problems
**Piercings can be very dangerous if not done correctly, and can have long term consequences which are often not considered at the time (especially true with teenagers).  Potential hazards include, but are not limited to:
  • Contracting a disease such as HIV, Hepatitis C and D, or tetanus. 
  • Getting an infection at the piercing site which is not only painful and expensive to treat, but can cause scarring or permanent damage.
  • Allergic reaction to the jewelry
  • Nerve damage
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Keloid scarring (thick scarring at piercing site)
  • Dental damage (tooth/gum) from lip, tongue, and cheek piercings
**About half of piercings result in visits to the doctor’s office, and just seeing the doctor is not cheap.

What Mentors Can Do To Help With This:

**First of all, keep in mind that a teenager desiring a piercing is very normal so when discussing it with your mentee by open and understanding.

**Talk to your mentee about piercings, especially if they have expressed an interest in getting one.  Be accepting of their thoughts on it because trying to shut them down will just make it more attractive.  Share how you feel about it, including any personal experiences you have, but let them know you appreciate that ultimately its their body and their decision (with a parent of course).

**Ask them what piercings they would want and why, and then discuss the pros and cons with them.  Spend time talking about what is motivating their interest, because they might not even be clear on it yet.  If you think it’s a bad reason tell them so, and explain why so they know you only have their safety and happiness in mind.  The more seriously and calmly you take this discussion the more your mentee will listen, and because this could be a potentially life threatening decision they will need your advice.

**Make sure they are aware of the health risks and the importance of proper safety and finding a licensed professional.  Teenagers often feel invulnerable so this might be a good time to look at some picture online of piercing consequences (scarring, infection, skin problems etc).  Going online will also give them a chance to show you pictures of how they hope it will turn out, and this might give you insight into why they want it.  Emphasize how much aftercare and continual upkeep there will be for the piercing they have in mind.  These are the things that teenagers don’t consider when getting their trendy belly button piercings etc.

**Also talk to them about the financial implications of getting pierced, from the initial operation, to jewelry, to potential medical costs and insurance. 

**Help them consider the negative stereotypes associated with piercings that they might encounter, because while their friends might think its cool and cute, their boss might not.

**If you really want to dissuade them from getting a piercing, try and find someone who had a bad experience that can talk to them about it, so that at least they will take the consequences more seriously.

**If you are concerned that your mentee is motivated by more serious emotional or psychological problems caused by past abuse, depression, extremely low self-esteem etc encourage your mentee to continue thinking about it before doing anything rash and then contact your case manager for more specific advice and services.

To learn more about teenagers and body piercings see these websites: 

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