youth wearing an animal hoodie

Ask Better Tattooing: How Young Is Too Young To Get A Tattoo?

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We at Better Tattooing support everyone in their journey to adorn their body. We Believe science should help direct our actions, and an individual should be allowed to make educated decisions about their body. While personal choice and freedoms dictate a level of autonomy in adults, adolescents are often overlooked in their ability to create well-formed thoughts. Science shows us that an adolescent brain isn’t fully formed but: Does that mean they are too young to get a tattoo? At Better Tattooing, we think it is not.

Why Is the Adolescent Brain Different Than an Adult’s Brain?

Science has shown us that the risk/reward centers of the brain in an adolescent are not as developed as the adult brain. As the brain changes during puberty, connections are made and broken, cementing the individual who will soon become an adult. The prefrontal cortex is one part of the brain that we focus on when looking at decision-making.

teen brain imaging showing risk reward centers

This part of the brain houses the risk-reward centers and isn’t fully formed during the teen years. On average, the prefrontal cortex is fully formed in the mid-twenties of an individual. While it develops, actions that a person takes more often result in others judging them as emotional, reckless, impulsive, or just plain moody. This mental state is great for development. By opening up the world around a growing person, they can experience life and figure out what makes them who they are. At the same time, the lack of forward-thinking often results in undereducated long-term decisions. Taking a look at a couple of the studies (more can be found in the NCBI database-)

BUT – and that is a big but… When is a person too young to decide about body art?

Youth Decision Making and Tattooing.

When it was legal, I had tattooed a few younger people in different states/provinces/countries. Rather than just saying no to any design they tossed my way because of their age, I listened and gave them the respect they deserved. Some youths were keen to go through the experience, becoming educated in tattooing and sincere in their efforts. Others couldn’t be bothered.

Those willing to be involved in the process worked through any questions or homework I gave them, and I was more than happy to mentor their decisions. In my opinion, their choices were rad and often amazed me at how well thought out they were. People aged 16-18 had well-formed ideas. They thought about the consequences when directed to and were respectful to their bodies and the potential futures that lay ahead.

Those who weren’t interested in the process were not tattooed.

risky behavior youth smoking

How Is an Adolescent Tattoo Different Than an Adult’s?

There was no difference in the process, result, or experience. This is because adults make bad choices just as often as adolescents.

While brains are in development, they are pliable. These mushy masses can be crafted and formed. If you take the time to work with the youth, good things can happen. You can help enable good habits positive processes and weed out bad choices. If you choose to ignore or brush these youths off, they will go somewhere else to fulfill their wants.

So, if the law allows it, a 16-year-old should get a tattoo!

As long as they can work with a skilled artist who takes the time to educate them. If their idea is sound, they should go for it!

Do I believe every 16-year-old should get a tattoo? No! But this is no different than an adult who wants to get a tattoo. I can remember every lousy idea a person aged 35-50 offered me throughout my career. The ones that I agreed to do still haunt me.

An Example of an Adult’s Bad Tattoo Idea.

I remember years ago. I had a client who had wanted to make up for a discretion he had committed on his wife of many years. He came to the shop to get his wife’s name tattooed in LARGE LETTERS on his forearm to show his commitment to her. Regardless of the effort I put into swaying him; he insisted we do the tattoo, or he would go somewhere else to get it done. I ended up relenting as the shop owner demanded I do the tattoo. When the tattoo was halfway complete, his wife called. She told him they were getting a divorce. “Jennif” will be forever in my thoughts.

recorded explosion

Final Thoughts.

I believe adults overlook the youth experience because they remember what it was like to be young. By projecting their ideas, beliefs, and experiences onto their children, they remove the ability of the youth to grow and develop a unique identity. It is a form of control rooted in protection but often results in animosity that isn’t needed. When people take the time to slow down, listen, and respect each other’s ideas, growth can occur not only for the adolescent but also for the adult in their life. I mean, they will be adults soon, so why not get them ready now. If you do decide to get a tattoo in a licensed shop, be sure to know how safe it is by reading our article: How Can You Tell A Tattoo Shop Is Clean?


Clinical Guidance to Tattooing and Piercing Among Youth
Tattooing, piercings, and scarification, also known as “body modifications,” occur in young adults more frequently than clinicians might think. According to the Pew Research Center, 38% of millennials have at least one tattoo, and 23% have a piercing somewhere other than an earlobe (
The first clinical report from the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) on voluntary body modification has just been released.  (Breuner et al., 2017). (The new report describes the types and methods used to perform body modifications, potential medical complications of these modifications, information about societal perceptions of body modifications, and advice on how clinicians can talk about these topics with patients and families)


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