Parents & Teachers: Teens & Body Art
Tattooing & Body Piercing:
Myrna L. Armstrong, Ed.D, R.N., FANN Professor of Nursing at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center has researched and written on tattooing as a risk-taking behavior in adolescents. She has identified body piercing as another risk taking-behavior that is gaining wide acceptance in the adolescent population.
Her research and articles focus on the prevalence of tattooing in recent years, with two different surveys conducted in urban high schools in 1993 and 1995. These surveys revealed an increasing number of adolescents engaging in tattooing at a younger age.
A 1993 study of 642 adolescents from six suburban high schools in Texas revealed 8.6% had tattoos with the youngest being 11-years-old when the tattoo was obtained.
Very few markings were identified as gang markings, and 65% of the students with tattoos reported academic grades of A's and B's. Gender distribution of the 105 adolescents with tattoos was 65% male and 35% female.
Two years later, the study was repeated in eight high schools across the United States – to document a nation wide perspective – with 1,762 students responding. The proportion of adolescents with a tattoo was 9%, with the youngest being only 8-years-old at the time the tattoo was obtained.
Gang affiliation was reported, and 60% of the students with tattoos reported grades of A's and B's. The average age of first tattoo dropped from 16 years in the 1993 study to 14.5 years. In 1995, 55% of the adolescents studied expressed an interest in tattooing, compared to 33% in the 1993 study.
Gender distribution of tattooed adolescents in the second study was not available.
No studies were found on the incidence of body piercing in adolescents. School nurses are beginning to see more students with health problems associated to piercing of various body parts. Armstrong has suggested that school nurses can become important resources to assist adolescents in becoming informed about the risks of body piercing.
Back to top
Armstrong, M.L. (1991). Career-oriented women with tattoos. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 23(4), 215-220.
Armstrong, M.L. (1994). Adolescents and tattoos: marks of identity or deviancy? Dermatology Nursing, 6(2), 119-124.
Armstrong, M.L. (1994). Tattoos: a risk taking art. Texas Nursing, 68(2), 8-9.
Armstrong, M. L. (1996). You pierced what? Pediatric Nursing, 22(3), 236-238.
Armstrong, M.L. (1995) Adolescent tattoos: educating and pontificating. Pediatric Nursing, 21(6), 561-564.
Armstrong, M.L. (1996). Body piercing: what practicing RNs should know. Texas Nursing, 70(7), 8-10.
Armstrong, M.L., Ekmark, E., & Brooks, B. (1995). Body piercing: promoting informed decision making. Journal of School Nursing, 11(2), 20-25.
Armstrong, M.L., & McConnell, C. (1994). Tattooing in adolescents, more common than you think: the phenomenon and risks. Journal of School Nursing, 10(1), 22-29.
Armstrong, M.L., & McConnell, C. (1994). Promoting informed
decision-making about tattooing for adolescents. Journal of School Nursing, 10(2), 27-30.
Armstrong, M.L., Stuppy, D.J., Gabriel, D.C., & Anderson, R.R. (1996). Motivation for tattoo removal. Archives of Dermatology, 132(4), 412-416.
Bearinger, L. H., Wildey, L., Gephart, J., & Blum, R. W. (1992). Nursing competence in adolescent health: anticipating the future needs of youth. Journal of Professional Nursing, 8(2), 80-86.
Gurke, B., & Armstrong, M.L. (1997). D-Tag: Erasing the tag of gang membership. Journal of School Nursing, 13(2), 13-17.
Healthy People 2000, National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives. Summary Report-Prepublication Copy (1991) (DHHS PHS 91-50213). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Public Health Service. p.6.
Jaroft, L. (1992). Iceman. Newsweek, 120(7), 62-69.
Korn, Kenneth (1996). Body adornment and tattooing, clinical issues and state regulation. Physician Assistant , 20(5), 85-100.
Back to top
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
APP (Association of Professional Piercers) (1999). Getting Pierced.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (November 29, 2000). Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Office of Cosmetics Fact Sheet, February 3, 1999. Tattoos and permanent makeup.
Reviewed by: Adolescent Interest Group
Last reviewed: August 2013