The Kid With One F recently turned ten, and what she most wanted for her birthday was to get her ears pierced. My wife and I made a vow that when the time came she asked, we would not be taking her to the mall. As good goths, we had way more faith in the professional piercing places than the places that do it in the mall. Why? Because mall piercing can be unsanitary amateur hour.
Malls go out of their way to appear like pristine temples of capitalistic perfection, and most tattoo parlors want to look at least a little disreputable. That said, these things are marketing, not reality. According to Cody Loman, who was the piercer that ended up working on my daughter at 713 Tattoos on Westheimer, there is just no comparison in the cleanliness. A professional studio has a full sterilization set up for its needles, including processing them inside a vacuum. When it comes to your mall shop with a gun, the best you can hope for is that the gun is wiped down with disinfectant. They can’t be sterilized because they’re plastic, which means each one is far more prone to spreading infection than a well-cared for needle system.
Needles are precision instruments that are wielded by licensed professionals. Guns are essentially minor blunt force trauma masquerading as a piercing, closer to a hole punch than anything else. Several countries including Australia and Mexico, have worked toward outright banning guns. The clerks who wield them have minimal training, no licensing, and usually no first aid capabilities. There are lots of horror stories about mall places, mostly due to severe cartilage damage or sepsis. My wife is one of them, her ear developing a nasty infection from a mall place as a child.
So, guns are out, but that doesn’t mean you should just haul your kid down to the first place you see with some Sailor Jerry art in the window. The best way to tell if a piercing place is going to put your child’s best interests at heart is how many annoying questions they ask before they’ll touch them.
For instance, we had to bring a birth certificate and a photo ID for my daughter (her school ID worked fine for that, but here is your regular reminder that getting your child a state photo ID as soon as you can find the time is a good idea). We had to answer full questions about allergies, and sign a consent form with her present.
Respect for the child’s consent must be absolutely paramount in a piercing environment. When I contacted 713 initially, they made it clear that if my daughter said stop at any time during the procedure, they would not continue. It didn’t matter how much we paid them or how mean we might be to them. When the kid says “I don’t want to do this,” that was the end of the conversation.
Establishing bodily autonomy and an expectation of consent is more important than ever, and when calling around to shops it should be the first questions you ask. What do you do if the child says stop? If I insist, will you keep going? How they react to those questions is an indicator of how much they can be trusted with what is essentially a minor medical procedure on your kid.
We got incredibly lucky with Loman. He had the bearing of a nurse, taking as much time to talk to my daughter as she needed and asking her permission each step of the process. When the first one went through and she began to cry, he immediately gave her space to make her decision whether to complete the process on the other side. At all points he was gentle, considerate, and dedicated to making his craft as pleasant an experience as possible. You don’t get that with overworked, underpaid, and oft-harassed mall clerks.
For this reason, you should also avoid taking your child too young. Most parlors won’t pierce babies, which speaks to their appreciation for consent. By the time your kid is ready for a body piercing, she or he should already have a firm understanding of the rights of that body. They should be comfortable saying no to touches and other things that affect them. Remember, this is a cosmetic procedure, not a live-saving surgery. There’s no reason to overpower a kid just so they look fancier in holiday pictures.
Americans are low on coming of age rituals. Piercing can be one of those, ushering in a child to the start of their teenage years. That’s how good tattoo parlors treat it. The mall acts like piercing is just the next step into consumer spending, which is why their approach is cold and harmful. Let a professional handle the procedure. Your kid will be healthier and happier for it.
Basic Tips and Tricks
1. Do not go to malls or salons that use guns. Critics say they are unsanitary, ineffective, and the users often barely-trained.
2. Find a tattoo parlor that will describe its sterilization process to you and insists on obeying the child’s consent.
3. Be prepared with all documentation. Texas has rules about this.
4. If you for any reason feel that the person doing the piercing does not have your child’s health and safety as their primary concern, leave.
5. If you have a good experience, make sure to leave positive reviews on social media to help others find a safe place for piercing.
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