Textiles and apparel junior Emma Burke has one tattoo her parents do not know about.
They know about her other pieces: the script on her wrists, the heart and anarchy symbol on her leg, the text on her finger. She told her parents about all of those beforehand. But she has yet to tell them about the first tattoo she ever got, the words ‘girl power’ inscribed on her ribs.
“I feel like my mom would be so mad because I didn’t ask her about it,” Burke said. “I just did it. I’m going to tell her eventually, probably when I graduate from college.”
According to Pew Research Center, 70% of millennials said their tattoos are hidden underneath clothing. There are more than double the amount of millennials with tattoos than baby boomers, and this disconnect has led to varying degrees of backlash from parents when their children decide to get inked.
One parent, under the pseudonym Tess Morgan, penned “My son’s tattoo hurt me deeply” for The Guardian when she found out her son got a tattoo. In the essay, she said getting a girl pregnant “might have been the better option.”
Burke’s mom reacted a bit differently to her daughter’s second tattoo. Because her mom works as a public defender, Burke said her mom expressed apprehension because she associates tattoos with her clients in prison.
“She had this one client who had a tattoo on his neck, and it was supposed to say ‘satin’ but it said ‘Satan,’” Burke said. “I think she’s just associates it with that.”
As she got more tattoos, Burke said her mom realized that not all tattoos are gang or cult related. Eventually, Burke convinced her mom to get a matching “YOLO” tattoo with her.
Studio art junior Jasmine Chock didn’t experience the same support when she told her parents she was getting a tattoo.
“(My mom) was like, ‘Don’t spend your money on that. You can spend it on other things. That’s going to be there forever. Why do you need to do that?’” Chock said.
When Chock told her parents she was getting a second tattoo, they still said no, but she did it anyway.
“It was a really impulsive and kind of disrespectful thing,” Chock said. “But, (looking back on it) I was able to understand that and get to some level of mutual understanding.”
For students debating getting a tattoo, Chock said to consider how their parents will react. Rather than telling parents “there’s nothing you can do about it,” Chock said it’s best to be upfront about the tattoo and have a conversation about it.
Angel Serda, a tattoo artist for All Saints Tattoo Studio North, said he gets “plenty” of college student clients who want to avoid that conversation with their parents. He said those wanting hidden tattoos will place their art on their waistline or ribs.
“I tell them, ‘Your parents are paying over 10 grand a year for you to go to college,” Serda said. “There’s no way that they’re going to back out of a tens of thousand dollar investment. They’re not going to disown you. Chill out, it’s a tattoo. Get it where you want.”