HHS senior Presley Eastwood has two tattoos to remember lost loved ones. One is the initials of her cousin, who passed in May, and the other is a saying her grandmother, who passed in September, always said to her.
Presley said the tattoos have helped her with her grief. Asked if she planned to get more, she said, “Yes, they are very addicting.”
Presley is among a growing number of HHS students with tattoos. HHS Nurse Sue Buckberry told The Ville News recently that she has noticed more tattoos and at younger ages.
“I’ve seen kids under 18 have tattoos,” she said. “They just keep getting younger and younger.”
In Tennessee young people under 18 cannot get a tattoo, in most cases. A teen who is at least 16 can be tattooed to cover up an existing tattoo but only with the consent of a parent or guardian, who also must be present during the procedure, according to state law.
Some neighboring states, however, have more lenient laws, and many Tennessee teens get their tattoos there. In Kentucky, for instance, anyone under 18 can get a tattoo with parental consent.
HHS senior Clarye Alderson has four tattoos: a semicolon representing suicide prevention that she got when she was just 16, a hair bow, a Norwegian symbol to always be brave, and a symbol for a car crash. Each has special significance to her.
Clarye thinks tattoos are becoming more popular because they are so meaningful. “It just depends on what you’ve gone through,” she said.
The popularity of tattoos with teens seems to mirror a lager trend among all Americans. Once a symbol of rebellion, tattoos are more accepted than they once were. The Atlantic magazine reported in 2016 that nearly one in five people in the U.S. have one, and they are even more common among Millennials, nearly 40 percent of whom have one.
It is little surprise then that young people are also drawn to them. A 2018 survey by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital found that 27 percent of parents of teens 16-18 years and 11 percent of parents of teens 13-15 years reported that their child had asked permission to get a tattoo, while 5 percent said that their teen had already gotten one.
HHS senior Elijah Kinsfather has three tattoos: angel wings, three roses honoring his family, and an octopus to represent his childhood dream of becoming a marine biologist. Elijah said he plans on getting many more.
Autumn Bale, also a senior, got her first tattoo when she was 18. She wanted something to mark her for adventure so she picked the symbol that Gandalf the Grey put on Bilbo Baggins’ door from her favorite book “The Hobbit.”
While tattoos can be expressive and stylish, they also can be dangerous. Buckberry, the HHS nurse, said she has had students come in with painful, infected, or sunburned tattoos. The American Academy of Pediatrics has expressed concerns and advises doctors to talk to young patients about safety.
AAP doctor Cora C. Breuner said in a related news release, “When counseling teens, I tell them to do some research and to think hard about why they want a tattoo.”
Even so, tattoos remain popular at HHS, and not just among students. Family and consumer science teacher Gianna Larson has 10 of them, including tattoos of her mother’s handwriting and her children’s initials. She got her first one at 28 and her most recent at 38.
“Tattoos are very addicting but very meaningful,” Larson said.
Story by Bella McBride and Owen McClister