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That Time My Teen Daughter Got a Tattoo

I remember watching a show years ago on MTV about extreme fans, and there was an episode that featured a 14-year-old that was obsessed with Gwen Stefani. One scene showed this girl's parents taking her to a salon to have her hair dyed pink, just like Gwen's. My daughters were toddlers at the time, and I recall thinking all sorts of judgmental thoughts about these parents—what kind of monsters let their kid do that to their hair? If I wasn't so busy making homemade baby food and washing my cloth diapers by hand, I would have called CPS immediately.

Flash-forward to when my oldest daughter turned 13, and all she wanted for her birthday was to bleach the ends of her shoulder-length locks.

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What a difference 10 years makes, since I gave her the go-ahead without a second thought. By this time I had come to realize that the color of my kid's hair was the least of my worries— that innocent show about extreme fans on MTV had given way to "Teen Mom," and I knew I was lucky that my sweet girl wasn't asking for maternity jeggings and the spare room for her baby daddy.

And besides, I told myself, at least she wasn't asking for a tattoo.

That same daughter turned 19 a few months ago, and the birthday present she requested this year? A tattoo. After the initial panic, I had to stop and think rationally about what this latest request would mean; after all, changing her hair color was no big deal all those years ago. And just because she was getting some ink on her arm didn't mean she'd turn into one of those hard-drinking, fast-living women who shuns society, kills her mate and then stores his body in the freezer. As you can tell, I've watched a lot of episodes of "Dateline NBC."

Values are not embedded in how we adorn ourselves, but how we act.

But unlike hair color, a tattoo is permanent, so I admit my husband and I hesitated to give her our blessing—and our funds. We had a hard time resisting, though, after seeing how much thought she had put into her decision. Apparently it was something she had been thinking about for years and had chosen a design that meant a lot to her and had inspired her to become a musician. It was a quote by one of her favorite artists rendered in a lovely script that read, "Live for what you create and die protecting it." I was pretty relieved to see it wasn't a beer mug or a crude drawing of Kanye's face.

Technically she's an adult now, so she wasn't so much looking for our consent as for a little moral support. And while most people I told were excited for her decision, a few were quick to voice their disapproval of kids—especially girls— getting inked and their dislike of tattoos in general. Upon hearing the news, one friend stopped what she was doing, looked in my eyes with genuine concern and said, "Oh no, I'm so sorry," as if I'd just told her my kid had sprouted a pimple before prom, or run off and joined an outlaw biker gang.

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In the end, I chose to focus on the words of one wise friend who said, "Values are not embedded in how we adorn ourselves, but how we act." It made me think back on other choices our smart girl has made and how well they turned out, even though her dad and I stressed over each decision at the time. We love her tattoo and are glad we supported her, although I'm not going to lie, we're secretly hoping for her next birthday she'll just ask for something easy—like a pony.

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