On when to pierce ears

A friend sent me the following e-mail because being a blogger makes me an expert at dispensing sage advice:

I briefly spoke with [your wife] about this today, but I was wondering if it would be an appropriate topic of discussion for your blog. I’ve asked my friends, but am hoping for a slightly broader view, even though I fear your readers may side with my hubby. [Oops, I guess I'm not a friend, just a casual acquaintance, and she wants your sage advice.]

Dilemma: My 4-year-old old daughter, whose first year of preschool has brought many challenges home, wants to get her ears pierced.

Arguments against: She’s only (almost) 4-years-old! She shouldn’t be allowed to decide. It’s giving into peer pressure/societal pressures. She’s only 4! She’s only 4!

Arguments for: She should be allowed to make decisions (if she even goes through with it, which is very likely she won’t) about her own body. The more you oppose something, the more desirable it becomes to those with that personality (which she has), and that this is an acceptable way of expressing herself at this time — being better than nail painting, where the polish remover is basically cancer in a bottle.

Background: As a mother, I have a terrible time making decisions. I am utterly incapable of making decisions for myself, often deferring to my older son and almost 4-year-old for answers about basic things — What restaurant should we go to? What do you think we should have for dinner? …

(I should mention, I am great at making decisions for others though.) I have discovered this is the result of never being allowed to ever make any decisions, ever, as a child. All decisions were made for me. I hope to correct this trait in my own children, so they may avoid this problem. Therefore standing idly by while relying on a 4-year-old to decide whether or not to pierce her ears. What’s your opinion?

My response (remember, she’s a friend, no really, a friend):

You failed to explain for which popular reason body modification is being sought:

  1. To make your daughter more physically attractive to potential suitors.
  2. To commemorate your daughter’s feat of having sailed around the world.
  3. To mark your daughter’s having crossed the equator.
  4. To offer the earrings as payment for a proper burial in the event your daughter’s body is found washed ashore.
  5. To denote her sexual orientation.
  6. To complete the Nugegoda rite of passage into adulthood, and accordingly, to indicate your child’s gender identity as male.

Every family is different, but in our family we have decided the 13th birthday is the appropriate time for teenage boys to impregnate our daughter, and we won’t enlist her in the merchant marines until her 14th birthday.

[Update edit: My wife says I need to explain that the Nugegoda thing I mentioned occurs in Sri Lanka, and that  in most Southeast Asian countries males get pierced as they pass into adulthood. This point segues into the following leap in logic.]

Photo of my daughter holding a 10-gallon plastic water jug that has a handmade label she wrote reading: Vamonos a Latino America.

Actually, this jug is real, intended for her eighth grade trip to Latin America with the middle school Spanish club. This photo was taken for her elementary school newsletter to encourage parents to begin saving now. She attends a language immersion school and already reads some Spanish in kindergarten. By high school, we expect her to be learning a third language -- which is what makes language immersion so great.

As for whether she wants to undergo gender modification surgery, well, that’s why we’re saving coins in a giant 10-gallon water jug right now for her “Mexico trip.” People don’t have to travel to France for that anymore. She should have enough money saved up by her 16th birthday, and if she chooses against the surgery, she will have plenty of money to pierce many other parts of her body and afford a talented tattoo artist to make her really pretty for the alpha males on prom night.

To answer your other questions, your family should dine at Oriental Buffet and you should eat chow mein noodles, fried rice, batter-dipped pineapple chicken, egg rolls and an authentic Chinese soft drink from a soda dispenser, topped off with an individually wrapped homemade fortune cookie.

Now blog readers, what’s your opinion? And to address your first point of outrage, I teach my kids that they don’t have to modify themselves to be beautiful. A piercing should simply be unnecessary to her concept of personal beauty. That doesn’t stop my daughter from wanting to wear certain clothes or have her hair a certain way, but make-up, earrings and nail polish are absolutely off the table until she’s a teenager, and I can only hope she thinks better of them at that time.

Once in a while we veto her clothing choices for reasons that escape her (be it pants she’s outgrown or a skirt that is now too short so it must be worn with tights or jeans). The core issue is that it’s my job to provide parental guidance and part of that guidance includes Mom and Dad’s concepts of appropriate public presentation — with some wiggle room and some solid boundaries.

See related: The Beautiful Ladies of Costco are Cramping My Parenting Style


24 Responses to “On when to pierce ears”

  1. Ken says:

    In general, I like your blog. But this is nasty and mean. Did you have a seriously bad day and decide to take it out on your readers and the poor sod that respected you enough to ask your advice? Take it down and post again when you’ve got something nice to say.

    May 19th, 2010 at 5:01 am

  2. June says:

    We are a makeup-free (and earring-free, and nail-polish-free) family, but that hasn’t stopped my 4 year old from using her (thankfully washable) markers to color all over herself on a near-daily basis. I think the impulse to modify one’s person is pretty universal. And I do think that it is something kids should decide for themselves, though obviously within limits.

    All I can really say, I guess, is thank goodness my kid is afraid of needles, because I’d hate to have to try to talk her out of it if she had her mind set. ;)

    May 19th, 2010 at 6:46 am

  3. AJ says:

    Wow Ken, while my friend (no, really, my friend) only e-mailed me the question late last night and hasn’t seen my reply yet, I expect her to consider my response humorous. I guess that’s what makes her a friend and not a bitter enemy.

    Update edit: She laughed and called me a smart ass.

    I take it your child has pierced ears and you don’t like hearing indirect criticism of your parenting choices? Because I put my choices out here for anyone to see and react to. I admit I do appreciate a little more substance when being criticized than just to be called (essentially) a big meanie.

    In your defense, I asked my wife this morning whether she thought my comments were funny and she said it was me being me.

    May 19th, 2010 at 7:12 am

  4. Michi says:

    I believe this is completely up to the parents and that setting an age where the child can decide if they want to pierce their ears or not.

    In my case, I am Dominican-American and in our culture girls get their ears pierced as early as 2 months old. I myself have been wearing earring since I was three months old and plan to pierce my daughter’s ears when she is three months as well.

    May 19th, 2010 at 7:16 am

  5. Jennifer McNichols says:

    I think children are much more capable of making their own decisions than we give them credit for. If she’s already insisting on wearing her hair a certain way or wearing certain clothes then she’s already developed her own concept of personal beauty. In my opinion (humble or not) one of the best ways to alienate a child is to impose your ideas of personal beauty onto your child. My parents never cared if my hair was blue or blonde or black or purple and that’s the approach we intend to take with our daughter. They certainly explained to me that if you have visible tattoos or piercings or blue hair you might limit yourself in terms of how people view you or what types of jobs you seem “appropriate” before but they never judged or prohibited any of my personal style.

    Really, there’s no way to teach your children that beauty does not equal some sort of modification of yourself. I assume that both you and your wife brush your hair before you leave the house? Change your clothes? Shave something (face, arm pits, legs)? You’ve just modified yourself to look “beautiful” or at least “acceptable” to the external world and your children see this.

    We just went through ear piercing with our five and a half year old daughter. She started asking to get her ears pierced when she was four – we carefully explained the procedure and on her own, she decided that she wasn’t ready for it yet and she wanted to wait. She finally did it a few months ago. It was an important rite of for her and she was so proud to have made the decision herself. If you want to read the whole story, it’s here: http://www.thetranquilparent.com/detail/notes-on-a-five-year-olds-ear-piercing

    If your reader does decide to allow her daughter to get her ears pierced, I highly recommend taking her to a piercing studio to have them done with a needle rather than a gun. It’s much more sterile and has a decreased chance of the spread of illness and infection than the guns do. More about that is here: http://www.zrecommends.com/detail/no-guns-allowed-why-our-five-year-olds-ears-were-pierced-by-a-pro/

    May 19th, 2010 at 7:20 am

  6. AJ says:

    Jennifer, no doubt my daughter forms her own opinions. I see it as my job to help guide her choices, and the younger she is, the more guidance I provide. So, for me, the point where she’s allowed to pierce her skin is age 13 (or at least I feel it is as I have only a 5-year-old at the moment). For you, it’s whenever your child asks for it, and it ended up being age 5. We obviously weigh the action with different levels of importance.

    As for teaching beauty, I think concepts of beauty are taught every day in how we present ourselves and how we discuss the world. If my wife wore make-up, nail polish or earrings, I suspect my daughter would be much more interested in these things.

    I appreciate your comment as I think it’s exactly the sort of what-my-own-parenting-rationale-is thinking that my friend is looking for.

    May 19th, 2010 at 7:48 am

  7. MoJo says:

    My own parents made me wait until I was 13 to get my ears pierced. I was the last of my friends, cousins, playmates, etc to get them pierced. I resented feeling left out and it made me want it more for the sake that I couldn’t have it. And it did influence our decision with our own daughter. When she was 4 and wanted her ears pierced, I gave her in great detail how the piercing was done, what it would feel like and how i reacted at 13 (which was screaming!). This was enough information for her to change her mind real quick. Now at 7, she again asked to get her ears pierced. I gave her the same story and she still wanted to proceed. I gave her every opportunity to change her mind, but she went through with it with a huge grin on her face. Since then she continues to be responsible about taking care of them and overall I think it was a good choice.
    Her reasons for wanting them pierced included liking the way earrings looked and because mom has them. Never once did she mention other girls whose ears were pierced or how she thought it might make her more pretty. If we had detected any hint of wanting to do this for any other reason then she wanted to, we wouldn’t have allowed it. I agree now with my parents reasoning behind waiting until 13, but I think 13 was a bit excessive for me. Piercing babies or young children (age 4 would be a young child to me) is a choice I wouldn’t make. Sometime between 7-13 is a good age in my opinion if the reasons are good ones.

    May 19th, 2010 at 8:40 am

  8. Renee says:

    My parents pierced my ears when I was about 18 months old. Partly because I was bald until 2 and they wanted people to be able to see I was a girl no matter what I was wearing (I often wore my brother’s hand me downs). As an adult now, I’m so glad they did because I hate needles and would never have the courage to get them pierced. I don’t remember the pain that was brief and easily distracted when I was that young. As a mother now I will probably pierce my daughter’s ears sometime before her second birthday. If she doesn’t want to wear earrings she doesn’t have to but she will have the option.

    May 19th, 2010 at 8:52 am

  9. observer says:

    i begged to get my ears pierced as a child, however, my parents had a specified age for piercing. by the time i reached that age, i no longer wanted my ears peirced. i still do not have them done. i think a small child lacks the ability to make such altering decisions for themselves. a parent should make the decision for the child.

    May 19th, 2010 at 10:17 am

  10. Rob O. says:

    They say that God only doles out what he knows you can handle and thus I’ve decided that my being a Dad to only a son is yet another indication of his ultimate wisdom. That is, I’m reasonably sure I’d simply stroke out and keel over if I had to deal with the challenges facing Dads of daughters.

    I’m often floored (and often, far more vocal than I should be) about parents piercing the ears of their infant girls. This body modification should be the individual’s choice – guided – and tempered – by caring adult input. And no 2, 4, or even 8 year old child is going to be able to grasp the permanency of this decision.

    But then again, I’m opposed to circumcision too. (Actually, I’m much more against this than ear-piercing.) It’s a barbaric, ritualistic, needless practice that’s perpetuated by rationale-defying “me too”-ism more than anything else.

    May 19th, 2010 at 10:31 am

  11. KGS says:

    My parents told me I could get my ears pierced when I wanted to do it, AND was old enough to take care of them myself while they healed, AND unlikely to catch them on something and rip my earlobes. I was really into climbing trees until about age 12, so that was out. I finally decided I wanted to do it at about 14. It wasn’t to be “more attractive” (I thought boys were icky at the time) but because I thought earrings were pretty. This approach seemed reasonable for my family, anyway.

    May 19th, 2010 at 11:29 am

  12. adrienne says:

    I confess, I found your post funny AND I really like Jenni’s article on ZRecs about Z’s piercing decision.

    Two great families, two entirely different approaches.

    I’ll probably make my children cross the equator or circumnavigate the globe before I’ll sign any under-age piercing authorizations, but I think Jenni and Z ended up with a rather cool learning experience.

    May 19th, 2010 at 11:49 am

  13. Allison says:

    I only have a boy right now but I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually wants something pierced.

    I’m pretty much of the same mind as KGS and her parents. My parents had the same sort of rules. I could get my ears pierced when I demonstrated that I was responsible enough to care for the piercing. In my case they gave me a list chores that I had to remember to do everyday without prompting and when I did those for X many weeks I had shown I was responsible enough to remember to care for my piercings on my own. I think I was 10 or so. I went on to get my ears double pierce eventually.

    May 19th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

  14. Tanya says:

    HAHAHA I love today’s post! In our family, we like to set insignificant markers to aim for. I’d encourage your friend to practice being more decisive so her kids take her word seriously. Then if I were her, I’d choose a later age (somewhere near teenager-ness) and tell her to wait ’till then. ESPECIALLY if it seems she’s asking because “everyone else” has pierced ears. This is all because I personally like to keep the decision-making power in my own hands as long as possible.

    May 19th, 2010 at 3:06 pm

  15. Sherri K. Edman says:

    4 is too young. I’m all about encouraging children to make decisions for themselves, but that’s also something that comes a few steps at a time. If I let my 5yo choose his own food he’d eat nothing but ice cream, tofu and fruit. As he learns more about nutrition, he’ll be able to choose better and we’ll allow him more leeway.

    Body modification is a HUGE decision– but I think the hugeness of the decision has to do with permanence. Tattoos or circumcision? They’ll wait until they’re 18 and can earn the money themselves. With regard to ears…my parents let me get my ears pierced when I was 11, which was okay I guess, but the holes in my ears grew over eventually because after the novelty wore off I just wasn’t that into it.

    May 19th, 2010 at 3:36 pm

  16. addy says:

    Ear piercing is very important in many hispanic communities…it is a cultural thing. I find it funny to compare it to tatooes and other BODY MODIFICATIONs…seriously if the child grows to not like earrings then she can choose not to wear earrings. It is done as I understand it in our families rite of passage as symbolically opening your ears to the word of GOD. It is a big deal and usually your godparents buy you earrings for baptism both which happen very soon after birth. I like that I had my ears pierced at an early age I have no memory of it and my mom took care of them for me. Alot of the kids in my class growing up that got them at much older ages got infections because of improper care and messing with them. Hispanic people are not freaks and you should be use to seeing them being that they are becoming a huge part of the population especially in CA where you are at…so watch out modified babies are coming to a neighborhood near you!! :) we are here, we pierce our ears, get use to it!!

    May 19th, 2010 at 8:35 pm

  17. Mags says:

    I chose to have my ears pierced when I was 7 and one of my sisters chose to wait till she was 11 (and all of her friends in dance class had pretty earrings too) and my 6 year old sister insists she will never want them done but still likes to wear the stick on ones. Now, I loved my pierced ears when I was 7 but a couple years later I got sick of changing them and left them out. My ears closed up and I got them done again when I was 14. No big deal because piercings can go away if she hates them in a couple years. :)

    But about parents controlling body modification… Pick your battles. If it’s not a big, life-altering decision, let it go! I wanted my cartilage pierced my entire teenage life so when I was old enough to get it done without my mom’s permission, I got my bellybutton pierced too just for spite. (I took my bellybutton piercing out once I got over it but I still love my cartilage piercing and think it looks classy).

    May 20th, 2010 at 11:59 am

  18. KGS says:

    Addy reminds me that circumcision and tattoos are done for religious and meaningful cultural reasons here in the US as well (besides AJ’s worldwide examples), which can make those decisions more (or less!) complicated for families. Of course, AJ’s friend ASKED for opinions, and that’s what we’re all responding to here, but as always in parenting matters, we shouldn’t be too eager to dispense opinions unasked-for!

    May 20th, 2010 at 12:07 pm

  19. Lady in a Smalltown says:

    Before we got pregnant my husband and I talked about piercings. I was 11 when I got mine done, so we plan to say after age 10 and she will have to prove responsibility. However, I think earrings look terrible on little boys (I teach elementary school), so my rule for sons is that he has to be able to drive himself, pay himself, and sign for permission himself.

    AJ, I loved your answer. If you were my friend and I had asked your advice, I would have laughed too.

    We are the parents, we should be making the decisions. It is one thing to let your kids pick out their outfit for the day, it is entirely different to let them put holes in their body. Help your children make good choices.

    May 20th, 2010 at 6:22 pm

  20. Angelique says:

    My mom pierced my ears when I was 3. I remember watching Starwars and eating a bowl of icecream while she did it (she was a stylist in a salon and brought the earpiercer home that night-the movie and the icecream were the distraction). My mom grew up in a “if God wanted you to have extra holes in your head he would have put them there” household. Mom obviously didn’t share that sentiment.

    I loved my earrings. Grandma was an Avon lady, so I always had a steady supply of fun yellow ducks, strawberries, hearts, and so forth to decorate myself with. There’s was nothing more satisfying to me than plastic snowman earrings for Christmas.

    Fast forward to now. I have two boys, but if I did have girls, I’d probably have their ears pierced around 4 if they expressed an interest. It’s not painful (I had a second set of ear piercings done as a teenager, so yes, I do have a more recent memory of it). They heal quickly and then require little to no upkeep as far as cleaning goes, and, they go away if you change your mind!

    I feel ear piercing is fairly innocuous and has more to do with wanting cute little snowmen to match to outfits than BODY MODIFICATION as a sexual statement. My parents were very careful about making sure I was “appropriate for my age”. I was probably the only child of the 80s that wasn’t allowed to wear bicycle shorts, off the shoulder shirts, torn clothing, strappy tops or short shorts. But I did have earrings. And a perm. :) The 80′s were scary.

    May 21st, 2010 at 9:16 pm

  21. Mariana Perri says:

    Around here we also opted for leaving our daughter’s earlobes intact! It is her body, she should decide on it when she is ready to do so… I mean, maybe she will decide that she does not, ever, want things hanging from her ears, much like I did… except that for me, the decision came too late… I already had ears looking like swiss cheese (the stupid things an adolescent will do!!!).
    Let’s just face it… if I put wholes in her ears because she might one day want adornments hanging from them, I might as well decide on the tatoo she would like to get and get it done now, while she is still little and will not get to decide on the level of pain she wants to undergo for purely aesthetic purposes!
    Ohh… she had little hair until she was 18 months, and despite all the lace, all the pink, all the bows, people insisted on asking if she was a little baby boy… so, I am thinking here that even if she had giant hoops dangling from her lobes, they might not have noticed she was a a girl!
    And, by the way, culturally, Brazilians LOVE punching wholes on little new born baby girl’s ears… that was not enough of an argument for me to do the same on my little girl!
    She is 2 and a half now and LOVES the whole princess, jewelry, earrings and body decor ordeal…
    My solution was quite simple: Sticker earrings!
    I love them, she loves them. At the end of the day I remove them, toss them in the trash and my baby goes to sleep with her cute wholesome earlobes!!!
    LOVED your post!

    May 21st, 2010 at 9:17 pm

  22. Mags says:

    I feel like I have to add that it’s narrow minded to not allow your son earrings if he wants them just as much as your daughter. I am a teacher too and I don’t think it makes my students any less manly, even the ones that don’t play football everyday. They have nothing to prove either.

    May 22nd, 2010 at 4:28 pm

  23. Keith Wilcox says:

    Your first point is correct. 4 year olds don’t get choices about what they do to their bodies. That being said though, kids all over the world have pierced ears shortly after birth so relatively speaking 4 isn’t too bad. I wouldn’t let my kid do it, but then again, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever happen either.

    May 24th, 2010 at 6:48 am

  24. beachcomber says:

    I am Caucasian mom with three daughters, all of whom had their ears pierced within months of birth because I felt it would cause less distress as they would heal by the time they were cognizant that they even HAD ears. My godmother pierced my ears with a needle and an ice cube for my ninth birthday when I was old enough to clean my ears for myself and change my earrings when the healing was past.

    That said, a 4-year-old does NOT make their own decisions. They can request but they don’t decide. It is something for you to consider for a few more years down the road, perhaps as an incentive…good grades, etc.

    May 25th, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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