Stick & poke tattoos are illegal, unsafe and bad for teens

Long gone are the days when our biggest parenting worry was that kids might use crayons on the walls.

Older kids have far more devastating ways to “doodle” themselves into trouble.

If you’re the parent of a tween or teen, chances are you already know about the increasing popularity of stick & poke DIY tattoos among this age group.

Unfortunately, there are countless TikTok and YouTube videos telling kids exactly how to give themselves homemade, permanent tattoos using household items like sewing needles, ballpoint pen ink or a $10 kit from Amazon.

I hope it goes without saying that this is a terrible idea. Underage tattoos are illegal and can be seen as a form of child abuse.

I am a heavily tattooed person but tattoos are NOT for children. I’ve always been quite conservative about my tattoos. Until I was over 50, I never wanted anyone’s first impression of me to be about my tattoos.

Before I ever got a tattoo, I spent years hoping, dreaming, planning and longing for one. I waited until I was 25 to get my first and then made sure it was in a fairly hidden spot on my body. I waited until I was 30 to get any big tattoos. I waited until I was 50 to tattoo my arms.

Even though I was 25 when I started collecting, I still ended up having several of my early tattoos covered up by other tattoos as my taste matured and refined over the years.

I know that times have changed, and teens may opt to get tattooed when it becomes legal for them – i.e. when they turn 18. But I am adamant that kids absolutely should not be tattooing each other illegally at home while in middle or high school!

This stick & poke trend among students is far more insidious and prevalent than you might think.

Right here in Olentangy Schools – a great school district by any definition – kids are ordering cheap stick & poke kits off Amazon (I won’t link to them, but they are easy to find) and giving each other permanent, primitive tattoos.

Kids seem to think these tattoos are temporary, but my experience shows that they are absolutely permanent. The entire “design” may not stay forever, but parts of it certainly will.

These homemade tattoos can get infected and scar. Not to mention how unhygienic and unsafe it is to put ink of unknown origin into your skin and bloodstream. And, if kids share needles or use a dirty needle or tattoo gun, they are putting themselves and others at risk for Hepatitis C and kidney problems.

Tweens and teens may choose to get stick-and-poke tattoos because of peer pressure (real or imagined), to seem cool or older than they are, or as a way of rebelling. They may want to do it because of their artistic nature or as a form of self-expression. I’ve also been told that the feeling of stick and poke tattoos gives a similar “rush” or release as self-harming behaviors such as cutting or scratching.

It’s up to us as parents to talk to kids about the dangers and pitfalls of stick & poke tattoos before they make impulsive decisions they may regret down the road.

Here are my top reasons for NEVER allowing teens to do DIY, at-home stick & poke tattoos:

  • It is illegal for minors to get a tattoo AND for minors to give a tattoo. Most states only allow tattoos to be provided by a state-licensed facility under rigorously sterile conditions. Allowing minors to have stick & poke tattoos could even be seen as child abuse.
  • There are many health concerns associated with DIY tattoos, not the least of which are possible infections, scarring and the introduction of unsafe contaminants into the skin and bloodstream. There’s also the chance of kids sharing needles and acquiring bloodborne diseases.
  • DIY stick & poke tattoos may seem cool to kids now, in 2023, but it’s a trend that will go the way of other middle and high school trends. Kids will ultimately regret them and come to see them as extremely dated and cringey.
  • If kids like the look of professional tattoos and want to get them someday, that’s another reason to wait and avoid DIY stick & pokes now. They could be potentially spoiling or scarring their “canvas” and making it so that they won’t be able to have fine art tattoos later on without getting these early, primitive ones removed first
  • Tattoo removal by lasers is extremely painful and very expensive. We talked to the doctor at Jiva Med Spa and you’re looking at $2,000 for an unlimited package of laser treatments. That means you can go as many times as you need to remove the tattoos entirely – and it could take 6 to 10 sessions spread out over as many months. That’s a high price to pay for a lot of pain and suffering.

I do want to note that I am by no means criticizing the ancient and highly respected art of professional hand-poke tattoos. These can be beautiful and safe when acquired by trained and licensed professionals.

No matter how creative and artistic your middle or high schooler may be, you do not want them giving themself or another child DIY stick & poke tattoos when there can be legal and health ramifications.

With DIY tattoo kits so readily available on Amazon plus ubiquitous how-to videos on popular social media sites, teens may get the false impression that this must be okay to do at home.

Don’t assume that your child knows this activity is illegal and unsafe – be sure to have the conversation today. Teens’ brains aren’t fully developed yet so impulsivity will win out over good judgment every time. We don’t want to shame or blame them – but we do want to let them know that DIY stick & pokes are never okay.

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About the author

Proud and loving midlife mama. Lucky and devoted wife. Dog, cat and snake mom. Travel nut. Natural born writer. PR and social media pro by day - tattoo doula by night.
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