Dear Dr. Debbie,
My 17-year-old son came back from a weekend at the beach with his tongue pierced. The subject had not come up in conversation with us beforehand, nor would his father and I have consented to this. He leaves for college at the end of the summer, so we’re trying to ride out these last few months without blowing up at him. But, really.
Disgusted and Fuming on the Inside
Don’t miss last week’s column Too much Mommy playtime? — Good Parenting
Teenage fashion is often intended to offend the older generation while establishing membership and status among the peer group. This is an age that yearns to prove how courageous and invincible they are, and at the same time, how out-of-touch their parents and other elders seem to be. Health and safety risks are frequently at the center of the controversies.
Any piercing comes with a risk of infection. Review this list of tongue piercing do’s and don’ts and share the information or link with your almost-grown son. A lot of the advice is meant for someone to follow in advance of a tongue piercing, however, the important thing for him at this point is to follow the restrictions recommended by his piercer (if not his medical practitioner) and maintain an effective cleaning routine to avoid irritation and, of course, infection.
Should he experience any complications from his imbedded jewelry, a parent’s level-headed support can steer him through further unpleasant consequences (such as death — which, though significantly rare, has occurred after a tongue piercing). According to countless online confessions of regret and removal, it takes several days for discomfort to dissipate, about a month for speech to return to normal, and about two years for the novelty and self-satisfaction to wear off.
Adolescence and its rebellions are eventually left behind — for most of us anyway — as career, family, home ownership and other pursuits of maturity take precedence. Facial piercings, and cutting edge hair styles are generally found to hinder such pursuits.
Even as he heads off to college, there may be more teenage escapades that warrant a parent’s calm counsel and/or intervention. The worst thing you could do at this point, since the deed has been done, would be to express your revulsion before has had a chance to experience regrets for reasons other than the fact that he has displeased his parents.
The late author Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D., and co-author Rachel Harris, Ph.D. , remind us in their book “Teenagers Learn What They Live: Parenting to Inspire Integrity & Independence” that “if teenagers live with rejection they learn to feel lost.” Their counsel is to tolerate a teen’s fashion extremes and experiments, saving your strong stand for conflicts over driving, alcohol, drugs and sex. Certainly it is better to express your standards and expectations — and to stand your ground — before he has had a chance to violate them. Do your best to ignore his mouth jewelry as you keep lines of communication open with him about important issues — health and safety among them.
My favorite of Nolte and Harris’s lessons regarding teens is, “If teenagers live with positive expectations, they learn to help build a better world.”
For the sake of maintaining a supporting role in your son’s current phase of development, you’ll just have to bite your tongue.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com