Parents Needle Legislators For Limits on Body Piercing

SKIN-DEEP REBELLION

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

It happens in every generation. Kids find just the thing to tweak their parents and send them into a twirl.

It was peace, love, and long hair in the '60s. Today, it's body piercing.

But that doesn't mean parents can't or won't try to put some limits on this latest form of rebellion.

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With the enthusiastic support of some parents, state legislatures are beginning to crack down on body piercing. In fact, Georgia, Kansas, Oregon, New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Wisconsin already have laws regulating piercing. And 15 other states are moving in that direction.

In Florida, state Rep. Carlos Valdes (R) of Miami wants the state to require kids under the age of 16 to have their parents' permission before getting anything but their earlobes punctured. He would also set sanitation and sterilization standards for piercing.

When Mr. Valdes introduced a body-piercing bill in the legislature, "Parents were calling me from all parts of the state and also the country," he says. "They'd say, 'I'm so glad that you're doing this. Let me tell you a horror story.'"

One was from a mother whose daughter secretly got her belly button pierced. It took six months for the hole to close.

But even if Valdes's bill passes, it may not stop the kids of the Sunshine State.

"It's up to the kids to decide what they want to put on their body," declares a defiant Clinton O'Brien. Clinton is a student at Coral Gables High School, where pierced eyebrows don't really raise any, because they're so common. He pierced his own lip with a safety pin cleaned with alcohol. "It doesn't hurt," he says, "doesn't hurt at all."

Why are kids so insistent on getting pierced? Like many trends, it's part of a larger culture, although body piercers don't fit neatly into one mold. Many are into alternative rock bands, like Green Day and the Offspring. Some are skateboarders. Some hang out with the "artsy" crowd. Most all of them are just normal teens and twenty-somethings.

And as is the case with most fads, it's part rebellion, part quest for individuality. "For a lot of people, that's the best way for them to express themselves - through body art," says Marilise Bastien, a 10th grader at The Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, a Roman Catholic school for girls in Miami.

"They want something that makes them unique and something that shows they are old enough to be in control of their own bodies and make their own decisions," says Lori Jean Haaker, who's seen lots of kids in her work as a piercer at Merlin's Art Attack Tattooing and Body Piercing in South Miami Beach.

But sometimes it goes further than just a fad. "Our society has lost the rights of passage into adulthood," Ms. Haaker says. "We don't have the things that used to show that somebody had ascended into adulthood" - things like bar mitzvahs or confirmations. "And I think people are looking for that."

As for the efforts to regulate her trade, Haaker welcomes them. "I'd be that much more professional to my clients," she says. She already requires kids under 18 to get parental consent.

But others think the government is going too far. Says one piercer who plies his trade at two Miami salons: Legislators "shouldn't mess with" the practice, because people are going to do it, licensed or not. If caught, unlicensed body piercers would face fines up to $1,000 under Valdes's bill.

Many teens agree that laws on body piercing may be over the top. Clinton - the boy who pierced his lip - says, "If the parents don't like it, they can always tell their kid to take it out..., you know?"

Valdes, the Florida bill's sponsor, says he's a conservative who generally aims to reduce regulations, and he admits there's a certain irony in his pushing to regulate body piercing. But he says it's justified - mostly on health grounds.

Most body piercing isn't thought to be dangerous, although many consider certain body parts more prone to health risk, therefore requiring a sanitary piercing, than others.

"The only real function of government is to protect the health and safety of our citizens," Valdes says. "And this is an area where we are failing to do that."

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