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Letting Kids Make Mistakes

Yesterday I went to a new hairstylist who also has a 13 year old daughter. The girls have actually played soccer together but never on the same team. They know the same kids but haven’t been to the same parties, yet. As we were talking the stylist said to me, “My daughter wants a second piercing. What do you do about that?”

I told him that Jane’s been asking for one too and that I know it’s a mistake. I have more than one piercing and I’m here to tell you that one is more than enough. I can hardly squeeze on my wedding set most days.

I’m thinking of letting Jane make this mistake. She’s 13 and she’s got at least a half dozen, if not a dozen, years of horrible decision making ahead of her and my hope as her mother is that the terrible decisions she makes will have manageable consequences. My hope is that my daughter can learn how to fail. How else will she learn?

When they were little this was easy. The kids would try something new, not do well, look to me and I’d shrug. They’d shrug and try something new. Sometimes they’d fall down, they’d look at me and wonder if I’d respond to tears. I never responded with panic and they seldom cried. 

It’s the same with a teenager right?

I worry that we’ve been tricked into believing that adolescence is high stakes when really it’s just a time to learn to fall down and get back up again. The same as it was in toddlerhood, the same as it will be in adulthood. I worry that by making every decision for my child I’m stripping her of the ability to make decisions and that would be terribly cruel.

We haven’t decided how to respond to Jane about the ear piercing, but when a stranger asked me I told him that it’s a mistake that isn’t high stakes. Let’s see if I’m willing to take some of my own advice.

6 thoughts on “Letting Kids Make Mistakes”

  1. This is a tough one. I’m already hearing about the second piercing from my daughter too….while she knows my feelings on the subject (that and tattoos) if she came home with one…would I freak? Probably not.  But, if that extra hole was prone to infection and caused her ear to turn purple (like my cartilege piercing did umpteen years ago)…would I say “I told you so?” Yeah, probably!

  2. I have a six year old who desperately wants to get her ears pierced, and so far my answer has been “when you’re bigger”.  Not because I think ear piercings are terrible, but because while I am responsible for her body I am (very) hesitant to agree to something I know will hurt her (however temporarily).  For me, the question isn’t about whether I’m ready to let her make a mistake.  I know I need to let her make mistakes.  It’s about whether or not she’s mature enough to retain enough responsibility for her own body to have a couple of permanent, decorative holes punched in her earlobes.

  3. A couple of months ago my 12 year old daughter asked if she could get her belly button pierced. I told her no. Then she asked about her eyebrow. I said no to this as well. I explained my reasoning to her: You’re 12, you don’t need your belly button pierced, no one is going to see it…or they’d better not anyway and I don’t want you to get your eyebrow pierced until you’re older and have thought about it for much longer because almost everybody I know who has had it done has taken it out and now has a scar and wishes they had not had it done.

    I did however tell her that if she wanted to get her ears pierced again she could do that but to let me know and we would go to a professional and have it done, but told her not to ever let one of her friends do it because it might get infected. ( I see a lot of infected piercings at work.)

    She went to a sleepover and came home with a cartilage piercing. She let another 12 year old pierce her cartilage! I was so ticked off. I made her look at pictures and read about infected cartilage piercings and the consequences (bad blood supply there, sometimes don’t heal, permanent disfigurements, etc.). Grounded her for a month….not because she got a piercing, but because she did something I had specifically asked her not to do. If she’d asked I would have taken her to have it done. Too harsh?

    1. Oh gawd I’d ground her for about 800 years for defying you.

      But then I’d call my girlfriends and probably reduce it to a week or two… or maybe a month. Did you lose it and scream? I’d have been screaming and cussing and in my head I’d have been thinking “don’t scream” but I’d probably do it anyhow.

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