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Millennials and tattoos

Tattoo artist working on a new project (Credit: LukaTDB via Fotolia)

“Can I get a tattoo?”

If you are the parent of a child born between 1980 and 2000 and haven’t been asked that question, then your day of reckoning is nigh.  Or perhaps it won’t be phrased as a question.  Perhaps a statement, “I want a tattoo” or even better…”I got a tattoo.”  I have had the conversation with our youngest son.  The final outcome may surprise you, but we will get there in a moment…

So take a deep breath for now and let’s consider a few things.

First, you may seek biblical wisdom and have your son or daughter turn to Leviticus 19:28 where they will read that  “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”  If they are well studied in their Bible, they will then have you read v. 26 and ask why you like your steak rare or v. 27 and ask you why you shave your sideburns or v. 19 and ask why your suit is a cotton/wool blend.  They will scream that your suit is abomination unto the Lord and run out of the room.

There are 613 mitzvot commands in the Torah, the first five books of the bible.  Leviticus 19:28 is one of them but if you go that route, be prepared to address the other 612 in mutual conversation.  So, perhaps a better response than an immediate “ok” or “not a chance” is to ask them, “why?”  And that answer may reveal much about this millennials generation.

In 1960, there were approximately 500 professional tattoo artists operating in the United States. By 1995, that number had risen to over 10,000. Nearly 20 years later, demand continues to surge, and by the latest estimates, roughly 20 percent of Americans have a tattoo. What’s more, 40 percent of the people in that group are millennials.

According to a 2014 article in The Atlantic, Dr. Anne Velliquette, a professor at the University of Arkansas conducted a series of studies that showed that as millennials grow up in a rapidly changing and challenging world, most have struggled at some point or another with figuring out who they might be.   Variables such as a high divorce rate among their parents, increasing identity theft online, and the ease of changing social profiles all reflect a loss of personal anchors needed for identity. Tattoos provide this anchor.  Tattoos don’t just express identity, they help define it.   Their popularity reflects a need for stability, predictability, and permanence.

So back to the question.  Ask them why.  Scripture tells us that God cares more about the inside of a person than the outside. “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).   Probe deeper and have a conversation about the identity of their heart.  Who do they think they are?  Will this tattoo help define them or help them express feelings unknown to you?  Take this time to share again their identity is found in Christ and Christ alone.  Not in an outward expression through ink on their skin but through the brokenness of their heart and longing for Christ.

How did I respond when my son asked me?  I asked what tattoo he wanted and where.  He mentioned that he wanted the phrase “Da lifnei mi attah omed” in Hebrew on his foot.  It means “Know before whom you stand” and is displayed over the ark containing the Torah scrolls in many synagogues.  I was moved.  What a beautiful daily reminder.  I was so moved that I agreed to let him.  I was moved even more to the point that I joined him and we both got the same tattoo.

And yes…it hurts.