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Tattoos: Save your ink, student journalists


One of the few academic studies of body art, “Tattoos and Body Piercings in the United States: A National Data Set,” shows 24 percent of respondents had tattoos…and that was 2006. USA News & World Report said this fall parlors for such art are “one of America’s fastest growing categories of retail business, with nearly one tattoo shop opening each day.”

It’s a big deal, right? And, while the stats haven’t caught up with what’s happening to teens now, it’s a good bet kids are getting inked at a pretty speedy rate. Sometimes that’s legal, and sometimes it’s not, depending on their age, the state’s laws and possible parental consent.

So it sounds like a great topic for student media. What is legal and what isn’t? Need parental consent? Why students get  tattoos? Safety and health issues? And… for a follow-up — long-term effects? Regrets those who got tattoos have? Pain and cost of removal? Employer reactions? Plenty to cover.

Not so, say at least some school administrators.

Recently, the Timberland High School principal in Wentzville, Mo., pulled first a spread with photos and text about tattoos. Later, he told The Wolf’s Howl staff to pull ads for a local tattoo parlor, a client with a full-year contract, meaning a loss of several hundred dollars.

His excuse, editor-in-chief Nikki McGee told the Student Press Law Center Web site reporter: This falls in the category of “drugs, alcohol and etc.” and thus is censorable. McGee told the SPLC she had yet to receive an answer to her request to define “etc.”

A Kentucky newspaper adviser shared his concern when his principal wanted to cut an article about teacher and student tattoos. The tattoo photos weren’t really the issue — the principal seemed more concerned about teachers who said they got theirs “with their husband’s gambling money” or in a trade for a beer. “I don’t see any possibility of this article causing a great disruption,” the adviser said to a listerv.


This concern with tattoos isn’t exactly new. In 2005, Oak Ridge (Tenn.) High School principal objected to photos of students with tattoos, partly, she said, because the girl’s parents didn’t know she had such body art.

Thus tattoos may be increasingly popular, and teens may want and even need to know more about them. At the moment, though, consider this topic along with sex and drugs as something to cover with care and professionalism. Be prepared to explain why it is an important topic and worth the ink….and then be prepared to call the SPLC.

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