Teens think ink

Tattoos trendy among high school students

Once sported only by bikers, bad boys and sailors, tattoos have become as fashionable to teenagers as the low-riding jeans they wear to display them.

Tattoo artist Pam Wilson-Orth said there's no stereotyping her clients. Doctors, lawyers and professionals are among those who seek her services.

But she's also seeing an increasing number of teens -- accompanied by their parents, of course.

What once was a fringe activity among high school students has become mainstream, Moffat County High School Principal Jane Krogman said.

"Seeing tattoos on students used to be abnormal; now it's totally common," she said.

"Now it's not uncommon to see students in the nurse's office for after-care of a tattoo," Krogman said.

Researchers at Texas Tech estimate that 18 percent of U.S. teens have tattoos, compared with 9.4 percent in 1994.

The number may be higher in Moffat County. Of the 14 girls on the high school's cheerleading squad, coach Susie Lord estimates that six have tattoos.

"It's just cool to them. They like them and think they're attractive," Lord said.

Some studies say there's a correlation between tattoos and certain unhealthy or negative behaviors, but other researchers say there's none.

Myrna Armstrong, a Texas Tech University professor, conducted a survey about teens and tattoos. She said she found that most of the teens in her study had good grades and few, if any, disciplinary issues. Rarely were the tattoos gang-related, Armstrong said.

More than half of the respondents in Armstrong's survey said they'd gotten their tattoos in grades seven through nine.

Wilson-Orth said she doesn't give tattoos to children younger than 14.

"If (parents) can't say 'no,' I will," she said. "I say 'no' to a lot of stuff. I make them think about it."

At Wilson-Orth's shop, parents and a birth certificate must accompany clients younger than 18.

"People change their minds a lot when they're young," Wilson-Orth said. "It all depends on where a person's mind is, their maturity."

Cathy Hanneman said her son, Reed, doesn't regret the tattoo he got when he was 16, or the others he's gotten in the two years since.

She made her older son wait until he was 18 to get a tattoo, but she lifted the restriction for Reed.

"There are worse things he could do," Hanneman said. "Sometimes, I think he might be limited in what he can do later in life, but he can just wear long sleeves."

Lory Campos allowed her daughter, Jenny Bays, 21, to get her first tattoo at age 17. Like Hanneman, Campos had set 18 as the magic age. But when Bays' friends started getting homemade tattoos, Campos gave in.

"I decided to let her do it in a way I knew was safe," Campos said.

Five years and five tattoos later, Bays said she has no regrets. In fact, one of her tattoos is a symbol of the bond she shares with her mother.

On Thursday, the mother and daughter went under the needle to get matching tattoos. Each got a phoenix on their ankle to represent rebirth.

"We've always been really close," Bays said.

Campos has four, small tattoos, but she didn't get her first until she was 40.

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