How to Tell if Kids Are Ready for Pierced Ears

Welcome to another milestone: your daughter (or maybe your son) has just announced, "I want to get my ears pierced." Don't bother asking them if they're sure they're ready. (Of course they're sure!) The question is do you think they are?


"Tweens and teens have to explore. That's their job. But they still need boundaries and both the too firm and too loose will fail them," says Marla Vannucci, PhD, associate professor at Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago and a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice.

Here, how to know if your kiddo's ready to get their ears pierced, and if so, how to get it done as painlessly (for both of you) as possible.

Do they have a good reason?

Don't focus so much on the age your child is, so much as their reason for wanting pierced ears.

"If your 5-year-old wants to look like her favorite princess, that may not be a good reason," says Vannucci. The same holds true if your teenage son's sole desire is to please a girlfriend. If they have a blowout fight next week, will he then regret having it done?

Ask your kid to tell you what's behind the decision, but "not in a 'convince me' kind of way," suggests Vannucci. Be empathetic and curious, and keep comments like "I know you won't like how it will look" to yourself. (Even if you're totally sure you're right.)

If what they tell you smacks of a passing fancy, then set a timeline, Vannucci says. "If they still want their ears pierced after a certain amount of time has passed, then you'll agree."

For most kids, though, you can relax. Ear piercing is "simply an age-appropriate way to begin to express oneself," says Vannucci.

But ... are they prepared for the pain?

So say your kid's reason for piercing seems legit to you. It's one thing to say you want your ears pierced. It's another to see a stranger looming over you with a piercing gun.

Want to know how -- or if -- your kiddo can cope? "Think about how she tolerates shots at the doctor," says Vannucci. "A fearless child might be ready sooner than one who tends to be more fearful, anxious, or less tolerant of pain."

Do your research and find a shop that has a reputation for being kid-friendly as well as clean. Then call ahead to find out exactly what the technician will do.

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"You don't want to be surprised if you get there and they pull out a needle instead of a gun," says Vannucci. "Kids will do better when they know what to expect and what will happen in terms of the sensory experience." (For instance, you can try describing: "You'll feel a medium amount of pain, maybe like a flu shot, for about one second.")

Younger kids may do fine if they're distracted with, say, a video or game while it's happening. Interestingly, research shows kids over 12 usually don't feel distressed about ear piercing at all.

Will they really keep their pierced ears clean (and not just say they will)?

Of course, like everything, there are some health risks to consider. Some jewelry, especially nickel, can cause allergic reactions. Skin infections, which you'll recognize from any redness or pus, can arise. Let your kiddo know from the start how to care for her ear piercings and why it's so important. Then stand back and prepare to be impressed. Many kids immediately take ownership of this act "because it can bring about a sense of independence and pride," says Vannucci.

Seeing that, you might feel the same way.

How young is too young for pierced ears?

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