18 March 2009

Tattoo may be risk signal

A teen's tattoo might reveal a lot more than their taste in body adornment. That cute dolphin on an ankle may hint at risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking.

A teen's tattoo might reveal a lot more than their taste in body adornment. That cute dolphin on an ankle or rose on the tummy may hint at risky behaviours such as smoking and drinking, says a new study.

Higher risk of early sex, drug use, violence
Tattooing, a common practice among teens, can indicate behaviour that puts teens at a higher risk of early morbidity or mortality, says a study by Timothy Roberts and colleagues at Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong in Rochester, New York.

The researchers based their findings on information from more than 6 000 adolescents who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health.

Nearly five percent of respondents said they had a permanent tattoo, Roberts and his colleagues report in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.

They found that these adolescents were four times as likely than their non-tattooed peers to report having had sex, and nearly three times as likely to report having joined a gang.

These teens were also about twice as likely to say they had bunked school or were failing, or that they had been involved in fighting and other violent behaviour.

Tattooed teens were also twice as likely to report smoking cigarettes, marijuana and binge drinking and were more likely to report that their friends used drugs.

Over 60% of these teens reported smoking during the past month, in comparison to 26% of the non-tattooed teens.

Willing to face disapproval
Although the researchers are unsure why tattooed teens are more likely to adopt risky behaviour, Roberts theorises that adolescents who are willing to risk parental disapproval, like that involved in getting a tattoo, may be more willing to engage in other risk behaviours.

Speak to your child
Most of the teens with tattoos fell in the age group of 17 to 21-year olds. Youths from lower-income families and one-parent households were also more likely to have a tattoo, the study found.

Yet, Roberts warns that parents should not overreact and suspect that their tattooed teen is necessarily engaged in risky behaviour.

He writes that if a teen wants to get a tattoo, it should be a signal to parents to talk about choices –sexually, substance use, school work – to their child. – (Health24)


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