Going to great lengths to express oneself

The art of body modifications and body piercings has really taken off in the past few years, and even teens are getting in on the action. Are these safe?

What should you know about body modifications before your teen asks you for one? Some of these procedures can be risky, and many are disfiguring. Keep reading for what to know about this craze.

Body modifications have become another way that teens and young adults can express themselves. No longer content to get a simple tattoo or just pierce their ears, some are taking things to the extreme and making permanent changes to their bodies.

What are they doing?

  • Tongue-splitting is the surgical splitting of the tongue down the center, resulting in a forked appearance. This is usually done with a scalpel with no anesthesia, and then cauterized.
  • Elf ears are created by cutting and stitching the ears into a pointed shape, again usually with no anesthesia.
  • Transdermal and microdermal implants are anchors implanted under the skin that a stud or spike can be screwed into, giving the appearance that it is screwed directly into the skin. Tissues are meant to grow around and through the holes in the base, giving it more stability under the skin.
  • Subdermal implants are completely underneath the skin, with nothing screwed in on the surface.
  • Ear gauges come in varying widths and are used to stretch the skin on the earlobes.
  • Piercings are still popular, the most common being lips, tongue, eyebrow and belly button.

Why they do it

“I work exclusively with teens,” says David Simonsen, licensed marriage and family therapist. “The overwhelming answer I get to the body modification question is that they want to do it to ‘be different.’ This says a lot about their view on self. Instead of viewing difference as something internal — character, for example — they view it as something they can ‘wear’ on the outside. The problem is that so many teens are doing it, it doesn't really make them different.”

Find out about teen piercing trends >>

Bad idea

The problem with body modifications is that most of them are so disfiguring, they are almost impossible to undo. Teens taking a stance and trying to set themselves apart from the crowd may regret the permanence of their modifications a few years down the road. There is also risk of infections and other side effects that can cause problems after these procedures.

"Body modification is an important part of identity and identity is not stable for adolescents so they can easily regret anything permanent."

Dr. Scott Carroll, a child psychiatrist who works with a lot of teen patients, says, “Generally, I take an absolute stance against anything that is relatively permanent with teens under 18 years old. Body modification is an important part of identity and identity is not stable for adolescents so they can easily regret anything permanent.” In most states, teens under the age of 18 need parental permission for piercings or implanted modifications, and most reputable establishments will not perform modifications on anyone under age.

“Whether it's piercings or tattoos teens don't feel the repercussions of their choices until they are older and can't get a job because they have huge holes in their ears,” says Simonsen. “Thus, I think it is imperative for parents and other adults to help teens see that their choices today affect their lives tomorrow.”

What to know when you agree to body piercings for your teen >>

Bottom line

Body modifications may be a way for teens and young adults to express their individuality, but teens need to think twice before committing to such a permanent change.

More about teen health

Sleep and your older child
Should kids be banned from buying energy drinks?
Teen depression or normal mood swings?


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Comments on "What is it with body modifications?"

Chase February 28, 2013 | 2:04 AM

I am nineteen first of all, and I have my ears stretched, my tongue split, and a magnetic implant. I would like to say that the writer is grouping things together that don't belong together. There are modifications such as piercings and tattoos, then there are extreme modifications such as tongue splitting, transdermal implants and so on. Also to group a microdermal with a transdermal is not the same, they have completely different procedures and a microdermal is considered a piercing. It also is not a "craze" body modification has been popular since the nineties, and it will stay this way.

Beatrice October 15, 2012 | 11:54 AM

I am heavily modified and it was something I started in my late teens. this article makes perfect sense and has very valid reasoning, but for me, body modification was never something I engaged in to 'stand out' or be 'different'. It just felt like a natural progression from who I was at the time to who I am now. I have no regrets whatsoever.

Tina July 27, 2012 | 3:35 PM

Wow, tongue splitting?? Why would anyone want to do this?? I understand that kids want to be "different," but with so many kids getting crazy piercings, it actually makes them "the same." I want to raise my kids to be independent and not engage in body modifications.

Emma July 26, 2012 | 4:40 PM

I think it is important to instill in your child a sense of self and independence, but not at the expense of their bodies! When body modifications are temporary and they have asked permission, that can be acceptable. But when they become permanent at such a young age I really have a problem. When you are that age you do not have a sense of time and that you will live with these decisions forever!

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