"How Do You Like My Tattoo?"

Take a photo of your child on move-in day because it’s likely that the next time you see them, they won’t look the same way. Even the kids that seem the most even-keeled and predictable can have a wild side just waiting to get out... it’s just waiting for the right time and for many, college represents the perfect opportunity to let loose and show their true colors.

College students – specifically freshmen – can tend to go overboard on the body modification and self expression because they are on their own for the first time and were probably forbidden to do such things while in high school. So when your child comes home for the holidays with a new hue on their head or more ink on their skin than a newspaper, what should you do?

First, don’t panic, as most things your child could do – with the exception of tattoos – are easily reversible. If they ask you what you think of their new look, tread carefully: Don’t launch into a lecture about how getting a tattoo removed is more painful than getting it done or how their grandmother would just die if she saw that piercing. Opt for a response like, “It’s not really my style but if you like it, I’m glad” instead. This way, you’re not overstepping any boundaries – or pushing your child to do the same just to make you angrier – and their visit can remain a peaceful one.

Next, remember that the likelihood of them growing bored with a nose stud or dreadlocks is pretty high; next time you see them, they could revert back to their old style or adopt an entirely new one. By remaining neutral, you’re showing their child that you understand they’re old enough to make their own choices and while you may not necessarily think it is the right one, you’re not about to drag them down to the salon to strip that fuchsia from their follicles. When they show up at a job interview with that hair, however, they won’t be afraid you’ll be ready with an “I told you so” when you see they’ve dyed it back.

Lastly, think back to what you looked like when you were your child’s age. Once that montage of bell bottoms, platform shoes, tie-dye, spandex and teased hair stops playing, consider what your own parents thought of your then-style. That’s right: It’s the same way you feel about your son’s “Survivor” beard or your daughter’s “G.I. Jane” coif. If you start criticizing your child’s new look, they’ll be on the phone with Grampy obtaining photographic evidence and calling the kettle black in no time.

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Last Reviewed: September 2020