When Should Children Get Their Ears Pierced? (and musings on body autonomy).

Yesterday my daughter, who is eight and a half years old, got her ears pierced and it got me thinking about the ‘right age’ to do it.

I am strongly against piercing the ears of a baby or toddler. Although relatively minor, ear-piercing is still mutilating the body in some way. Making holes in any part of a child’s body without their consent is wrong in my opinion. No matter that the holes may close up and they can take the earrings out when they are older if they choose to. I believe it is morally wrong to alter any part of a child’s body when they are too young to understand the implications or give informed consent unless there are serious medical reasons to do so.

At what age are children old enough to understand and give informed consent though? This is something I have really struggled with. My daughter has been asking to have her ears pierced with regularity since the start of this year. Personally I would prefer her to wait until she turns eleven and starts secondary/high school and explained this to her, many times. Yet she still kept asking.  I explained that the piercing would hurt. My daughter is a dancer and a gymnast and I explained that having pierced ears could lead to an accident, where even small studs may get caught during her routines. I explained that because the piercing made holes in her ears that if she changed her mind and took the earrings out that her ears may be permanently scarred. I explained that piercing carries a risk of infection and that she would have to keep her ears scrupulously clean for many weeks. She said she understood and still wanted it done. Many times.

This weekend I was putting in a new pair of earrings that I had just bought and she asked, again. I started to say “darling, we’ve spoken about this…..” and then second guessed myself. Why was I really saying “no” again? What was really stopping me from allowing her? Was it my personal preferences about children and pierced ears? Or was it because I felt she wasn’t old enough to make an informed choice?

This brought me to the realisation that actually this had now become much more about me than her. She did understand fully and she still wanted it done. Her ears are her ears, not mine. I felt that I had taken on a caretaker role of protecting her body, until she could protect it herself, but is now the right time to start handing over some of that role to her? By preventing her from piercing her ears I was no longer protecting her body autonomy, I was preventing it. This had now become about me and not about her.

I asked her if she was sure and explained all of the risks again, she understood and still wanted to go ahead. Sitting in the piercer’s chair and watching my child have her ears pierced was right up there in one of the most horrible moments of my life. My daughter didn’t even flinch though and has been taking great care of her newly pierced ears. I have no doubt she will continue to do so. I feel I’ve learned something quite big this weekend, she may be ‘my little girl’, but she is her own person too and now it’s time for me to hand over some of the caretaking to her, little by little.

When do you think is the right age to ‘allow’ a child to have their ears pierced?


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Published by SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.

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