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 was reminded of this great quote from Jada Pinkett Smith:


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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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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5 Responses to When Should Children Get Their Ears Pierced? (and musings on body autonomy).

  1. The Perfect Blend says:

    I have recently had a similar scenario with my 19 yr old son who’s choosing to smoking weed. We discussed the risks and he says he’s done his research and is making an imformed choice. Your children growing up and making their own desicions which may go completely against what you feel is best for them is the most painful part of parenting I’ve experienced. It’s healthy to understand that these are independent people who will make their own choices. I have found it comforting to think that I’ve grown a human who is strong enough to stand by what they believe even if it goes against what I believe.
    You’ve allowed her the space to express herself and that will stand you on good stead for the oncoming teenage years x

  2. Anne-Laure says:

    I know there is a massive debate with pierced ear and what is the right age,… I think I got mine pierced when I was 5 years old because I wanted to. I remember I wanted to do like my mum and when I asked she let me. From my point of view I never regretted it and I am grateful my mum said yes.

  3. Krisanne says:

    I got my ears pierced when I was 6 years old. My mom doesn’t believe in piercing baby’s ears, she said she waited until all her girls were old enough to ask for it and understand what it involved, which was around 6 for all three of us. I remember being excited, but nervous. My mom took me out for ice cream afterward. Now with an 8 month daughter, I’m doing the same thing my mom did, waiting until she is old enough to ask for it herself, although I wouldn’t let her do it under 5.

  4. Anonymum says:

    I don’t honestly know kids understand permanence fully until they are around 10-11+
    I was 14 when I chose to have my ears pierced, and I am so grateful it was my choice.

    My son started begging me when he was 5. He asked for ages. I explained to him that, I was more than happy to take him to get his ear done, but he needed to be old enough to keep it clean and understand it was a permanent scar, and the risks of injury and infection, we talked about it as a family and agreed he could have them done around his 10th birthday if he still wanted. He is 11 now and doesn’t “ever” want his ear pierced. Haircuts, face paint, clothes, even hair dye (although strong chemicals are a little different) are freely controlled by my kids unless there is good reason (eg. School uniform needs to be worn for school). But I believe permanent body modification, including all piercings, tattoos and (non-reconstructive) cosmetic surgery should be performed when a child is genuinely old enough to understand. What if you replaced ear piercing with eyebrow, nose, lip or belly button jewellery? Would it’s still be ok for a 5 year old to choose? Not in my opinion.

    I do plan on buying my daughter a lot of nice magnetic earrings while she waits to choose when she is older. That might be a little sooner than my son, since he is suspected ASD. But when we both feel she is completely aware of everything, then she can choose.

  5. SubFertileChick says:

    I don’t know. I think it depends on the child. My 2 year old is constantly asking to have earrings like mummy, but I’ve told her she has to wait until she’s old enough to take care of them! She’s now asked Father Christmas for clip on earrings instead.

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