By Lisa A. Flam, Contra Costa Times
I knew the question would be coming someday: “Mommy, can I get my ears pierced?”
I was prepared for the request, if not to deliver the bad news. “You can get your ears pierced when you’re older,” I told my almost 5-year-old daughter.
The only reason she knew to ask, naturally, is that her friends have pierced ears. In fact, my brand-new kindergartner told me that “everybody in my class has pierced ears except for the boys and me.”
Despite feeling some peer pressure, she accepted my answer and moved on to other things, like her ever-growing birthday present wish list.
I had dodged the earring-gun bullet for now, but wondered how long I’d be able to hold my ground.
To me, playing dress-up with clip-on or stick-on earrings seemed about right for a 4-year-old. And I figured the younger she is with pierced ears, the more work it would mean for me in keeping them infection-free.
And, well, why should she get something sooner than I did?
I got my ears pierced in third grade after flying solo (gasp) from Massachusetts to New Jersey to visit my aunt and uncle. While I don’t remember longing for earrings like girls so often do, my Aunt Judy recalls that “you wanted it terribly.”
So I was just like today’s girls, begging and begging. But at 4?
“Ear piercing is getting a little bit younger over the generations because of the cultural influence,” says Dr. Tanya Altmann, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics who does ear piercing for her patients. “Often they want to look like their favorite celebrity and ear piercing is one of the safer ways.”
Many of my friends, born in the late 1960s, got pierced around ages 7, 8 and 9. Several of my daughter’s friends got them as a graduation present from preschool or for their fifth birthdays. Some got them earlier, at 2 or 3.
By contrast, Altmann, who is 37 and got pierced in sixth grade, remembers her grandmother telling stories of her and her friends piercing each others’ ears during the ripe old high school years.
Even though the trend, like so many things, is pushing younger for some young girls who might want to seem grown-up, Altmann recommends parents wait until girls can take care of their ears themselves, usually at age 10 or 11.
“Ear piercing should be a privilege — something you do for your daughter when she’s mature enough to take care of it,” Altmann said. “As a parent, you have to set limits and decide when am I going to let my child wear make up or get her ears pierced. Often middle school is a good time for most of these decisions.
“However, in some cases ear piercing is OK at a younger age,” she said, if the girl is willing to sit still to have holes put in her ears and has parents willing to help her care for them.
As I work on getting my daughter the birthday presents I know she really wants, I’m hoping she doesn’t revisit the earring issue.
And the gold studs I got pierced in? They’re staying tucked safely away — at least until third grade.