I am a Christian single mom of two sons. One is 19 years old and the other 23. Recently they’ve been talking about getting tattoos, and I am disturbed by that idea. I find tattoos disgraceful and distasteful. In my opinion, tattoos disrespect the human body created in the image of God. I love my sons and want them to keep their clean-cut image. One has a few more years to complete his university degree. The other has recently begun his professional career. I feel like all the values I’ve poured into my sons over the years are about to crumble in a dust heap. Please help!
As parents of two adult children ourselves we empathize with your emotions. Parenting is especially difficult during the information age—when our children are being influenced 24/7 by all types of media with warped values.
We hear you say you hope your sons won’t get tattoos since you raised them with values to do otherwise, and you are somewhat anxious and disappointed by this possibility.
The Bible passage quoted when Christians speak against getting tattoos is found in Leviticus 19:28: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord.”1 Of course, this text specifically warns against these practices to honor the dead. However, many—like you—believe getting a tattoo also disfigures the image of God, since we are created in His image.
Regardless of what you believe about Leviticus 19:28, more significant is what kind of parent you want to be to your sons at this stage of their lives as emerging adults. Parenting experts suggest, not unlike the Bible (see Eph. 6:4) and the writings of Ellen White,2 the need to be age-appropriate in our parenting. And the style that is recommended for the best outcome is identified as authoritative parenting—which is described as one with high support (warmth and love) and high control (appropriate limits).
At 19 and 23, your sons are ready for you to be more of a guide on the side than a sage on the stage. They need to be allowed to make decisions for themselves. After all, they will soon be completely on their own and should have been practicing to make good and sound decisions before now.
We encourage you to engage your sons in kind and respectful conversation to share your views or preference about tattoos. Ask them about their motivation to get tattoos and if they think their choice will influence others for good or evil. Pray with them—asking God to lead them in their decision-making to do all things to honor Him—then allow them to make the choice on their own.
Please know you are in our prayers as you allow your sons room to grow at this stage of their lives and show them love and regard by respecting their choices, even if they are different from the ones you would make. And keep praying for them and showing them love each day.
Willie Oliver, PhD, CFLE, an ordained minister, pastoral counselor, and family sociologist, is director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Elaine Oliver, PhDc, LCPC, CFLE, a licensed clinical professional counselor, educational psychologist, and certified family life educator, is associate director for the Department of Family Ministries at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.