Ear piercing and children’s autonomy

I was two years old when I got my ears pierced. My mom took me to the doctor’s office, where they pierced my ears, and my mom took care of my ear piercings until they fully healed. There are many photos of me when I was 2 where you can see little shiny gold dots that are on each of my ears as proof of my piercing. At some point, my mom switched my earrings to small 24K gold hoops, which stayed in until I was about 3rd grade. This was when I started getting curious about other types of earrings and wore other ones (and immediately got infected because of the cheap metal on those earrings).

I looked back on my mom’s decision and actually liked it; I have zero memory of feeling any pain at the piercing or dealing with the healing of the piercings. My mom completely took care of it and remembers it. So I thought that eventually one day, I’d do that for Kaia and get her ears pierced at a similar age so she wouldn’t have to remember the pain of the piercing, or deal with the healing and treatment of the piercings after; this seemed so logical to me, as I’d be sparing her of the memory of the pain. The problem with this approach, as many people say today, is that this removes the child’s decision making from consideration; maybe she doesn’t want her ears pierced? If she doesn’t, then why are you as her parent putting her through the pain of going through this? Extremists compare ear piercing before an age of consent to things like genital mutilation or child marriage. I’ve always thought those comparisons were insane and senseless, as ear piercing is hardly in the category of either of those atrocities.

But now that Kaia is 2, I’ve had second thoughts about this. I don’t know if I want to do this to her and watch her go through the pain, even if it is brief, not knowing for sure whether she even wants it. Sure, I’d love for her to get her ears pierced and (like me) have no recollection of the pain or the healing of the piercings. I would love to buy her earrings to wear when she gets older and even go earring shopping together. But now, I think I’d be more comfortable doing it when she’s actually says she wants to have it done, and ultimately consents. And caring for the healing — this could just be part of her process of growing up and “taking care” of something of hers herself, with my supervision. And that’s not such a bad thing now, is it?

Every family has their decisions to make, whether it’s on big things like vaccinations, circumcision, and the smaller things, like ear piercing. I totally respect their choices (okay, minus the vaccination piece; if you aren’t getting your child vaccinated on a typical AAP schedule if you’re in the US, you’re just being selfish and sick), and to each their own. But I think I’ll wait until Kaia says she wants her ears pierced before we proceed with it. I’m happy that my mom got my ears pierced before I could remember. It’s like a bit of blissful ignorance in my childhood for me, especially since as a teen and an adult, I’ve loved having pierced ears, as earrings are my favorite type of jewelry. But I don’t want to look back one day and have Kaia begrudgingly remind me that I pierced her ears “without her consent” and that she’s traumatized that I subjected this to her before she could agree to it.

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