When your daughter has a fierce desire to pierce, what does it mean? Of course, it is understandable for you to fear that she is determined to maim the precious body you’ve protected since she was born. Yet her desire to pierce is age-appropriate. Piercing is a sign of a girl’s new teenage identity, burgeoning control over her own body, and a symbolic bond with her generation.

Although its meaning is not carved in stone, most girls consider navel pierces cute and sexy, a sign of maturity. Facial piercings on the nose, lip and eyebrow may be more rebellious, a public way of saying ‘”I am an individual; I can choose to look different.” Tongue piercings may be a badge of courage, and genital piercings are often girls’ claim to their own bodies, their sensuality, and even (oddly enough) their privacy. Besides emulating cultural trends, girls also pierce to mark rites of passage, such as special birthdays or life-changing events.

If your daughter has asked you first, tell her how much you appreciate the chance to discuss this. Be sure to ask what makes her want to pierce and what the location would mean to her. Then gather information together. Try websites that explain procedures, complications and follow-up care or have your daughter talk with her doctor. She may think twice when she learns that eyebrow piercing causes bruising and is prone to infection or that a navel pierce can take as much as a year to heal. When negotiating, factor in her age. If you think she’s too young and you say no, mention an age when you will reconsider. Consider visibility, as well. While a navel ring might be tolerable in your household, you may need to draw the line at facial piercings.

Once you’ve given her the green light, investigate the safest way to pierce. Take her to a doctor’s office or to a shop that acts much like a doctor’s office. Visit beforehand to make sure you’re both comfortable. Plan ahead when scheduling the procedure so that she can follow aftercare suggestions to the letter.

Although piercing can arouse all sorts of unpleasant feelings in parents, keep it in perspective. Remember that your daughter’s new rings or studs are often a temporary—and reversible—decision.

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