I’m mourning the end of punk. On kids and hair dye and moms and tattoos.

kid mohawk temper tantrum

Image source.

I’ve started to see more and more little kids with all kinds of fun hair colours: green, blue, purple, you name it. It’s not just hair colour either. There are also boys with mohawks and little girls with their sides shaved wearing all kinds of punk-band t-shirts and high-top Chuck Taylors (and, okay, so those are adorable on little kids.)

Yesterday I read a post on Brit + Co written by my friend Kat Armstrong about why she let her five-year-old bleach his dark brown hair and then dye it green. She talks about giving him control over his own body, learning about natural consequence, and fostering independence and confidence.

Yeah, okay, fine. I think her kid looks great. I have zero problems with other parents letting their kids do whatever they want with their hair and clothes.

I just feel bad for the teenagers.

No, really, I do! And that’s why I would try to discourage my kids from experimenting like that right now. Because when I was sixteen I had blue and green streaks in my hair and wore combat boots and punk-band t-shirts and, honestly, I felt pretty bad-ass. It wasn’t just about fashion. It wasn’t even simply about self-expression. It was a (completely harmless, let’s be real) way for me to flex my teen rebel muscles and tell mainstream society to screw off.

So what’s a disgruntled teen to do now? When there are kids in grade school rocking purple mohawks is it even cool anymore? It’s certainly not particularly bold or defiant. You know what it is? It’s just fashion. That’s all. Plain and simple. Punk fashion that’s packaged and marketed and sold back to us as though it were our own idea. It’s downright anti-punk.

I even thought about dying my own hair some fun colours a while ago. Maybe some streaks or just something bright on the ends? Except I thought back to my teen self and thought, eh, what do I have to prove? It wouldn’t prove anything, of course. Nobody would blink an eye. It’s just a fashion trend.

I mean, god, even tattoos are just fashion now. Who doesn’t have a tattoo? (Well, me. Because I’m rebellious like that.) Do you even know how many 40-something, minivan-driving moms I know who have gotten a tattoo for the first time in the past few years? So many! And, of course, good for them. There are some gorgeous works of art and deeply felt personal symbols out there and I love to admire them. But you gotta admit it makes getting a tattoo decidedly less edgy.

So clearly that ship has sailed. When little kids are sporting green spikes and you’re as likely to run into your mom at the tattoo parlour as you are the beauty salon, you know it’s too late to do anything about it. Mainstream culture has completely and utterly co-opted the punk aesthetic and it is a driving commercial force.

“All these young people are going to be lining up for tattoo removals,” they said in the ’90s. Nah. They just keep getting more. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone’s doing it, after all.

But I guess I’m old fashioned like that. I’m going to tell my kids that if they want to dye their hair, they’ll have to wait until they are old enough to go behind my back and do it anyway. That’s how it was when I was a kid.


  1. Good points! In my opinion, the teenagers will go one direction or the other. They will either find more extreme ways to go for the punky rebellion which could mostly be fun and creative, but could also go far enough to shock us–that’s the point, right ;).
    Or they’ll “rebel” by being more traditional and conservative. I’ve heard sociologists comment on how generations traditionally tend to flip-flop back and forth that way to some degree, and that is one of the suspected reasons why.

    • Rebecca Cuneo Keenan

      Interesting! I’ve wondered if we’re raising a generation of conservative bankers. But, then again, I don’t think my rebellions or my adult political bent is different in kind from my parents’.

  2. Devon

    Don’t worry Rebecca, there’s always a new frontier for the rebellious teen to discover that those of us parents with pink hair and tattoos haven’t dared to cross yet.
    Have you heard about eyeball tattooing? Yeah, there’s still some things left to shock the parents, or at least shock me. ;)
    Thanks for a great article, you made some great points, even if they do make me a little wistful! :)

  3. I agree with this perspective too. Just this morning my 8yo said that her friend in school has pink hair but her mom has to do it because “the dye would poison her scalp”. That’s another reason why I think my kids should wait (if they want to go that route). In the meantime, my blond girl is using hair chalk which wouldn’t work on me or my son since we’re both very dark.

    I’m ok with hair chalk for her, for now. :)

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