By Maria Duffy. First published on Friday 2nd September 2011. 74 Comments so far.

Rules of school

Those of you who follow me on twitter may have been part of ‘The Great Earring Debate’ during the summer. This involved my fourteen year old son and his desire to have his ear pierced.

My initial reaction to his request was ‘eeeeeek!’ How had I reached that stage already? How was it that the boy who’s highlight of the week was getting a gold star in school and a lollipop on Fridays had turned into a teenager with a mind of his own?

So Twitter had plenty to say on the subject. The opinion swayed largely in favour of letting him have his ear pierced. The general consensus was that a pierced ear was minor on the scale of what a teenager might ask for (gulp!). On discussing with my husband, we agreed that it’s important to choose our battles with a teenager so we’d let him have the earring.

I had visions of him going to a dark, seedy joint, owned by a seven foot man with a plaited goatee, a tattoo covered body and ear-lobes stretched to his feet. I’m sure he’d be a very nice man, but I wouldn’t want my fourteen year old getting any ideas beyond one itsy bitsy pierced ear. So I took him myself to a ‘nice’ shop and he got the job done – one little diamond stud which, I have to admit, looked quite nice.

So onto the next part of the debate. I have two teenagers in the same secondary school, a thirteen year old girl and the fourteen year old earring boy! Last year, the school rules stated that a girl could wear a small pair of studs but if a boy had an earring, he must cover with a plaster. I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about that. Surely the same small, neat stud should be acceptable on a boy as well as a girl. But rules are rules so I sent him off to school on Wednesday with his plaster-covered lobe. However, they’d changed the rules and now boys are not allowed to wear an earring at all in the classroom. My son was forced to take his out, even though he’s just had it in for a few weeks (for those of you who haven’t ventured into pierced territory, a piercing shouldn’t be taken out for six weeks to avoid infection!).

I know it’s more widely acceptable for girls to wear earrings but surely a simple stud in a boy’s ear should be allowed too. Or maybe you feel that it’s not natural for a boy to wear jewellery. I’ll be interested to hear your opinions.

Maria x

74 comments so far

  • The rules should be the same across the board. No one, no matter the gender, should be allowed to wear jewellery, then.

    But, that said, it’s puzzling why allowing students to wear earrings – within the size and shape guidelines – is not acceptable.

    • I agree, Marisa. The rules should be the same across the board, no matter what the gender. I accept there has to be rules and once they’re the same for everyone, I have no problem. Thanks for your comment. x

  • Well, for a start, the school should have made it very clear that the policy was changing, so that this situation could be avoided. I really don’t see why one earring for a boy should be acceptable last term but not this term. Also, it has been completely normal for boys to wear earrings for some time now, so I don’t see why girls should be allowed to wear them and not boys.

    • Thanks for your comment. I agree about the changing policy – if something like that has changed, they should make it on a gradual basis to allow for situations like ours, ie. child leaving earring in for six weeks to avoid infection. And it does seem to be a bit of an antiquated view they’re taking.x

  • I definitely think that’s unfair. It’s up to the school to set its own rules and whether they allow boys OR girls to wear earrings is entirely their call. But if it’s allowed, it should be allowed for all, and if it’s banned, it should be banned for all. And surely a plaster on your ear is a lot more unsightly than a tiny stud!

    • I completely agree, Derek. The whole thing of the plaster puzzled me a little but I suppose I didn’t think about it too much since my son didn’t have his ear pierced during last term. It’s only now that he has and I’m thinking how silly it seems. That’s my son in the picture and he has his stud in his left ear. You can barely see it. And yes, rules are there for a reason and I understand that but definitely should be the same for both girls and boys. x

  • I think it’s shocking, and sexist. They would never be able to make a rule banning girls from doing something boys can do, so why they think they can get away with it this way round is beyond me.

    I’d be making serious complaints. I can’t remember where you live but surely it’s illegal under the Equality Act 2010 now for schools to have different rules for boys and girls?

    • Thanks Clare. The more I think about it, the more shocking it seems. I’m in Ireland and I’m sad to think that we may not have embraced modern society like I thought we had. I’d be interested to see what the policy is in other schools. x

    • Thanks for your comment. It does seem wrong to make different rules for both. I hadn’t thought about the trouser thing and you’re right – it’s skirts for girls and trousers for boys in most schools. I’m not sure it will ever change! x

  • I know that for safety reasons some facial piercings are not allowed and fair enough (large hoopy earrings, for example), but disallowing piercings outright is ridiculous, especially when the rules don’t apply to all students (or, I’d imagine to teachers at all).

    In fact, I think that piercings, (so long as they don’t pose health and safety risks i.e. adhere to size/shape guidelines ) should be allowed. Schools, especially secondary schools, shouldn’t be breeding clones. They should be allowing students to make their own decisions and crafting well-rounded individuals.

    I know that there is this idea in school that you are being prepared for later life and the “real-world” but as a male who has had piercings for several years, and indeed had them while in the last two years of school, I’ve not found that they’ve had any negative impact on my life. I had a decent LC, > 500 points, I graduated from Trinity with a degree in Computer Science and I now work as a software developer for a large, well-known company – and I go to work every day with my piercings in.

    Also, if your son REALLY wants to keep the piercing and can’t have it in while in school, you can buy clear, plastic studs that are nigh invisible.

    • Thanks for that Shaun. You make some really good points. Schools shouldn’t be breeding clones and they should embrace individuality. I do understand the need for rules but if they’re going to make them, they should make sure they’re across the board. I wonder what would happen if all the girls were told they had to put plasters over their earrings or take them out altogether? And thanks for the tip off about the clear plastic studs – I hadn’t heard of them. x

    • Yep, excellent point – there are plenty of grown-ups with piercings and it’s not nearly as big a deal as secondary school teachers make it out to be – school policies seem to be preparing students for super-strict conformist office jobs rather than anything else, which is just depressing.

  • In one word, sexism. It’s also a tad backward in terms of gender equality. This is basically saying that it’s wrong for boys to wear earrings and thats wrong in itself. THe school needs to be similar to the parents, as you have described, and pick their teenage battles in matters that count. Discipline, bullying, tolerance etc should be far higher on the agenda than the wearing of an earring!

    • They’re very good points, Pam. Yes, the focus should be on more important issues rather than something so trivial. It does stink of sexism and the more I think about it, the more it makes me mad.x

  • I believe earrings, make-up, trendy-adapted uniforms, should not be allowed & too much of a distraction. Maybe I’m being old-fashioned, but I can remember ‘beret monitors’ standing at the school gates. There’s surely enough distraction in the evenings and weekends. School is a place of learning – a level playing field.

    • You don’t only learn in school, though, Elizabeth, and you don’t only learn in a controlled environment like a classroom. In fact, many educationalists would argue that that is the worst environment to really learn things. Imagine if Einstein had had to tame his wild hair in order to be taught physics? What we wear has very little bearing, I believe, on what and how we learn, as evidenced by the numbers of very happy, capable, productive adults who have never even been to school.

      Anyway, the discussion is about the fairness of one rule for boys and one for girls anyway 🙂

    • I understand what you’re saying, Elizabeth, and I agree that there should be rules. My point is that why is it acceptable for a girl to wear little studs in her ears but not a boy. The picture I’ve put here is of my 14yo with the stud in his ear. It’s barely visible and in my opinion, it should be allowed. If they’re not going to allow it, they should ban the girls from wearing them too. And I really don’t think an earring is a deterrent from learning. Thanks for your comment. x

  • How maddening! I would love to see schools focus on educating children and leave parenting decisions to, oh, I dunno…parents, maybe? I understand that controlling attire has an impact on discipline (and other things), and I don’t mind that–I went to a school that required uniforms, which, in the US, is fairly rare. But there’s a difference between maintaining discipline and stifling ALL self-expression. And that’s before we even get to the fundamental sexism involved. Do they also have rules about hair length and style? Are only girls allowed, for example, to dye their hair? You made a careful, considered, conscious decision as parents. The school then chose to put your child at risk (of infection) in response? In no universe does that seem right.

    • Erin, they’re all really good points. It is very maddening and as I’m reading all your comments, I’m realising just how unfair and wrong it is. I do think it’s important to have rules, even if sometimes they seem trivial. I think it’s imperative that children learn to play by the rules and even if they don’t agree with them, they have to learn to put their personal feelings aside. I think it’s good preparation for the real world. But, as you said, this is sexism and if a rule is being imposed, it should be across the board. x

  • This could be an excellent teaching opportunity to learn about standing up to authority and rejecting sexism.

    Who is the boss of you and your son? How much?

    One way or another your son will learn something from the outcome. 🙂

  • its crazy , i think the head ,spends all the summer holidays thinking of a way to have him/her noticed .and comes up with silly rules , i remember my brother being sent home from c.u.s. leeson st in the 60s cos his hair touched his collar anyway it should be same for guys/an girls isnt that what equality is about , never thought id see myself fighting for men, to have the same rights as us girls , but there u go

    • Thanks for your comment, Avine. That sort of thing may have been acceptable in the 60s but isn’t it sad to think we may still be stuck in that sort of old-fashioned way of thinking. Surely in 2011 we can embrace changes and certainly for something as trivial as an earring! x

  • This is discrimination of the worst kind. A stud in his ear for God’s sake! The school would do better to concentrate on serious issues like, underage drinking, drugs and teenage pregnancy. If if were me Maria I would dispute this ruling and start up a petition of parents to have this silly rule changed.

    • Thanks Pauline. You’re right. It seems ridiculous that they’re enforcing such a rule when there are so many more serious issues. I wouldn’t have a problem with the rule being enforced if it was the same for girls – that’s where the problem lies. Sexism! x

  • I was under the impression that it was normal now for boys to have earrings. Its a long way since I was a teenager but when I was first aware of mens earrings it meant that he would steel your bike and he definately had a flick knife. Then for some reason it became if its in his left ear its ok but if its the right one then he’s a gay. Now they are as ubiquitous as iphones especially those horrible flesh tubes.
    As for the school they seem a bit old er school. Tell him to where it under a bluetooth thingy.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, earrings on boys have been in fashion for a while now and I’m not sure why it still doesn’t seem acceptable. I have to admit that I thought long and hard about letting him get his ear pierced but now that he has and it’s just tiny and looks okay, I object to the school demanding he take it out. As you say, so old school! x

  • As an anarchist home-educator I think it’s ridiculous that schools have any rules like this, for anybody. It’s none of their business frankly whether anybody has an earring, or what length their hair is etc. I think even uniforms are a horrible idea. The students are there to avail of a service (i.e. education), not be processed by the school. I suppose it comes down to the question: are the students the customer, or the product??

    • Some of the rules do seem ridiculous, Tracy. However, I think rules are an important part of education. A child needs to learn how to abide by rules, even ones he or she doesn’t agree with. But in this case, the problem is that the rule doesn’t apply to the girls. I know it’s more socially acceptable for a girl to wear earrings, but surely a tiny stud in a boy’s ear should be allowed too. x

  • I have no time for all the silly, not education related schools seem to be able to come up with. It’s none of their business whether or not YOUR son has an ear pierced.
    Being from Holland I’m not even happy about the school uniforms which often end up costing parents a (small) fortune, especially if the school insists on not standard kilts, jumpers with logos as well as a PE uniform. Seems to me that the object of the school (and society?) is to kill any and all individuality in our kids/teenagers when they should be showing them how important it is to be your own person and to be proud of their individuality. I could go on for hours, since this is a hobby-horse of mine, but I won’t. I think you get my drift.

    • Marleen, thank you for your comments. You make some very good points there. Don’t get me started on the uniform! I don’t have a problem with uniforms in general, but I do hate that a lot of them have special crests on so they have to be bought in special shops, costing a small fortune. If it was just, let’s say, a navy jumper and grey trousers, etc, we could buy them anywhere for a decent price. It seems that when they add the crests, the prices go sky high. But in terms of the earring, I think it’s wrong that they’ve made that rule for the boys and not for the girls. It will be interesting to see what they say when I bring it up. x

      • I mentioned this debate to my 17 year old daughter today and she told me that in her school (where by the way she has to wear a kilt, and a crested jumper and has to have a special PE uniform) ear piercings are allowed provided kids only wear studs. And that actually does make sense because dangling earrings could cause problems and injuries.
        Also, since the school forced your son to take his out I would come down on them like a ton of bricks if he does end up with an infection. Whatever their reasons for not allowing it (and really, I can’t think of a single good one no matter how long I think about it) they are causing a health and safety risk by making him take his out before those six weeks are over.

  • Of course the ruling is wrong, pupils should or shouldn’t wear them. Personally I would be more than a little annoyed by them insisting it be removed (no matter how long it had been in) without consulting a parent.
    Yet one wonders how many hours were spent in making the rule (and then amending it) instead of doing the jobs the taxpayers funds.

    • Thanks for your comment, Anthony. I did think, at the very least, they should have allowed him to come home and have the earring removed by us. He didn’t even know how to take it out himself so had to ask somebody to do it for him! x

  • Hi, of course the rules should be the same across the board, either they’re all allowed wear earrings or not, presumably the school believe that by restricting the wearing of such by boys they are minimising the risk of them having to expend time and resources on potential bullying issues.
    Who cares what they wear? Teach them!

    • Thanks for your comment, George. Yes, it should be one rule for all. I accept the school have to have certain rules and I embrace that fact, but what is it teaching them when they’re saying one thing is acceptable for girls and not for boys? I’ll be taking it up with them.x

  • Massive double standard. The school should be ashamed of itself. I would probably have Hotfooted it to the school telling them their sex discrimination policies needs a rethink. or I’d report them to the local educational authority governing body. And asking them to pay for the damage done by taking it out before it had healed.

    I let my boy get his done, and I can understand if all girls have to remove as well – as then we can either go to that school or move. But sex discrimination it is.

    • Thanks for your comment. Yes, the double standards of it is my main argument. If the rule was that no earrings were allowed, I’d probably think it was a silly rule but I’d be happy to go along with it. But the fact that the girls are allowed wear them and not boys is ridiculous.x

  • One rule for all I say… can’t be debating equality in the workplpace if it doesn’t start in the classroom. Think I’d have to challange this one with school board Maria.

  • This is my first visit to your blog, and I have to start by saying I’ll be coming again, congratulations! I should also say at the outset that I’m a school governor as well as a parent so perhaps that gives me a slightly different perspective.
    I agree entirely that it seems very wrong to have a policy which is different for boys and girls. I wonder if the school have given you an explanation?
    As far as how you approach dealing with the situation with your son’s pierced ear … I’m finding, as a school governor, that parents are increasingly distanced from schools (often due to lack of time) and also increasingly openly critical, sadly fostering an ‘us and them’ situation. At the same time, schools are under a lot of pressure to solve the discipline problems they are increasingly faced with.
    Now, I don’t know how you interact with your son’s school, and it is not my place to judge in any case, but there is, how shall I put it, a ‘tone’ in some of the comments here that I come across all the time in my governor work. All I’ll say is that it’s a shame parents feel so opposed to, and suspicious of, the education professionals they entrust with their children’s future. Often, we find we can’t do right for doing wrong, and, speaking for my school, we are not deliberately trying to make rules to antagonise parents, nor do we make any choices without a LOT of thought and without putting the children at the forefront of all of them. Rules about uniform are there because they have been proven to improve discipline.
    I don’t know why your son’s school made their policy decision, it doesn’t feel right to me, but perhaps there is a collaborative way to deal with it? Our children pick up on our attitudes, no matter how well we mask them, and it affects their own interactions at school.
    I hope you find a way to work with the school to solve it. Schools are really not parents’ enemies.

    • Thanks for your comment, Gill. I think you make some very good points. First of all, it’s definitely something I’ll be taking up with the school but I thought it would be an interesting debate to put it up here and hear what people thought. I honestly expected that some would agree with the school and some strongly disagree. I’m overwhelmed that almost every single comment is opposed to the school rule and it confirms to me that it’s just wrong. I think a lot of people have shown their anger at the rule on here because it seems like such a backward, sexist and wrong one. I think they’re entitled to show their feelings openly on a forum such as this. It doesn’t mean that if they had the problem themselves, they wouldn’t deal with it appropriately and speak to the school. As I said already, I’m fully intending to approach it nicely with the school and talk to them about their reasons. On another note, I fully agree with having rules. I think children need to learn how to follow rules as they’re growing up. Now I won’t get into the whole uniform debate – that’s for another blog post – but whereas I agree with the principle of having a uniform, I disagree that we should have to buy them from specialist shops, costing us a fortune, just because they have a special crest on them. But again, I’ll keep that one for the next time! I think anybody, such as yourself, who gives of their time to sit on a school board or get involved in parents associations, have to be admired. I know rules are carefully considered and aren’t just put in for the sake of it, but I honestly think that, in this case, they’ve got it wrong. x

  • It’s sheer sexism. I’m not sure I’d argue it, were I the parent, only because kids have enough problems at school without adding this to it, but it is a ridiculous rule.

    Aside from that, it’s worth knowing that piercings should always be done by a qualified piercer, who you’ll usually only find in a seedy tattoo parlour, covered in tattoos. Piercings done in a jewellers or a “nice” shop are often done by people who have no clue what they’re doing, and have been told how to hold the piercing gun. (Piercings shouldn’t be done with a gun either; it’s really dangerous, and they have no idea where to pierce.) Needle piercings are slightly more painful but much better and a faster healing time. In any case, piercers are usually covered in tattoos and piercings because it’s what they know and love. 😀

    • What an interesting point, Rosemary. I suppose I said what I did in the post rather flippantly – but you’re probably right. The ones with all the tattoos and piercings probably are the ones who know what they’re doing the most. In relation to bringing it up with the school, I think it’s something I need to bring up with them. Hopefully they’ll rethink the rule and come up with a fairer solution. I’ll keep you updated. x

  • Its 2011 therefore equal rights so same rule for both regardless of gender. However parents & pupils should be made aware of the rules as soon as they are sanctioned by principal/BOM and not just on return to classroom after summer holidays

    • Thanks for your comment, Siobhan. I agree on both counts – if there’s a new rule, they shouldn’t just impose it straight away without any warning and most definitely, there should be the same rules for both girls and boys. x

  • Hi Maria!

    This new school policy is sexist, plain and simple. If girls are allowed to wear ear-rings, then boys are, too. There are laws against this sort of thing in this country! Certainly, if it was an employment situation, your son would have grounds to take legal action……

    Of course you don’t have to/want to start firing legal letters at the school, but in your position, I would request a meeting with the principal as soon as possible and ask why your son couldn’t wear his earring to school. If the only answer they can give is ‘because he’s a boy’, then that’s simply not good enough. It’s called sex discrimination.

    They need to think about what lesson they are teaching and what message they are sending to the school population: Girls are allowed to adorn themselves, but boys aren’t? Girls are allowed to try to make themselves more attractive, but boys aren’t? Girls are *supposed* to try to improve how they look, but boys aren’t?

    Keep us up to date with what happens.


    • Thanks, Hazel. I completely agree. If this was a place of employment, my son would probably have grounds for legal action. It’s madness and maddening that the school has taken this stance. I’ll be talking to them this week and I’ll keep you all updated. x

  • This is sexism. My guess is the excuse, if they find one, will be sport related e.g. if boys play rugby and girls do not. The answer to that would surely be that pupils can wear earrings off pitch. (And that girls should be playing rugby. In my Scottish state co-ed high school during the late 80s, girls and boys played mixed sex sports–rugby, cricket, hockey, running, swimming etc–and everyone was allowed to wear earrings off pitch. It was a shock when I got a scholarship to a Scottish private co-ed school and suddenly girls weren’t allowed to walk on the rugby pitch let alone play rugby, even with each other. The boys couldn’t play hockey. I took my state school’s progressive stance as just the norm until then. I’m still discovering what a special place it was–and I hope still is.)

  • Nonsense. If the school cannot justify why it has imposed these ridiculous double standards then I would allow my son to wear his earring and take the matter further.

  • Agree with much of what has been written here Maria. My son (13yo) has a small earring (diamond-type stud, tiny) – he had it done last year. The school he goes to is brilliant for a number of reasons including the fact that the Head would never do something quite so ridiculous as to impose double-standards. We chose it specifically for being broad-minded but to be honest, what year are we all living in anway? And to echo another poster here, who is the boss of you and your son? Crazy situation, and it must be very frustrating. Will be interested to hear how it plays out for you 🙂 x

    • Thanks, Katy. Your son’s school sounds like they’ve got it right. My son has his stud in in the picture and, as you can see, it’s tiny and barely noticeable. It is a crazy situation and I’ll keep you informed about the outcome.x

  • One rule for all. How dare they start breeding discrimination right there in the school halls? I think you should print these responses and bring them to the school.
    What a thoughtless act from the school. Hope you get lots of press in the local papers etc. too.

  • Very poor form for the school to make a policy change (mind you, original one seems to have been equally ridiculous) and not inform parents ASAP, and also to insist on a piercing being removed before one is advised to do so – prioritising school rules over a student’s health (however small the risk of infection may be) is absurd and invites a lot of questioning over the function of these rules. I have heard of mixed schools getting into trouble for insisting on girls wearing skirts, boys wearing trousers, and having to let the girls have trouser option too, so it’s certainly worth speaking to them and pointing out the crazy sexism going on.

    • Thanks for your comment, Claire. Yes, it’s crazy to have such blatant sexism in the school. I have to point out that I really admire the school for a lot of things and this has really taken me by surprise. I’ll be talking to them this week and I’ll let you all know what they say.x

      • It might be something they haven’t quite thought through – they might be thinking more about how cracking down on all infractions of school rules in September is the way to go, rather than starting off soft/flexible, without necessarily considering whether it’s a fair rule or not? Looking forward to hearing what they say – hope it’s a productive conversation. 🙂

  • Earring saga reminds me of fierced debate with my parents during the Beatle era when I argued for tight ‘drainpipe’ trousers and my Aunt thought I would look like a ‘teddy boy’. Problem compounded when a semi blind ‘family’ barber friend cut my hair so short that i was afraid to let my friends see my head and stayed ‘in’ for weeks after.This being the era of long hair to the shoulders. Amused to see that teenagers/family issues with teenagers ‘identity’ crises remain the same. To quote my own icons, the Beatles in response to the ridiculous school rules: ‘Let it Be’! Lovely post though, much enjoyed.

  • Hi Maria, Very interesting post. My boys go to a mixed school too and have no uniform. I’ve yet to encounter any variation in treatment between boys and girls but it may arise in the future. In your case I think it’s utterly divisive and daft to treat girls and boys differently in this way. If a neat stud earring (or 2) is acceptable for a girl then in my opinion it should be equally acceptable for a boy. The covering with a plaster was nonsense and the total ban is nonsense too. I’d mention it to the head and stress that treating them differently at this age will only store up problems for the future with gender stereotyping etc. Hope he gets to wear his earring. I love to see kids asserting their individuality & developing their own style. Good Luck.

  • I find this absolutely outrageous and extremely sexist. i am a 16 year old school kid and i was told to take mine out as well. I looked at the rules before and it stated ‘a pair of stud earings for girls’, this does not specificly say boys are not allowed one diamond stud. i think the politicians should look at this.

  • Guys I have one question … In my school there are loads of pupils having pierce and Girls that have pink hair and stuff.. in the rules does say that is not allowed but the principal doesn’t do anything to them.. And i got my eyebrow pierce 2 weeks ago and I got sent home and the took my phone and they said I’m now allowed to go to school until i get it out… I had to take it out but It’s not fair .. I think they are racist cuz I’m Romanian and they are Irish .. What can I do? 🙁 … Please Help .. Thank You

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