Claire’s is changing its policy after a former employee claims she was unfairly pressured to pierce the ears of a young girl who was sobbing and protesting.
Raylene Marks of Alberta, Canada, took to Facebook earlier this week to recount an uncomfortable experience she said she encountered while working at the popular accessories store.
A 7-year-old girl and her mom had come to the store to have her ears pierced, but it was clear the young girl didn’t want the procedure done.
“The girl pleaded and sobbed for 30 minutes not to be pierced,” Marks wrote. “She expressed that she didn’t want us touching her, that we were standing too close, that she was feeling uncomfortable. She made it clear she no longer wanted her ears pierced.
“She begged, over and over, again for mom to please just take her home.”
The girl’s mom eventually did so, but when Marks brought the situation to her manager and asked what she should do in the scenario if the mom insisted her daughter’s ears be pierced, “I was firmly told, ‘You would have had no choice but to do it.’”
Marks said she quit that same day, uneasy with her manager’s response and reluctant to participate if the scenario arises again.
Claire’s remains a popular destination for first-time piercings among children, parents and tweens, proudly boasting “100 million ears pierced & counting!” on its website with a gallery of famous teen clientele including JoJo Siwa and Jillian Shea Spaeder.
All employees are trained to use the piercing gun.
Twenty-one-year-old Jenna, another former employee who wished only to go by her first name, told InsideEdition.com she was 18 years old when she first started working at a different Alberta store. She said she learned to use the piercing gun within her first week and pierced the ears of around 200 clients during the two years she worked for Claire's.
“I loved my managers and I talked to them about it when I first started,” Jenna recalled. “’If a baby’s feeling uncomfortable, am I still obligated to do it?’ and they said, ‘Yeah, absolutely. As long as the parents want it, you still have to.’”
She explained her training included practicing piercing a foam ear, practicing piercing her coworker’s ear (“They’re totally fine with it,” she clarified) and watching a couple of tutorial videos.
What is more difficult to learn, Jenna said, was calming the nerves of babies and young children, and making sure the situation was safe, even if it meant asking the parents to hold down their kids.
“Babies were always the hardest because they’re always crying, even when you have them on their mom’s lap," she recalled. "They don’t enjoy it, because they’re being restrained and that makes them upset.”
Episodes of emotional distress such as these could leave their lasting impression on babies and young children, including anxiety responses to the location and a phobia to needles in their later years, clinical psychologist Jolie Silva explained to InsideEdition.com.
“The gun is probably a really scary thing to see,” Silva explained. “When you see a needle, for a child, it’s a scary thing. Being held down, crying, the whole thing is an extremely emotional experience and one that is unnecessary.”
Jenna explained she had no previous experience with calming babies or young kids before working at Claire's and often just had to wait until they stopped squirming so that she could perform the piercing.
“You just have to wait […] there’s no way to get the piercing on when they’re freaking out like that with it still being safe for them,” she said. “You have the gun and it’s loaded with the piercing. If something were to happen, there’s a solid chance the gun could go off and pierce the baby somewhere else, or hit my arm, or stab the parent with the earring.”
Despite the hectic scene, Jenna said that sometimes parents still want to go through with having their kids' ears pierced.
“It’s really awkward because what are you supposed to do?” Jenna pondered. "The parent is the one who’s paying, the parent is the one that can complain to the company about me if I don’t do it. The parent could easily just lose it on me or go to my manager and try and get me fired."
Both Jenna and Silva agreed that the pressure from parents and employers also becomes an unfair burden on Claire’s employees, who are often only teens or young adults themselves.
“When they go to sleep at night, many of them are probably thinking about what just took place. I think they would probably feel guilt, they might feel anxiety,” Silva explained. “And it’s your first job – your boss is telling you you have to do it a certain way. You’re used to doing what your teachers and your parents tell you, so you do it, and you don’t feel good about it. You’re impressionable at that age.”
Ahead of booking an ear piercing appointment for their children, Silva encouraged parents to consider how their kids might react and whether they are ready for the procedure.
“It’s important to take gradual steps with children,” Silva said. “Some children are more inhibited – they have more of an inhibited temperament or are more anxious so taking baby steps with them is important. Whereas other children, they’re more easily coerced into doing something, even if they were hesitant to do it in the beginning.”
And if parents find themselves in a situation where their child is crying or begging to leave, “ultimately, a parent has to ask themselves what is it they’re trying to get the child to do and is that something that will benefit them in the long run?
“To be in extreme emotional pain and to have a certain amount of emotional stress just to have pretty looking ears, it doesn’t seem to balance out to me," Silva said.
Claire’s has since responded, vowing to revise its policy to make it clearer.
“Our policy is indeed that an employee reserves the right to refuse to pierce a child who is distressed or is resisting. In relation to the ear piercing incident involving an former employee, we believe she acted appropriately & in line w/ our policy by refusing to do the piercing,” the company said in a statement.