I started a thread similar to this with no replies yet. Feel free to chime in there- especially if you implemented UP after a few years or more.
okay, i know this post is already a few years old, so your 18yo is already early 20s. and although i'm 32 (this month), it still feels like i've only just crossed the threshold into my 30s, and i got (or at least started) most of my tattoos between 18 and mid-20s. so i feel like i can probably relate to your son. i not only have a tattoo on my forearm, i have two stars next to my eye, and i still have my lip pierced from ~10 yrs ago (22) when my wife and i got together and she asked me to pierce it b/c she thought it would be cute. when i was a bit younger, i found myself feeling a little (oh, i dunno, pissy?, indignant?) with how i thought the world perceived me. then i went back to school at 24, and since the only people i interacted with were fellow students and professors, my attitude changed, b/c it became apparent that "how the world perceives me" was, actually, as a bright, motivated, enthusiastic, likable person. but it wasn't until i was convinced by the academic context that this was how people saw me that it seemed to suddenly be true of how people perceived me everywhere i went. i think part of that was that my own expectations and confidence also helped people newly meeting me know how to react to me: in a positive way! it was sorta catch-22, unfortunately.
and with a little hindsight i think i can also say that i had a few unrealistic expectations, emotionally (i knew certain places wouldn't hire me, but then i'd feel a sense of rejection, even though i didn't bother to apply, because the employment landscape was more limited for me than for others my age). i was lucky, though, to have a few people who threw some good advice at me, some of it in an odd way. one that stuck with me though, was a good friend of mine, who was 14 yrs older than me, she sent me an email in response to a mopey one i wrote her, and she said the following: i know you are not really disappointed not to get those jobs, so pick yourself up and quit whining and be honest with yourself. i want you to do this writing assignment: "why am i choosing not to get those jobs / earn that money?". it wasn't exactly UP, but she wasn't my parent, and it did force me to think about how i was, in fact, as an autonomous individual, choosing the circumstances before me, b/c i certainly couldn't attribute my lot to lack of skill, personality deficits, inability to think outside the box, or anything like that. so i'm not suggesting this necessarily from parent to child, but i think it is informative and helpful when you think about what i actually got out of it. and i think i can convert the message into one more in line with UP, in the following way (and, yes, i know it's possibly a bit late for this advice, but)...
if anyone has a kid with the same thing going on, perhaps ask them: are you disappointed that you can't get that job at [...]? or are you disappointed that the kind of world you want to live in is one that takes more work, more motivation, etc., than what other people have to put forth? are you willing to shoulder that disappointment and struggle for your ideals? are you the kind of person who wants to make the world a different, a better place? can you get okay with the fact that this path isn't often easy? can you overcome the temporary moments of exhaustion and feeling lost, because the path you are blazing doesn't have a map to follow, or any surefire way of checking your progress? can you accept that money, while a necessary component for survival, isn't the primary measure of success for the path you have chosen? are your expectations (and resulting disappointments) properly matched to your efforts and goals? what kind of compromises are acceptable to you, and which must you rule out? how does that change the landscape of what you might or might not consider a disappointment? how often do you need to reassess the answers you're giving to these questions right now? if you're not sure, are you willing to frequently check back in with yourself, to re-calibrate, to make sure you're doing what you really intend? if this seems like a lot of work, can you remember what it is that really drives and motivates you? can you figure out a way to re-infuse yourself with that drive and inspiration? are you pushing yourself too hard? not hard enough? can you figure out what some reasonable parameters are for knowing when you're doing which, and when you're finding the proper balance? ... and maybe some specific, practical ones, like, is it possible you only want the kind of job where tattoos don't matter? can you remember to remind yourself of that when you get disappointed at the consequences of that choice?
sure, an 18yo makes some decisions that are lacking in foresight, but they have definitely mastered the concepts of cause and effect, decisions and consequences. and if asked to think them through, they will likely find a way for their decisions to be consistent with their desires, and get rid of the contradictions that seem to drive us crazy about what they're doing, and i don't think the conclusion has to be effortless or pain-free (or like what we would choose / how we would answer) for us to accept and support it. in this way, it's a lot like how you support the little one navigating the world's difficulties and constraints. it's different, however, in that the young adult is way more emotionally mature and can pick up on just the tiniest hints of judgment and disapproval. and i believe they still need your wholehearted support just as much as the little ones. so i think with older kids, you have to be more deliberate in sitting yourself down and letting go of your judgments before you try to be supportive of them, or they're going to notice it. maybe try to answer these kinds of questions through your kid's eyes, as best you can, as you think you know them? maybe you'll find yourself more on their page before you even try to have a conversation intended to help them out with the difficulties of navigating the world as a (hopefully) cooler and awesomer person than the world is necessarily ready for.
and the reality of it is that there are very few real careers out there that care about tattoos/piercings/bright hair colors anymore. you will even find successful, out-of-the-closet lesbian lawyers sporting blue dreadlocks in conservative places like salt lake city (this is a real example), and i know tattooed and pierced folks at NPR & disney. tech companies have led the charge at not caring at all about these things, so there are a bazillion options in tech fields. and academia doesn't care either. and i find myself more and more places where a company i was almost certain used to not allow visible tattoos or piercings obviously now does, based upon the visible arm tattoos and facial piercings on one or more of their employees. it's really a matter of where one wants to end up. and in a pinch, you can usually cover up forearm tattoos by wearing long sleeves (with a skin-color band over the tattoo so it doesn't show through), if you absolutely must take a job at a place that doesn't allow visible tattoos.
i hope this doesn't feel too far off-topic, but i do actually see it as being very related to UP b/c this seems like a time when a parent could start letting judgment and conditionality creep into the parent-child relationship, and it seems in a lot of ways just as important as ever to not let it. my mom didn't UP us, but she did a few things i will forever condone: (1) she never, ever (not at any age) tried to limit who we chose as friends, telling us that we need to use our own good judgment to know who it's appropriate to spend time around (although honestly i think she might have chosen to intervene if we'd gone down some really unwise paths, but that never came up, so i can't be sure), and (2) she always let us choose what to be motivated by, and how much to let it motivate us, and to be excited in our own ways about what those things were, and she was always so willing to listen, ask for more details, ask questions, listen some more, to whatever we were doing & going through (although we did go through phases where we didn't want to share with mom). to this day, i still love talking to my mom (on the other side of the country) on a weekly basis, and she still loves to hear me tell her stories, and always has time for me, and it's such a warm spot in my heart, and if she judged me or tried to steer me away from what i'm doing, instead of just being a friend and listening, i might choose to contact her less frequently. that's not to say that we always have the same perspective on things, but she's one of those people i can honestly just talk about things with, and don't feel negative energy attached to where our viewpoints might differ, and she has this awesome tendency to try to point out the similarities in what we do/think that might at first seem so different, as opposed to wedging our differences between us. i don't think this would feel so amazing to me if she'd just suddenly begun this when i was a mature adult. it's something she's been fairly consistent about, so it's something i feel very secure in knowing i can rely on. and in fact, sometimes i feel guilty for not being a more communicative child, b/c the more i mature, the more i realize she's always been there for me (and now i worry about her advancing age and declining health, and whether i got the most and best out of the limited years we have on earth together!).
and recently she said something that made me absolutely giddy, when she was talking about how you communicate with a toddler. it was in the context of criticizing how someone we know spends time with their toddler (one of these young moms who spends all her time with eyes glued to her mobile phone, texting and playing games, but seemingly resentful of the obligation of parenting even though she's chosen to be a SAHM), and my mom said, "being physically present with them isn't enough. you have to make eye contact, and they need to know that what they are telling you about really matters, that you are really interested. and the questions you ask them, how detailed and interested the follow-up questions are, make it so clear how well you are listening. kids are smarter than they seem. they really pick up on that stuff." so, while my mom did utilize spanking and yelling, and those things i'm against, i realize she really understood the communication thing, and took it seriously from a very early age, and i'm so grateful for it. it also made me realize that a lot of people figure out these things about how to parent well even without reading these books (my mom never read kohn or aldort), if they are really trying to be good people to their little ones, and really attentive and loving and caring. and this gives me reassurance that i will probably find a good path through the territory not covered in these books, if i really make my relationship and communication and empathy with the kiddo a high priority.
ok, this got really long... whoa! hope i said something helpful to someone out there!