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Sun Safety & Kids

Help kids protect themselves from sunburn, melanoma and other types of skin cancer.

Among the variety of “talks” parents must have with their children — the Be Nice to Your Sister Talk, the Drug & Alcohol Talk and, of course, the Sex Talk — another discussion is becoming more and more important: the Sun Safety Talk. 

Sun Safety Resources

  • Dear 16-Year-Old Me, a video by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund, in which young melanoma survivors and friends and family members of melanoma victims talk about what they wished they’d known about sun exposure when they were 16. 
  • Dermnet.com compiled photos of sun-damaged skin — wrinkles, lesions and all. Not pretty!  
  • “How to Get Your Teen to Wear Sunscreen,” a 1½-minute clip featuring Dr. Mehmet Oz.  
  • The Sunwise Program, recently launched by the EPA to educate elementary and middle school students about sun safety. 
  • The Skin Cancer Foundation’s “Myths vs. Facts” lays down hard truths.  

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is by far the most common cancer in the United States, with 85 to 90 percent of all skin cancers associated with exposure to ultraviolet rays. Melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer, is the second most common cancer among adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 29. And the incidence is increasing. 

Unfortunately, kids and teens seem relatively oblivious to concerns about sun exposure. A study published in Pediatrics found that between the ages of 10 and 13, kids tend to both increase their exposure to the sun’s rays and decrease their use of sunscreens and other protection. 

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that boys are less likely to use sunscreen routinely, know less about the sun’s effects and spend more time in the sun than girls. But as girls get older, they become more likely to view tanning positively, and many succumb to misinformation from the indoor tanning industry. 

Here are some tips for starting that all-important sun-safety conversation: 

  • Listen to your child’s concerns. Don’t lecture; invite a dialogue. The better you understand the barriers to your child’s use of sun protection, the more successful you’ll be at helping him remove those obstacles. 
  • Provide alternative ways to “look good” and be healthy. Like it or not, tween and teen girls are concerned with their appearance, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. Your daughter may view tanned skin as an indicator of beauty and physical fitness. Thus, it may be more effective to talk to her about premature wrinkling than about skin cancer. Discuss exercise and sunless tanning products as viable ways of achieving the healthy glow she’s after. 
  • Help find the right sunscreen for your child’s needs. The Mayo Clinic reminds that, “If you don’t care for the [type of] sunscreen, you’re not as likely to use it consistently.” A spray may work well for a boy who says it takes too long to apply sunscreen. A cosmetic facial cream with SPF protection may work better with a girl’s makeup. Any form (spray, cream, lotion, gel or stick) can be effective as long as it is a broad-spectrum product with an SPF of at least 30. 
  • Go beyond sunscreen. The sun is strongest and most likely to burn midday, so teach the Shadow Rule: “If your shadow is shorter than you, seek shade.” Promote the use of kid-selected protective accessories like brimmed hats, sunglasses, swim shirts and sarongs. 
  • Provide a visual reminder. According to an EPA survey, tweens and teens report “I forget” as the top reason for not using sunscreen. Leave a tube on the bathroom counter or put it into a camp bag. Hang hats where they’ll be spotted near the door. 
  • Acne products may cause sun-sensitivity. Some ingredients in both over-the-counter and prescription acne products may cause the skin to be more susceptible to the sun’s rays. Be extra-vigilant about sun protection if your tween or teen uses acne medication. 
  • Don’t allow your child to use a tanning bed — ever! There is no doubt that use of tanning beds is linked to melanoma. Pennsylvania law bans tanning-bed use for kids 16 and younger; Delaware, for kids 19 and younger; and New Jersey, 17 and younger. 
  • Be a good role model. Put on sunscreen, wear a hat and stay out of the sun during the middle of the day when possible. If sun-safety measures are practiced as part of the household routine, it’s much more likely that your children will follow suit.  

Freelance writer and mom-of-two Ashley Talmadge writes frequently on parenting topics.

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