Children are at special risk when it comes to sun exposure and its consequences. Excessive sun exposure in childhood is associated with the development of skin cancer later in life. As a result it makes sense that we should protect our children and young people from high levels of UV light and sunburn.
As parents you need to be aware that your child’s skin is especially sensitive to the effects of UV light. Repeated tans and burns will eventually wear down your child’s immunity and cell repair mechanisms in the skin (just as in adults). This makes it difficult for their bodies to catch and destroy damaged cells, which can later wreak havoc and grow out of control, causing skin cancer.
On average children get three times as much sun radiation before the age of 18 as adults. Our children and adolescents need special protection.
It is relatively easy to protect small children and infants from the sun, but once the children become older the job of protecting them becomes more difficult.
The solution is not to keep your child inside all day just to avoid harmful UV radiation, but to promote healthy behavior so as to prevent excessive sun exposure.
Here are some suggestions to help protect your children:
- Set an example, make sun smart behavior something that is a natural part of everyone’s life. As you have probably noticed, your children do not always do what you say, yet tend to do what you do. Be a role model.
- Start early so that it becomes a habit. The earlier you start the more sun smart behavior will be taken for granted.
- Keep sunscreen and protective clothing handy. Sun screen and protective clothing should be all over the place. Throw a tube of sunscreen in your childs backpack, purse, pocket. Keep a bottle laying around in the kitchen, bathroom, and car (or wherever your kids hang out). If your kid is taking off for the beach throw in a hat and a long sleeved T-shirt. You can even try a hat and clothes rack close to the main exit of your house so it is easy for you and your children to pick up a hat or shirt on the way out.
- Talk to your kids about the sun and UV exposure. Knowledge is power. Although your kids might not listen directly, if you talk about it enough at least they will know about it. The fear of skin cancer may be too remote to actually make a difference in there behavior, but there are other factors that might help make them sun smart. Point out people that have sun damaged skin. Talk about wrinkles, big ugly moles and spots, burns, discolorations, scalpels, local anesthetics, and other things that might come from overexposure to the sun. They might not slap on sunscreen, but maybe they will avoid the sun.
- Try to get schools, camps, daycares, clubs, sport teams to promote protective clothing, sunscreen, as well as protective behavior. Do not underestimate the effect you can have on these institutions and community. Be a trailblazer, be sun smart.