Whether you rejoice or feel sad when your kids head back to school, you hope your good influence sticks with them! That’s why it’s so important to teach children and teens about protecting their skin and eyes from the dangerous effects of the sun — all year long.
Exposure can add up during a typical school day. Children may have outdoor recess between 10 AM and 2 PM, a time when the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays are especially intense. Sports and other after-school activities happen when the sun is still high. Kids can even get UV exposure through school and car windows!
Kids at Risk
Melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be life-threatening, is on the rise among young adults. Having more than five sunburns dramatically increases the risk. So does the use of indoor tanning machines.
The more common nonmelanoma skin cancers, called basal and squamous cell carcinomas, are also increasing in young people. They’re caused mainly by sun exposure, too, and while most can be cured with early detection and treatment, they can be painful and disfiguring.
Have “the Talk”
Using consistent sun protection during childhood can drastically reduce the risk of developing any type of skin cancer as an adult. It may be time for a serious talk with your kids about these issues. See our mini Skin Cancer Prevention Handbook with all the specifics you need, and print out copies for them.
Make It Easy for Them to Comply
Teach kids that sunscreen application is part of their normal daily routine. Let them pick the formulation they like. Keep sunscreen in the bathroom, next to the toothpaste, as a reminder to apply every morning. Stick a note on the mirror, too.
Have your kids keep sunscreen in their lockers and know when and how to reapply it. If they’re involved in after-school sports, make sure sunscreen is always in their backpack or bag (stick formulas are lightweight and easy to apply).
Teens are under enormous pressure to dress, talk and look a certain way. Sometimes, no matter how much they know about the dangers of UV rays, they’ll still try to tan in order to fit in.
If your teens insist on being tan, teach them about self-tanners. Newer self-tanning lotions and creams can duplicate a natural glow without exposing skin to harmful UV rays to get it. These products don’t protect skin from the sun, though, so sunscreen and protective clothing are still crucial.
Kids might balk at other sun protection measures, too. If they complain that wide-brimmed hats look dorky, take them shopping to pick out one that’s acceptable. Introduce them to cool rash guards and sun shirts that have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 30 or higher. Let them choose sunglasses they like, as long as they have UV protection.
Since you are your children’s role model, don’t forget to let them see you protecting yourself from the sun, too!
School Rules May (Not) Apply
Despite your best efforts, school rules can be an obstacle to children’s sun safety. Some schools see sunscreen as a medicine and may require the school nurse to apply it or written permission from a doctor to use it. Schools may also ban hats and sunglasses during school hours, including recess.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has created a sun protection form that parents and doctors can sign, allowing students to bring these items to school and use as needed.