Protecting young people from the sun is always important; since the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation hits the earth all year-round. However, it is especially essential at this time of year, when UV- rays are the most intense and children are spending more time outdoors. Their risk of receiving dangerous amounts of sun exposure — and suffering everything from blistering sunburns to heatstroke — is great. Even mild to moderate increases in sun exposure over the summer, whether or not they lead to sunburn, increase their lifetime risk of developing skin cancer.
Ensuring that a very young child is sun-protected is relatively simple, since adults can supervise clothing choices and sunscreen application. But it’s harder to enforce sun safety behaviors among older children, whose commitment to sun protection tends to diminish as they spend more time with peers. In a recent large study of fifth graders, 50 percent reported “often or always” using sunscreen when outside for at least six hours in summer. However, when the same students were questioned three years later, the number was down to 25 percent, while the number of children who admitted to both liking and seeking a tan had increased significantly.
If you are the parent of a teenager, let him or her know that both tanning and burning increase the risk of skin cancer. Just one blistering burn during childhood doubles the risk of developing potentially deadly melanomas later in life, so sunburn is not merely a temporary inconvenience. Furthermore, the damage caused by tanning is directly linked to signs of skin aging such as wrinkles and sagging skin, as well as to skin cancers and eye diseases.
Teach your children the importance of sun safety measures, including seeking the shade, scheduling outdoor activities before 10 AM or after 4 PM, covering up with clothing, and using SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen for extended stays outdoors. Read a full list of The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Prevention Guidelines.
Don’t just discuss sun protection with your children, but practice it yourself. Also discuss sun protection strategies with babysitters, camp counselors, athletic coaches, and older siblings. The more people you involve, the more you will spread the sun protection message, ensuring that your child remains safe all day every day, all summer long.