What every parent should know about teens and tanning
As the weather continues to warm and school draws to a close, teens will be heading outdoors for fun in the sun. Whether it’s a day by the pool, sunbathing at the beach, playing sports or surfing the waves, we encourage our kids to enjoy those fleeting moments of adolescent summer freedom that we adults remember fondly.
It’s sometimes difficult to fathom that these almost-adults sporting bikinis and board shorts are the same kids who in the not-too-distant past were chasing seagulls with a saggy diaper on the beach. When they were eating sand by the chubby fistful and learning to swim, though, we slathered them in SPF 100 sunscreen, covered them in hats and long sleeves and protected them from sun damage at all costs. And then they became teenagers and began to seek out the same things we spent so much time and effort protecting them from.
What’s a parent to do to protect teens from sun damage?
Explain the risks
Most adults don’t fully understand the risks of sun damage, so it’s hardly reasonable to expect our kids to grasp this without help. Here are some quick facts to help you understand and pass on to your kids this important information.
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whether it comes from overexposure to the sun or indoor tanning, contributes to the development of skin cancer.
- The number of people suffering from skin cancer (including the deadliest form- melanoma) continues to increase.
- The effects of UV radiation add up over the course of a lifetime, so heavy exposure at a younger age results in greater risk later on. In other words, the choices your teenager makes today can dramatically affect their health for years to come.
- We can prevent many forms of skin cancer by avoiding exposure to UV radiation. This means preventing sunburns and avoiding indoor tanning.
- Sun protection can include wearing hats and clothing to cover skin as well as sunscreen.
Help them prioritize long-term health
It’s a monumental task to persuade a teenager to choose something that will benefit their health in 30 years over the immediate rewards of looking good and feeling good along with their friends. And as they grow and gain autonomy, we have to acknowledge that ultimately it is their choice. The best we can do is to ensure that their choices are informed ones.
Talk to your teenager about why sun protection is important. Explain why we worry about skin cancer- it can be life-threatening! And yet, it is all too often a preventable problem.
Make it easy
Buy the sunscreen and the protective clothing and make it accessible. The easier access your kids have to the right things, the more likely they are to use it.
If your teenager still lusts after that tanned look, offer a safer option. Encourage them to use sunless tanning lotions available at drugstores. These products have come a long way over the years! You may also want to explore spray tanning as a way to get that coveted bronze skin. Spray tanning doesn’t use UV radiation so it is a much safer alternative, and it lasts longer than self-tanning lotions.
Set a good example
You can’t expect your children not to want tanned skin if you’re out baking in the sun every weekend. Don’t ask more of your kids than you’re willing to do yourself. Set the example: wear a hat, wear protective clothing and sunscreen, and avoid getting sunburned.
Forbid tanning beds
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Dermatology all overwhelmingly agree that teens should not be allowed to participate in indoor tanning.
Indoor tanning beds produce UV radiation that is 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun, and people who have been exposed to indoor tanning are 59 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors. Furthermore, injuries due to indoor tanning are the cause for more than 3,000 visits to the emergency room every year in the United States. When it comes to indoor tanning, just say no.
It is not an easy task to get teenagers to care about sun protection. It is possible, though, to encourage them to make healthy choices without forcing them to sacrifice the fun and freedom of adolescence.
Tanned skin will fade, but the damaging effects of the sun can last a lifetime.