A new study by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York states that pre-adolescent kids (pre-teens to teens) are not regularly using sunscreen, despite the fact that many had suffered earlier sunburns. It was noted that the kids (yes, kids) felt that they looked better with a tan. In fact, some claimed that they looked healthier with a tan.
This has to change.
There are many great skin cancer awareness PSAs and anti-tanning campaigns, but most seem to be aimed at teens and young adults (mostly women). That’s not a bad thing at all, but I think this new study shows that education needs to happen earlier. I’d personally like to see it start pre-pre-teen…beginning in early elementary school. Or earlier from the parent to their child! When a child is taught to look both ways before walking across a street, or not to talk to strangers, he should as routinely be taught about sun safety. A child probably won’t understand skin cancer or wrinkly skin, but they might listen when one explains that the sun can provide bad sunburns.
My nine-year-old daughter asked me this past summer if the sun was bad. She had seen my efforts regarding this blog site and the BITNP campaign and simply assumed that the sun must be bad. I explained to her that the sun was life-giving and provided energy and warmth. The sun is good! “So why are you telling people to stay away from it?” I tried to explain UV rays and got a blank stare. Then I thought of an analogy.
“Think about water. Is water good?”
“Yes…because you need to drink water and you can swim in water and the plants need water. So yes, water is good!”
“But what happens if someone that doesn’t know how to swim goes into deep water?”
She stared…thinking deeply. “Well, I guess water is bad?”
“No…water is good, but you have to be careful around it. If you aren’t careful, water can be trouble.”
“So…wearing sunscreen in the sun is kind of like wearing a life jacket in deep water?”
I couldn’t have worded it better myself.
I don’t know if my kids (both now 9 going on 18) will maintain daddy’s respect for the sun. They’re entering pre-teens and already becoming a little rebellious. But having taught them early in life, they have a fighting chance. I would hope that they do not succumb to peer-pressure and that they stay away from tanning beds. Better yet, I hope they become mini-advocates against tanning. She’s in Girl Scouts now and has already asked me if there’s something she can do to help out BITNP within her troop. Atta girl.
I’ve been working on a presentation for pre-teen classrooms…or Girl Scout troops. It’s a work-in-progress and I hope to have at least a working draft in May when I plan to speak to the troop. But for now, there are some great resources for educational material from the Melanoma Education Foundation and the Children’s Melanoma Prevention Foundation. Check them out and try to spread the word to the kids in your life.
The earlier they learn, the less they burn. And yes, I just made that up. :)