BY ELIZABETH HALE, MD
The data is undeniable. Even though sun damage is a cumulative process, and adults need daily sunscreen to reduce their chances of skin cancer and premature skin aging, we all know that the damage done during childhood lasts forever. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sustaining 5 or more sunburns during childhood increases your lifetime risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, by 80 percent! And young people who use tanning beds increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent. Clearly, we need to teach our children about sun protection early.
Like good manners, good hygiene and other learnable habits that pave the way for success and well-being later in life, the sooner we can imprint important behaviors on our children, the more likely it is that these learned behaviors will persist as our children grow up. If we don’t teach our children to say please and thank you when they are younger and impressionable, it is unlikely that they will develop these important social habits on their own. Similarly, if we teach them to brush and floss regularly when they are younger, they are likely to maintain these important habits as they mature into grown children and independent adults.
As a dermatologist and a mother of three, I know how important it is for children to protect their skin and avoid sunburns during youth. It’s also so important to educate them about the dangers of tanning beds and the direct link of indoor tanning with melanoma. Since our children were born, we’ve always taught them to keep swimshirts on when they go swimming. My friends would often laugh at me because even when swimming in an indoor pool, or during one evening visiting day at my son’s day camp, my kids would be the only ones wearing their swimshirts, perhaps even unnecessarily while swimming indoors or after dusk. While maybe excessive at times, I am glad my children now think of their swimshirts as part of their “bathing suit”, and now that they are growing up, this behavior has become habitualized. I don’t even have to remind them to put their swimshirt on, it happens naturally.
You can imagine my feelings of pride this summer when my boys’ sleepaway camp posted this candid picture. At ages 13 and 10, while away at camp without Mom and Dad telling them what to do, they put on their swimshirts to go swimming in the lake, even though none of their friends chose to wear them.
It doesn’t get much better for a Derm Mom. Teaching them the importance of sun protection early can help lower their chances of getting sunburns and their likelihood of developing skin cancers later in life. Now, let’s just hope they brushed their teeth while at camp….