Getting kids in the habit of addressing UV sun safety is more about encouraging them to pause and assess their surroundings before stepping outside. Then, as they grow into the teen and tween years it becomes even more important to integrate the reality of health risks into the evolving conversation.
Challenging? Yes. Impossible? Definitely not. Be prepared that it takes time because sun safety recommendations are much more stringent now than they were in our youth and there’s so much more to understand.
Much of the below may seem over-the-top but since the statistics are quite alarming, ignoring sun safety when kids are young may lead to horrible consequences in their adult life.
1. Start with HOW Kids Can Protect Their Skin
You can educate kids about the sun’s damaging rays until you’re blue in the face, but they need to know how to protect their skin. Here are six easy steps for kids to remember:
- Wear protective clothing.
- Apply sunscreen regularly.
- Use an umbrella for shade.
- Seek out shade under trees an buildings.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear sunglasses.
The American Association of Dermatology has a Gigi the Giraffe poster outlining these six steps for kids to hang on their wall as a reminder. Gigi the Giraffe was created to help educate kids regarding the importance of sun safety also through free coloring pages and activity sheets to entertain kids while on the go. Headed on a Hawaiian family vacation? That might be the perfect place to bust out these reminders.
2. Teach the Shadow Rule
Kids love playing with their shadows and a simple way to make them more aware of the sun’s position is to teach them the rule of, “Short shadow? Seek shade.”
When their shadow is shorter than their height, the sun’s UV rays are more likely to cause a sunburn.
(Stay tuned for a fun outdoor activity that will help you emphasize this point. I need the June gloom here in Southern California to pass, first!)
3. Wear Sunglasses for Eye Sun Safety
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that kids over the age of 6 months wear sunglasses because kids under the age of 10 are at high risk for ocular changes resulting from UV ray damage. Not to mention their eyelids and skin around their eyes are more vulnerable to the sun than adult skin is.
Teach the kids to note when the people around them are wearing sunglasses. If other people are wearing them, it’s a sign for kids to grab theirs. Tip: Kids are more likely to wear shades if they select the style themselves.
4. Note Peak Sun Hours
The sun’s UV rays are at their strongest between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Get kids in the habit of noting the time of day before they head outside to play. Pretty soon, they’ll reach for protective sun gear without you nagging them.
5. Wet and Sweat = More Sunscreen
Even waterproof sunscreen needs to be reapplied after sports and swimming. Get kids in the habit of coming to you for more sunscreen when they’re finished with activities that cause them to get wet or sweat. Sure, you’ll need to chase them down at first, but the need for this will (hopefully) gradually decrease over time.
6. Check the UV Index
My 7-year-old is in the habit of checking the weather each morning, so we also just started checking the UV index. The Environmental Protection Agency has a SunWise program with an app, a gadget to download onto your computer, or even a daily email that predicts what the UV index in your zip code is likely to be. The higher the UV index, the more sun-safe kids need to be.
7. Have Your Pediatrician Discuss Sun Safety
Studies have shown that kids are likely to take sun safety advice from a pediatrician. Have a conversation with your pediatrician about addressing sun safety with your kids. This is especially important as older kids start to associate tans with beauty and interest in tanning beds begins to pique. See below.
8. For Older Kids: There Is No Such Thing as a Healthy Tan
Put this mantra on repeat. The following statistics are from the American Skin Association via a study by the American Academy of Dermatology about attitudes toward tanning among teens:
- 63% of teens believe they look better when they have a tan
- 59% of teens believe that people in general look healthier with a tan
- 43% of teens say they lie out in the sun
- 28% of female teens and 14% of male teens say they never use sunblock
- Only three in ten teens who lie out in the sun say they always use sunblock
Tanned skin will forever contain cells whose genetic structures have been permanently damaged by the sun.” – American Skin Association
Tans are risky business.
9. Parents Need to Serve as Role Models
Your child isn’t going to want to put on a hat outside if you don’t. Kids are more likely to embrace sun safety if parents do, too. It’s up to us to walk the talk.
10. Make Sunscreen a Year-Round Habit
I know, adding one more thing in to the morning routine is tough, but this one is a must-do. When kids are old enough, have them apply sunscreen after brushing their teeth in the morning or figure out a way to make it easy for them to integrate it into their routine. Until then, you need to do it… and likely multiple times per day to build this habit of a lifetime. Our Sunology sits on the fireplace mantle (as much as I dislike the clutter) so that I don’t forget about it.
Tip: Check with your vet to see if your dog needs to wear sunscreen. Ours does because of his coloring and because bully breeds are susceptible to melanoma, especially on their noses. My daughter and dog are BFFs so they get sunscreened together.
How do you teach your kids about sun safety? Please share.