Study: Teens Don't Care About the Sun's Effects

How can we get kids and teens to understand the importance of sun protection?
By Jen Mueller of SparkPeople.com
It's hard to explain to a 5- and 3-year old why it's important to coat their bodies in greasy sunscreen when we go outside. They can't quite understand the concept of cancer and skin damage, so sometimes it's a battle to get them covered. Especially when we're outside a lot in the summer, I use sunscreen as much as possible (although I do give them a little time without it just so they get their daily dose of Vitamin D). I also encourage them to wear hats because I don't think you can be too careful when it comes to the sun.

When my kids ask "Why do we always have to put that stuff on?!?!", I just tell them their beautiful skin won't be so nice anymore if they don't. I hoping that by establishing these habits now, as they get older it will be second-nature to protect themselves from the sun before going outside. There is so much talk in the news these days about the harmful effects of the sun; you'd think everyone (especially young people) would be diligent about using sunscreen. A new study says the majority are not.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that only 25 percent of 14-year olds surveyed use sunscreen on a regular basis. As they got older, the kids were even less likely to use sunscreen and on average, spent more time in the sun. The study examined data on hundreds of fifth graders who were surveyed in 2004 and then again 3 years later. As the number who used sunscreen dropped, the number who said they like spending time outside getting a tan increased.

I used to tan (in tanning beds and outside) when I was a teenager, and I cringe when I think about that now. My "excuse" is that we didn't know it could be harmful, kind of like kids who started smoking before anyone realized how dangerous it could be. But now that we do know the risks, it's hard to believe that more kids aren't taking the steps to protect themselves. Researchers stress the importance of education to help kids make healthier choices to protect their skin. But it can be difficult to convince someone to make changes now that will benefit them 10 or 20 years down the road.

What do you think? How do we get more kids to use sunscreen on a regular basis?

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