Tips for Talking Sun Safety to Teens

Dr. Schlesinger Says: How do you talk to your teens about sun safety? Here’s a few tips to get the conversation started:

Many of us made unwise choices in our past when it came to tanning or not using enough sunscreen.  Today our children face these same dangers with the rapidly growing skin cancer epidemic.  The difficulty comes when trying to relay to your teens the importance of sun safety so they don’t make the same mistakes.  How do you encourage them to take care of their skin when peer pressure runs rampant and tanned skin seems a standard for beach living?  Here are a few tips to help when you have these conversations:
• Encourage an open conversation with your teen. Ask if they have gone to the tanning bed; if their friends do; if any of their friends use sunscreen at the beach instead of suntan oil. Listen to their responses in a non-judgmental way and encourage them to elaborate when they feel the need to do so. Open the table of discussion to find out where they are coming from and then try to encourage adapting or continuing safe sun practices.

• Discuss both the health risks of tanning as well as cosmetic risks. Some may be affected more by skin cancer being the #1 most commonly diagnosed form of cancer while others may not be too fond of the rapid increase in the signs of aging. I’ve found images work wonders when talking sun safety to teens, children and young adults alike. Seeing proof of the sun’s damaging effects can help increase the impact of your message.

• Point out celebrities or other public personalities who prefer fair skin over tanned. More and more people in Hollywood are shunning the tanned, bronzed look to embrace their natural glows.  Think Emma Stone, Taylor Swift, or Robert Pattinson for a few examples. There are also a good number pro-athletes involved with the Skin Cancer Foundation to increase awareness.

• Be a good example, yourself! Yes, teens are surrounded by commercial advertising and peer pressure constantly, but they still look to their parents for first case examples.  Are you wearing your sunscreen?

Remember: Skin cancer is generally seen as something which does not normally affect teens. Often having an invincible frame of mind, it can be difficult for teens to grasp the need or urgency to take care of their skin at an earlier age.

Your teen will most likely make some of the same mistakes you made growing up when it comes to sun safety, but if you open the floor to discuss the importance of sunscreen, and keep repeating this message as often as necessary, you will take a big step in helping to reduce their sun exposure over time.

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