Global climate change has significant negative impacts on our environment and many living beings in the world around us. Higher levels of ultraviolet radiation from the sun reach our planet’s surface as the Earth’s ozone layer continues to deplete. Sun exposure is the primary risk factor for skin cancer: increased exposure due to ozone depletion is expected to lead to increases in the incidence of skin cancers, including melanoma. Sun exposure in childhood is predictive of skin cancer later in life.
What can parents, educators, coaches, policy makers, and others do today to help protect children from the harmful effects associated with climate change?
Be a role model for making good choices about using sun safety strategies. Children look to those around them to learn about healthy behaviors and how to practice them. Be a positive model for children by practicing sun safety strategies yourself, and make sun safety a regular part of your family’s daily routines.
Give children tools for protecting themselves. Help your children protect themselves from the sun by giving them the right tools. These include:
- Help children seek shade during the hours of 10 am – 4 pm (March through October) and 9 am – 3 pm (November through February) when sun exposure is most dangerous.
- Remind children to wear protective clothing (broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants or skirt).
- Encourage children to apply a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher to any exposed skin. Re-apply every two hours or after coming into contact with water or sweat—even on a cloudy day.
- Make sunscreen application on the go easier by keeping extra bottles of it by your front door and in your sports bags for easy access.
Reinforce children’s use of sun safety strategies. Applaud children when they use good sun safety strategies with verbal praise or a small reward. This is especially important for children who are more reluctant to use sun safety strategies, and can help maintain good sun safety practices.
Talk with children about avoiding tanning. Both indoor tanning (such as through the use of artificial sunlamp products or tanning beds) and outdoor tanning in sunlight lead to skin damage that increase the risk of skin cancer.
Offer children choices about how to protect themselves. Encourage children to use several sun safety behaviors at the same time. When this is not practical, give children choices about which sun safety behaviors they use. For instance, some children may prefer to wear sunscreen on their upper body when they swim while others might want to wear a rash guard or sun shirt.
Advocate for skin cancer prevention education for children and families. Encourage schools, parent-teacher-student organizations, community groups, sports teams, and other clubs your child comes in contact with to support sun safe behaviors. For instance, schools can provide education on skin cancer prevention and promote behaviors that encourage students to protect themselves from the sun.
Show children that they are active partners in addressing climate change and its effects on the environment and health. In addition to teaching children how to make healthy choices around sun safety, encourage them to learn how to take care of the environment in other ways and be advocates for social change.
Climate change will continue to affect all life on our planet. Children can learn from an early age how to keep themselves healthy in a changing climate and how they can make a positive difference in the world around them.
Feature image credit: Photo courtesy Franklin Timpson of the University of Utah’s Genetic Science Learning Center.