Protecting Our Children - New Recommendations

Scott childhood photo

What do you notice in the picture above? Yes, that’s a very cool convertible car with white wall tires. The homes look like they are from suburbia, USA. A vintage white truck graces the background. Well, apart from all of that, you have my grandmother and me from the mid-1960’s. I had bright blonde hair and no shirt and you can tell that it’s a sunny day in Southern California. This picture is pretty typical of the ones I have come across from my childhood. I am in the sun.

Growing up with fun in the sun

Whether I was at the beach or on the playground, much of the time I was enjoying myself without much sun protection. This was true not only for me, but for many of my playmates and friends in these old photos. It was just part of the culture.

Southern California during the “Wonder Years” was a playland of beach excursions, pool parties, and just plain backyard fun as it most likely is today. I loved being outside, but what I did not realize was the damage that years of sun exposure was doing to my skin and the resultant melanoma from which I would suffer.

Ignorance but not bliss

Now, I do not blame my parents. Frankly, I don’t think many people really understood the damage that years of cumulative sun exposure would cause. And while many times I would have some sort of tanning oil or cream on, no one really knew that these were not effective enough for the exposure that a California summer would provide. We just didn’t know, but now we do. We now have a much better idea of what should be done and how to protect our children. That’s something every parent wants for their kids.

New recommendations to protect children

In fact, recommendations on sun protection from this American Council on Science and Health article now extend to young children under ten years of age.

The Council’s most recent update (based on guidelines from the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) revised previous guidelines in recommending that the caregivers of all fair-skinned children be given skin cancer prevention guidance beginning at six months of age. This is a significant change from the previous recommendation of ten years of age.

Starting good habits early

But, why new recommendations? These recommendations have been extended for two reasons: being badly sunburned early in life increases chances of developing skin cancer early later in life AND children are more likely to develop sun-safe strategies into their lives the earlier they are exposed to them. Frankly, the second reason is new to me and makes the most sense.

Starting good habits early in life has a better chance of succeeding when parents are not around to monitor. Picture this, “Hey Johnny, did you make your bed? Did you brush your teeth? Did you put away your clothes? Did you apply sunscreen?”. “Yes, mommy, I did it all and the bus is coming. I’m so happy to be a second grader now!.”

Sun smart protection for all

The USPSTF based its guidelines on research that demonstrated a strong connection between UV radiation exposure and skin cancer that results from sun exposure in childhood and adolescence. Although this research targeted fair-skinned groups, it also recommended that everyone should engage in sun smart protection (wearing protective clothing/hats, receiving proper advice on how to use broad spectrum sunscreen, avoiding indoor tanning, and avoiding sun exposure between 10am and 4pm).

If the picture above were taken today, I would probably be strapped in a car seat with a hat and shirt on and lathered up in sunscreen. I would still be smiling and hoping one day to own a cool convertible like that one.

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