A woman happily applies sunscreen on her face.

SPF: It's Not Just for Kids

I have always heard that our children learn more by watching us than they will ever learn by listening to us. Growing up, I heard adults mumble it to each other around me. Teachers told one another the same thing as they tried to discreetly discuss students’ behavior. The saying was everywhere - and it was true. I wouldn’t completely realize the importance of those words until I had two children of my own, and it didn’t hit me hard until my melanoma diagnosis in 2007.

Teaching kids about sunscreen through action

Once I was told I had melanoma and endured an excision on my upper left arm, I changed my outlook on sun worship and tanning beds. Prior to my diagnosis, I always made sure I was outdoors in a tank and shorts on every sunny day from late spring to early fall. If the sun was out, so was I. Afterward, I started covering my skin. Evenings after work were now filled with more time for my babies and not ridiculous trips to the local tanning salon. My kids were young, but they were watching. My choices would become theirs one day, whether I preached a sermon or not. I was learning a lot, and so were they.

Focusing on kids but not protecting yourself

Though I slathered my children from head to toe in sunscreen when they played outside or went swimming, and limited their time in the sun during peak hours, I was much less concerned about myself pre-melanoma. While they napped or played in shade, I was working in the yard with my already freckled shoulders frying in the noonday sun. I spent a disproportionate amount of time worrying about them staying pale as I simultaneously sought out a tank top that would expose as much of my chest and back as possible. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Changing my own sunscreen habits

Thankfully, my two kiddos weren’t old enough to recall the days when I was reckless with my own protection. My children, now 17 and 18 years old, were much too young to recall me being diagnosed with melanoma, but thanks to that fateful March day, they have only ever known sunscreen bottles, shady spots, and SPF talk. What’s more important than the emphasis I put on protecting them is the example I began to set for them.

Our kids are watching us

Most parents and grandparents keep sunscreen handy for the little ones, but not all of us are vigilant about using it on ourselves in front of them. They are watching, and what they see us do is even more important than what we tell them to do. They are paying attention even when we think they aren’t. Stealing little glances, making mental notes, and filing things away for later - kids are perceptive.

Sunscreen is important for everyone

What we don’t want them to remember is that we believe sunscreen is only for children. When we apply sunscreen generously to our children and then promptly cap the bottle and tuck it away, we send a message as adults that we don’t value sun protection and that SPF is kids’ stuff. Our children are always our babies, and we want them to grow into adults who continue to protect themselves in every way - sun protection included.

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