Everybody knows that life is simply not sustainable without the sun. What we tend to take for granted, though, is that too much sunlight can actually be harmful. There is the immediate risk of sunburn, of course, but being careless when it comes to sunlight can have long term effects as well. Too much exposure to ultra-violet (UV) radiation—a product of our beloved sun—can ultimately cause skin cancer and cataracts. It can make our skin age faster, and even weaken our immune system.
And the damage starts accumulating early in life. Our children are among the most susceptible to sun damage because they revel in sunlight. They live so freely, and play without any thought of consequence. As parents, we must teach them about safety in all things—even safety from sunlight. Check out some of these helpful tips...
SunWise Action Steps
The US Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov) has compiled a series of recommendations for protecting yourself and our young people from the harmful consequences of UV radiation from the sun.
Don’t Get Burned. While it seems like an obvious suggestion, most people don’t realize that every incident of sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Some people assume that occasional sunburn is a natural part of life, but it is not worth the risk of long term damage.
Wear Long Clothing
They might consider it inconvenient and uncomfortable, but children playing outside should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants whenever possible and appropriate.
Apply Sunscreen. Apply sunscreen to every part of your child’s skin that isn’t covered by clothes. Generously cover the areas of exposed skin that are most likely to get hit directly, like bare shoulders. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the child’s face and the tops of his or her feet. These areas are often remembered when it is too late! Re-apply sunscreen every two hours, and be mindful that children who are swimming and sweating may need to re-apply it more frequently. Effective sunscreens have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of no less than 30.
Hide Out in the Shadows
UV rays are strongest and most harmful between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you must be outside between those hours, seek shaded areas.
Children, especially, don’t realize that harmful UV rays are reflected by sand, water and snow. Make young people put on sunglasses and a hat (or other head covering) to protect their vision today and prevent long-term eye damage. Maybe they will like the idea if you call it a disguise instead of protective wear!
Children tend to believe that water is just for swimming. Occasionally you can convince them to take a bath in it, but hardly ever do they volunteer to drink it. Having fun in the sun also tends to make us forget how thirsty we are. Encourage your young people to drink water regularly.
Know When to Call Them In
Sometimes too much fun is too much! Recognize the signs of heat exhaustion: nausea, sudden tiredness and an extra-flushed appearance. Heat exhaustion happens suddenly and can lead to heat stroke if ignored.
Sunlight is a vital part of our existence. It is exuberating, and even necessary. But it is also something we must teach our children to treat with utmost respect because its work cannot be undone, and they depend on us to keep them safe.