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Why I won’t remind my teens to wear sunscreen

I’ve spent many a summer morning watching swim lessons from the bench, pushing a swing at the park, shuttling tweens to the water park or gathering the family for a day at the beach. Sure, I think sunscreen’s important — I just won’t tell my teens to use it.

Sunscreen? Super important, especially since we all baked in the sun as teens and are paying the price for those baby-oiled legs now. I had a basal cell carcinoma removed in my late 30s and we have family members and friends alike who have battled skin cancer. It’s serious stuff, no question about that. But I’m finding that no matter how diligent I was about sunscreen use when they were younger, my teens just don’t see the point. Sometimes it takes a village — but sometimes it takes a sunburn.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers — including melanoma — is sun exposure. Research in 2010 found that daily use of sunscreen drastically reduced the incidence of melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. And by drastically, I mean cut it in half. So every mom I know was all over the sunscreen on their babies, as soon as they reached the age of 6 months. Sun hats, protective umbrellas at the water park, a pop-up shade thing at the beach — the moms in my playgroup were earning an A in protective parenting back then.

As my kids got into their elementary school years, I was still pretty vigilant about the sunscreen. They moaned and complained that it felt “icky” or smelled funny, but I insisted. Then there was the summer I forgot the golden rule of sunscreen — reapply. We were at the lake and my son was floating around in an inner tube. He was properly sunscreened, but the combination of the water and the inner tube rubbing his skin rubbed the sunscreen off in two distinct areas on his sides and back. Quite symmetrical, I might add. This was the very first sunburn either of my kids ever had, and I felt absolutely horrible about it. And he was very vocal about how I didn’t remember to reapply. Pretty sure that he remembers to this day.

Fast forward to the tween years — what 12-year-old kid wants their mom to slather them in sunscreen? Especially in public. It’s time to teach them to put on sunscreen by themselves. Maybe a bit of help with their backs, but that’s where spray sunscreen comes in handy. And as they got older and into their teens, I realized that I was still reminding them to apply sunscreen. Still. So I stopped.

Cue sunburn. Which hurts. Which reminds them to wear the damn sunscreen next time. It may take a few burns, but this is a great example of natural consequence parenting, of which I am a big fan. My son’s summer job this year involved lots of time outdoors. The first week alone he burned his nose and forehead to a crisp. Then by the second week — when his nose was finally healing — an amazing thing happened.

He started using the sunscreen. Pretty sure that’s a parenting win for me.

More on sun safety

How to find sunscreen that won’t hurt your kids
Is sunscreen a waste of time?
How to prevent children’s sunburns

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