Summer Sun Safety

Summer has set in with its usual severity.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet

Kids often ignore two aspects of summer: sunburns and heat exhaustion. How can you help make summer more fun and safe for your kids in the sun? Consider these ideas.

Tips for . . .

  • all parents
    • Make applying sunscreen on your kids a part of your everyday routine.
    • Model healthy sun behavior. Wear sunscreen. Wear a cap during the sunniest part of the day. Wear sunglasses. Pace yourself when doing activity in the heat. Drink lots of water.
    • Teach kids about peak sun hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Encourage them to find shade-friendly activities during those times to minimize their exposure. Get them sunglasses to wear. For more sun-protection tips, read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ article on sun safety.
    • Learn about the UV index. The UV index is a number that indicates how much ultraviolet radiation your area will get from the sun, rated on a scale from 1 to 11. The higher the number, the faster unprotected skin will burn. Each day may have a different number.
    • Talk about how sunburns and heat exhaustion can take awhile to show up. Most people don’t realize they’re burned or exhausted until it’s too late.
    • Use a sunscreen that has a SPF of 30 or higher. Consider using a waterproof sunscreen if your child spends a lot of time outdoors in the water. Always apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before your child heads into the sun.
    • Encourage kids to drink water before they go outside. Since summer sports can be popular, get kids in the habit of drinking one to two glasses of water in the hour before they go out. Then give them a water bottle (or two) to keep drinking from as they play outside. If kids wait to drink until they’re thirsty, it’s too late to avoid experiencing at least some dehydration. Kids must get hydrated before they participate in vigorous outdoor activities and stay hydrated while they’re playing outdoors.
    • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Babies who are six months of age and younger should be kept out of the direct sun. Cover their skin when they’re outside. Use a stroller with a canopy or a hood.
    • Note that most sunscreens are for children who older than 6 months of age. Avoid using sunscreen on younger babies.
    • Monitor young children closely during the summer. Ensure that they don’t get dehydrated or play too hard in the sun. Consider having an outside activity followed by an inside activity so that kids don’t spend all day outside.
    • parents with children ages 6 to 9
    • Use sunscreens that are especially designed for children. Teach children how to apply sunscreen on themselves and explain why they need another person’s help for hard-to-reach spots. Make sure they keep sunscreen out of their eyes, because it will sting.
    • If your child enjoys outdoor activities, find times to do them when the sun isn’t at its peak. For example, swim in the late afternoon or early evening.
    • If children like spending a lot of time outdoors, consider putting up an umbrella in their play area to protect them from the sun. As the day progresses, you’ll need to adjust the umbrella’s location as the position of the sun changes.
    • parents with children ages 10 to 15
    • Encourage your child to wear protective clothing in addition to sunscreen. Since some kids are self-conscious about their bodies, they often are open to wearing a T-shirt over their swimming suits.
    • Make sure that kids realize that you can get burned on cloudy days as well as sunny days. What matters most is the UV index.
    • Talk with kids who like to sunbathe. Many kids feel pressured to have a tan in order to be more acceptable to their peers. Explain that tanning can be unhealthy.
    • parents with children ages 16 to 18
    • Make sure teenagers who play summer sports know about the warning signs and dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea, fainting, or vomiting. For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control’s guide to extreme heat.
    • If you know a grandparent or an elderly person who has been treated for skin cancer, have that person talk to your teenager. Most elderly people had a history of too much sun exposure (or tanning) when they were teenagers and now are suffering the consequences.
  • Some teenagers visit tanning booths, and many don’t realize that these are as dangerous as being out in the sun. Again, talk about how important it is to protect your skin.

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