You’ve had the sex talk, the smoking talk and the drugs and drinking talk. But have you talked to your kids about tanning beds?
You should. Tanning bed use can cause skin cancer, including the deadliest form, melanoma. And, using tanning beds before age 18 increases a person's risk of melanoma by 85%.
Equally scary: tanning bed use can be addictive. One study showed that 80% of college-age tanning beds users couldn’t kick the habit.
Talking to your kids about tanning beds can help them understand the importance of skin safety says Susan Chon, M.D., associate professor of dermatology.
Be a role model
Before you talk to your child about tanning, make sure you’re setting a good example.
“Don’t just tell your kids to put on sunscreen. Show them it’s important by making sure to wear sunscreen and a hat before heading outside and when you’re outside, seek shade,” Chon says.
Just like adults who smoke are more likely to have kids who smoke, the same rules apply to adults who tan, so be sure to stay away from tanning beds yourself.
Don’t just tell your kids to put on sunscreen. Show them it’s important.
Start the talk early
A kid’s view on tanning is usually set by the time they’re in middle school.
“It’s better to preemptively have these conversations, rather than in the moment, when they’re already interested in using tanning beds,” Chon says.
Discuss the risks in adolescents’ terms
Teens tend to think they’re invincible, so talking about cancer may not scare them away from tanning beds.
“It’s hard for kids to understand long-term consequences,” Chon says.
Instead, focus on how tanning will affect their appearance.
Drive the point home by saying that:
- Tanning beds cause premature aging, making your skin look leathery and unattractive.
- Tanning causes abnormal moles, which can lead to anxiety from biopsies and surgeries.
Also, know what your kid’s friends are saying about tanning. Peer pressure plays a role. If their friends view tanning as normal, your kids may view it as normal, too.
Highlight family history
Melanoma in the immediate family? Highlighting this can help them better understand the negative impact tanning can have.
“It grounds it in something that’s real and that they can relate to,” Chon says.
Make sure your kids understand that having a parent, child or sibling with melanoma actually increases their risk of the disease.
And, take time to teach them how to spot changes in their moles, which can become skin cancer.
Make sure you check body parts that your child can’t see, such as the scalp. This area is especially prone to chronic sun damage.
Teach your child to spot and track skin changes with this mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology. Tell your child to alert you if they find anything worrisome.
Set the record straight
Don’t be surprised if your child insists tanning beds are safe. Tanning salons often make false and misleading claims, like tanning beds are safer than sunlight and provide vitamin D.
Give your child a reality-check with these responses:
- Tanning beds emit the same harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays as the sun. That includes UV-A rays, which increase your risk for melanoma.
- UV light is a carcinogen, meaning it’s just as harmful as cigarette smoke.
- In certain states, new laws ban tanning bed use by anyone under 18 because of the harmful effects.
- Few young people have a vitamin D deficiency. You get enough vitamin D from food and daily comings and goings. If you’re concerned, ask your doctor to check your child’s levels.
Offer safe alternatives.
Still getting pushback? Suggest a safe alternative — spray tans, lotions or other self-tanning products. And, offer to foot the bill.
These products provide the same bronzed look as a tan — without skin cancer risks, nasty moles or leathery skin.
Hold your ground.
“Parents need to set limits for their children,” Chon says. “Tanning beds are too dangerous for you to back down.”
It takes about 10 years from the time you tan to develop melanoma.
So, teach your kids to get comfortable in their own non-tanned skin and stand your ground. It could save their life.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.