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Teach Your Children Well to Avoid Skin Cancer

Healthnotes Newswire (November 2, 2006)—Most adults know the proper steps to take to guard against sun-induced skin damage, but how do we get our children to follow these precautions? Having a strong parent–child relationship is key, say researchers from Pennsylvania State University and three other academic institutions.

With excess sun exposure largely to blame for increased skin cancer rates, dermatologists are targeting youth in hope of curtailing this alarming trend.

A study published in the Archives of Dermatology focused on finding which aspects of the parent–child relationship were associated with sun-smart behavior in children ages 9 to 12.

The parents of 340 children were given information designed to help them teach their children how to reduce skin cancer risk. Another 129 children served as a control group—their parents didn’t receive any education about the subject.

Parents in the intervention group were given suggestions for fostering healthy relationships and for helping their children to minimize risky sun exposure behaviors and to engage in safer sun practices, such as wearing sunscreen and protective clothing.

“If the child feels that the parent encompasses many general positive qualities (for example, the parent is warm, loving, trusting, and a good listener and shows respect for the child), the child will be more likely to listen to his or her parents about issues such as skin cancer risks,” the team said.

As might be expected, the study found that children who listened to their parents and followed their advice (compliant children) were less likely to suffer from frequent sunburns or to engage in risky behaviors such as sunbathing than were children in the control group. Also, children who were monitored most closely were the least likely to suffer severe sunburns.

“When parents are already aware of their child’s activities, they are more capable of making sure that their child is adequately protected from the sun, which can prevent severe burns,” the researchers said.

Children whose parents engaged in negative communication—lecturing or nagging them instead of listening, or who turned communications into a debate—were more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

“It is important that the parent does not exhibit negative communication patterns that can negate the effectiveness of positive communication.”

The researchers concluded, “Parents can be viable change agents for child behaviors, and the quality of the family relationship is critical to the success of such interventions.”

(Arch Dermatol 2006;142:1009–14)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.

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