I really try my best to be a laid-back mom where I can. We don’t do rigid schedules, I let my kids eat a peanut butter sandwich if they don’t like the dinner I cook, and we have been known to stay up until midnight on a weekend watching movies or playing or baking. I don’t impose strict screen time limits. We follow whims, turn down streets just to see where they go, and play outside when it’s raining. If my kids ask for snow cones a half hour before bedtime on a hot summer night, there’s a pretty good chance we will throw them in the van and race to the snowball place before it closes.
But I’m not all easy-breezy all the time. I still have my non-negotiables. There’s no room in my house for bad hygiene, dishonesty, or any kind of hitting. Everyone has jobs that are their responsibility, and my kids have to try their best at school, however that looks for them.
But my number one “rule” is that I don’t stand for anything that is categorically unsafe. We cut up grapes into four pieces and hot dogs into strips. I lock up cleaning chemicals, always supervise when the kids and the dog are together, and engage the safety locks on our windows. We have a fire plan in place, and a tornado safety routine.
And we always, always wear sunscreen.
People have called me paranoid, but I don’t care. I always go the furthest degree to protect my kids from sunburn. To me, protecting their skin is just as much my duty as a parent as ensuring that they wear seatbelts. It’s a vital part of my job.
If we are going to be outside for longer than a few minutes, we are going to use sunscreen. When the weather is nice enough for outdoor recess, I put sunscreen on my kids in the mornings before school.
We have created places in our yard where the kids can escape the sun, including allowing the kids the turn our under-the-deck space into a pretend fossil dig site, complete with a mud pit, and even a slab of granite they begged my husband to leave for them when we remodeled our kitchen.
My dad has a beautiful pool in his backyard, but we rarely go during peak sun hours. We play outside in the morning and late afternoon as much as possible and save indoor activities for the hours between 10 and 2. If we do go for a midday swim, my kids wear long-sleeve rash guards and sun hats. We have a large umbrella next to the pool that we can swing over to create shaded spots, and we take shade breaks. Every couple hours, we are out of the water and reapplying that sweet, sweet SPF.
When the sun starts to set and the entire pool is shaded, they’re free to peel off their rash guards, take their hats off, and spend a few hours before dark going nuts with the water directly on their skin. They don’t miss a single summer experience. We just pay attention and make sure our pool days don’t result in painful sunburn.
Sunburn is the obvious immediate consequence of too much sun exposure, but the long-term increased risk of skin cancer is just as much of a reason to keep delicate skin protected from harmful UV rays.
Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to think about your summer plan for protecting your family’s skin and reducing your risk of sunburn.
You should know that melanoma is not just for grown-ups. Although melanoma in children is rare, about 300 kids a year in the United States are diagnosed with this aggressive and dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma can spread to other parts of the body, so preventing it is crucial. According to skincancer.org, “even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life.” That’s a good enough reason for me to prioritize skin protection while I still get a say. And they’re learning by example; my husband and I apply our own sunscreen religiously, too.
Of course, I’m not perfect. Once in a while, I miss a spot and my kids get a little pink. I don’t feel good about it, but I try not to beat myself up. I know I’m doing my best to prevent them from enduring the severe, painful blistering burns I got on the beach a few times during my childhood on the Jersey shore. (And during my stubborn teen years when I thought having a tan for prom was more important than preventing cancer. Despite my insistence back then that tan skin equaled a “healthy glow,” there is actually no such thing as a healthy tan.)
My kids are fair-skinned and light-eyed, so they are the most prone to sunburn instead of tan, but every kind of skin needs sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology “recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following: Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays), SPF 30 or higher, and water resistance.”
My kids are never tan and sun-kissed. They’re pale at the beginning of summer, and they’re still pale at the end. At the end of the day, it’s not my job to make sure my children look like surfers with sun-blonde streaks in their hair and golden skin. It’s my job to keep them as healthy as I possibly can, and that includes protecting their skin from too much sun exposure.
This article was originally published on