Melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer. It causes over 9,000 skin cancer deaths per year in the United States alone, and the numbers are continuing to rise (Guy et al., 2015). One of the most significant reasons for this sudden increase in melanoma cases is the growing popularity of indoor tanning. Indoor tanning devices exert their effect through the emission of both UVA and UVB radiation and can emit radiation amounts 10 to 15 times higher than the sun at its most direct exposure. Several studies have concluded that the use of UVB and UVA indoor tanning devices cause an elevated risk of melanoma directly related to use by years, hours, and sessions (LeClair & Cockburn, 2016). Although tanning beds have been placed in the same cancer risk category as cigarettes and asbestos, the popularity of these devices remains.
Although legislation has been passed in many states to limit tanning bed use and increase skin cancer awareness, young adults, particularly females, tend to ignore many of these warnings. A study by Seidenburg, Noar and Sontag (2017) concluded that young female indoor tanners initiating tanning bed use prior to their 18th birthday showed a significant increase in risky tanning behaviors such as more frequent indoor tanning, longer indoor tanning sessions, not wearing eye protection, and falling asleep inside a tanning bed. In addition, early initiators had significantly greater odds of ever burning from a tanning bed.
So what can we do as parents?
Setting a good example when it comes to health behaviors is key. According to the same study by Seidenberg, Noar, and Sontag (2017), young women who tan the first time with their mother are more likely to become frequent tanners than those that do not. Just like with smoking cigarettes, some adolescents perceive viewing their mother or father tanning as a sign that the behavior is okay. Moreover, for those adolescents that tan for the first time with their parent, it can signify a ‘stamp of approval’ on the behavior that leads to more frequent and casual use of tanning beds for the rest of their lives.
Although many organizations and we as healthcare providers are doing our best to spread the word about the many dangers of tanning beds, we will not be able to make an impact if kids have been raised to believe this behavior is okay. According to the same study, behaviors initiated with a parent may become more normalized in the mind of an adolescent, and thus make them less receptive to risk messages and behavioral change (Seidenberg, Noar, & Sontag, 2017). So while we work hard to protect the public, including adolescents who are more prone to risky behavior, we need parents leading the way at home.
If you do not want your kids to smoke, don’t smoke. If you want your kids to be more active, then exercise with them. If you want your kids to stay out of tanning beds, then set the example and stay out. You may be saving their life.