You’d swear your son was born under the sun: at the least he could be a tanning model, at most, a true heliophile. But those sloughed off sunburns of childhood can fatally brand a person’s future if repeatedly unchecked. This May is dedicated to awareness of skin cancer. Although your young man may be too old for you to corral and let you slather him with sunblock, there are preventative habits and self-check tips you can teach now, to save him a world of physical and emotional damage in his adult years.
On the surface
It seems simple: wear sunblock, don’t try to tan. Nevertheless fair-skinned adolescents are made to believe it’s bronze or bust, to be universally attractive or forgo sunscreen in lieu of the perfect suntan. A teen would benefit from the cold, hard, facts.
“I have a 50 percent chance of survival. I almost killed myself over a stupid tan,” says a young woman who loved to tan as a teen and got skin cancer before her 25th birthday. Light skin, light eyes, blond or red hair and freckles are features which increase vulnerability to melanoma, however any race can get skin cancer. Many times people with darker pigmentation feel as though they don’t need sunblock or are immune to skin cancer. That’s a myth.
Skin cancer is not always as simple as getting a mole removed. Screenings catch those instances. It’s the people who ignore the red flags that get blind sighted by full-blown skin cancer. Oftentimes melanoma hides in sneaky places:
- The palms of the hands
- Souls of the feet
- Between the toes
- Behind the ears
- Under finger nails
Consider CancerCenter.com’s post on the ABCs of skin cancer growths:
- Asymmetry – half of the mole is different than the other
- Border or bleeding – edges are notched, blurred, uneven or bleeds easy, with or without pain
- Color – The mole is uneven in color
- Diameter – greater than the size of a pencil eraser
- Elevation and evolution – The mole is raised and grows
Underneath the skin
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, melanoma diagnosis has been climbing at a steady 2 percent increase annually among white children since the 1970s; with the biggest jump in teens aged 15-19.
The toll of skin cancer is not just skin deep. Self-esteem and mental fortitude are left exposed as well.
Ted Grossbart, Ph.D., has written on the emotional impact of skin problems and psychodermatology treatment, which addresses the mental component that he says often slows recovery and conversely manifests psychological distress on the skin. Grossbart teaches psychological problems can linger after the skin gets better.
“In fact, many of my patients beat up on themselves for their vanity, and this adds to their psychosocial anguish. But it’s more than vanity that drives people’s desperation to look good. Your body image accounts for about one-quarter to one-third of your self-esteem, and your self-esteem is a major influence on your overall psychological health. So, when you have a skin disorder, your self-esteem and psychological health take a hit.”
It would seem schooling your son in skin self-care to prevent melanoma could protect his body and his mind.
White River Academy is a refreshingly unique residential treatment environment for teens 12-17 recovering from mental disorders, addictions and life challenges. We merge a positive peer culture with the healing of the natural outdoors, plus alternative therapies like art and equine. We keep our familial staff and students’ loved ones up to date with behavioral health news.
About the author
Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a mindful spirit swimming in metaphysical pools with faith as her compass. Her cover: a 30s-something Cinderella breadwinner of an all-sport blended family. Her repertoire includes writing poetry, lifestyle articles and TV news; editing, radio production and on-camera reporting.