Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Should a seven year old child be in a tanning booth?

A seven year old girl spending time in a tanning booth? And everyone from her mother who called to make the appointment (who I have to believe is the instigator of this activity) to the employee at the salon taking the call, thinks it's okay? When Rick came home from getting his haircut to share this story with me, I simply couldn't believe it. But then, I live in an area where boob jobs and Botox injections are more common than palmetto bug sightings. A seven year old in a tanning booth really shouldn't surprise me.

I'm the first to admit I've been guilty of sun-worship. I have darker, olive skin to start with, and it tans easily. I'm from the generation of women who, as teens, used to slather baby oil on every inch of our bodies and lie in the sun holding album covers wrapped in foil near our faces to speed the process. We didn't know any better then.

Even now, some of my favorite days are the ones spend in a beach chair next to the ocean, reading a good book and soaking up the rays. Rick sits under a large beach umbrella, but I place my chair outside its shadow. I'm a little bit smarter than when I was sixteen, though; I wear suncreen with a much higher SPF, and I reapply it often. And now that I live in Florida, I no longer sit in the sun six days in a row to get as much color as possible before I return north from vacation. My long days in the sun are few and far between, and they're no longer the goal, but merely the byproduct of a day at the beach. I know there's no such thing as a safe tan, but like the smoker who continues to smoke even as he's hacking away, I accept it as my one vice that has the potential to kill me and so I make an effort to do it less and less.

Yet I'd be lying if I said the only reason I'm more careful in the sun is to protect myself. No, what finally compelled me to limit my time in the sun and wear stronger suncreen was the need to protect my daughters, and to teach them good habits. My oldest daughter, Jessie, has my husband's skin -- fair, and quick to burn. It's never been too difficult to convince her to wear sunscreen. She has seen how fast she'll turn lobster red if she doesn't. She often wears a shirt over her bathing suit, and she always sits under the umbrella if she's not in the ocean on a boogie board. But Sally has my skin, and she believes she's invincible. She gets dark fast, and she thinks that means the sun won't hurt her. I try to explain that a tan is evidence of the sun's damage, but my explanations fall on deaf ears. Instead, I simply become the mean mom and insist she wear sunscreen and reapply it often. Even coated with 30 SPF suncreen, she still gets dark, and when I take her to the pediatrician, I always get a lecture about skin cancer. Her doctor takes one look at Sally's skin and disbelieves my assurances that I make my children wear suncreen.

So when Rick came home from getting a haircut to tell me about the mother making a tanning bed appointment for her seven year old daughter, I was appalled. Huh? He expressed the same disbelief to the salon employee, and she defended the decision. "The tanning bed is safer than the sun." Really? People really still believe that?? And how about the fact that no one has considered why a seven year old needs a tan in the first place?

Someone please tell me this type of thinking is the exception and not the norm.