As the summer heat gleams down, at its record hottest in the city where I live, I feel confident that while my daughter is at her primary school, she is protected from the sun with their SunSmart policy. This includes the ‘no hat, no play’ component, mandatory across most Australian primary schools throughout term one and four.
When she goes to high school though, I can’t say I will have this same confidence. It seems that this vigilance we have to protect children from Australia’s harmful UV rays is a great concern in the younger years but as they grow older and into the next stage of their educational journey, this isn’t carried over and I am perplexed as to why.
As an ex-teacher myself at the secondary school level, I would often observe students sitting, standing, walking, playing sport, even sun baking in the school grounds at recess and lunch times without any sun protection. Despite encouraging them to seek shade or apply sunscreen, there wasn’t much I could actually do to change this behaviour and I had no authorisation to enforce it because put simply, it was not a policy of the school.
Sun screen and sun safety is important and we need to talk about it.
The reality is many high schools don’t have as strict or as regulated sun smart policies as primary schools, including the mandatory wearing of hats while outside, the reliance is on the students themselves and for the most part is simply not working.
While I believe that as students at a secondary school level, taking responsibility for their own learning, their own health, their own organisation is imperative as they become young adults, I view the risks of skin cancer as a higher priority and don’t think being unsafe in the sun should even be an option while they are at school at any stage.
According to the Cancer Council Australia, peak UV periods fall within school hours, “exposure to UV in adolescence contributes to skin cancer in later life [and] Melanoma is the most common cancer in Australian adolescents aged 15-29 years.”
Despite this information being very readily available and well known, even studied through the subject of Health; students at most high schools in Australia are still permitted to go outside, even in summer months, often without any sun protection whatsoever.
Research conducted by John Hopkins Medicine in 2012 found “one group of particular concern [of effects of the sun] are those between the ages of 12 and 18, whose relative independence and fondness for tanning… put them at high risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.”
“Research conducted in the last 10 years has repeatedly shown a growing number of young adults developing skin cancer. Most recently, a Mayo Clinic study found a six-fold jump in the rates of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — among 18-to-39-year-olds over the last 40 years.”