WWYD About a Child Who Repeatedly Lets Herself Get Sunburned?

Updated on July 20, 2012
J.B. asks from Boston, MA
25 answers

Mamas/Papas I need some help. I am so freaking sick and tired of my step-daughter (age 14) letting herself get sunburned to a crisp on a regular basis. Year after year this happens. If it just affected her I guess at the end of the day I'd throw my hands up and say "oh well, hope you don't get skin cancer later" and be done with it. But...every time this happens it's days of drama. She doesn't feel well, she sleeps a lot, she's feverish, she's spending all day in the tub trying different remedies, she's in too much pain to do regular chores, etc. It's just so idiotic, irresponsible and preventable. It's not even like she's one of those people who burns to a tan so it looks good - she just looks red, blisters, peels and goes back to pale.

Yes, I get that she has fair skin and burns easily. A lot of us do, including me. The remedy is called sun screen, or wearing a shirt, or staying the shade. If I hear "but I put on spf 50" one more time I'm going to explode. I have said, again and again and again, that putting on sunscreen, ONCE, obviously doesn't cut it for her. That she apparently needs to wear a shirt and reapply often.

The truly burned to a crisp happens when she's not with us...either at the beach for the day or away for several days with friends. Yes, she brings sunscreen in her bag and yes, she has a swim shirt that she can wear. I'm tempted to tell her that if she allows herself to burn like this again, she is basically acting like a two-year-old who needs to have an adult monitor sunscreen application and I'll treat her accordingly, which means no beach outings with friends. Do you think that would get the message through? Do your kids have this problem and how did you solve it?

Oh and FWIW her mom is not in the picture so it's not her job to handle this and by "I" and mean "we" because DH will carry out whatever we decide on. The natural consequence of being burned is not cutting it anymore.

What can I do next?

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answers from Cleveland on

does she have the spray on kind?

I think it is resonable to make her miss a beach day.

does she have a cellphone she can set an alarm for reapplication?

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

Please don't lose your temper or belittle her. That will just make her want to do the opposite of what you say. This is what I'd suggest. It's basic "Love and Logic." The next time she is invited somewhere that she will be out in the sun say in the sweetest and most sympathetic voice that you can muster, "I'm so sorry, but I have to say no. Since you don't want to wear sunscreen I just can't let you go. I know you will be disappointed, but I just can't take the chance that you will get another sunburn."

She will throw a fit, but don't let her go and don't engage in an argument. Just be sympathetic, but firm. Don't let her go a few times. Oh, it will be miserable for you too as she will complain, but just think of the misery you would have had to deal with if she came home with a sunburn.

After awhile tell her you will give her another chance, but if she gets sunburn no sun activities for the rest of the summer. AND STICK TO IT! If she comes home sunburn no more swimming/etc. until next year...... or something that you can live with.

I know it would be a hard thing to decide to do but it just might work!

18 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My husband is a patient at MD Anderson hospital in the melanoma skin cancer unit. After several surgeries (his was caught early before it spread) he just goes for a once a year check up. Last month when we were there for his appt there were several teen age girls there who also had developed melanoma from tanning beds or from blistering sunburns they got as children. If melanoma spreads, it is usually fatal. I think a visit to the dermatologist might be a great idea. They might be able to show her the skin damage (cosmetic as well as other) that has already occurred by not protecting herself from the sun.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

She's old enough to know better.
Stop letting her sleep and spend all day in the tub. So what if she doesn't feel well? That's how she learns. It's like calling in sick because you have a hangover. That just doesn't fly in the real world.
As a teenager it's time to learn REAL LIFE lessons.
Oh you forgot to put on your sunscreen again? That's too bad, but that's YOUR responsibility, not mine.
Get up and do your chores, period :(

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

Here is a link, about Sun Poisoning.

Please read it and your Husband. And wise up your Step-Daughter.

Some people, just will NOT and cannot "tan."
For example: Nicole Kidman. Beautiful skin, and fair and pale. But not a tanning type skin.
Perhaps your Step-Daughter, can learn to appreciate her skin type. And its own beauty.

Oh my gosh!
I see Tourists, here all the time... that do that. And they do not have the skin type that even looks "nice" being tan. They just burn!
Once or a few times, I politely reminded some Tourists, that "the sun here is very strong... it will hurt later.... there's some shade over there..." And they took it nicely. Because, after awhile, a person cannot even tell, how RED and sunburned they really are, while out there in the bright sun. They will only "see" it later, after they go back to their hotel room and have the pain from it too.

Try showing your Step-Daughter, some online photos, of skin cancer and of some badly burned sunburned skin.
I would show her.
Otherwise, a teen/kid might not even be able to visualize nor recognize nor even comprehend, what Skin Cancer, is. Until they see it.

Teens are typically very visual... so SHOW her photos online of skin cancer and sunburn. And the FAQ's on it.

Even with sunscreen... people can and do get sunburned.
Even with reflective sun glare, people get sunburned.
Even in cloudy weather, people get sunburned.
I am in Hawaii, and I see this all the time and have had it happen to me too.

The way you get the message through to her is: to SHOW her some photos online, of Skin Cancer. And bad sunburn.
Because, she will not listen nor understand, verbal warnings.

And yep... some people, per their skin type... can never, get "tan."
Your Step-Daughter's skin, is this way, as you describe her.
Tell her, this Hawaiian Mom on here, said so.
Or, your Step-Daughter, will develop.... unsightly freckles and sun spots... all over her skin. You can show her photos of that online, too. It is not pretty. I see fair skinned people/Tourists here all the time, that get those. From trying to tan... and they will not tan.

The way some people will realize how bad REPEATED sunburn is, is to see.... online photos of skin cancer and skin damage.
It can take... just ONE sunburn, even from years ago... and it can later develop into skin cancer.

And by the way: people can get, Sun POISONING or sun stroke, too.
My late Dad, was out fishing once... though he was careful, he later in the day, ended up in the hospital for Sun Poisoning.
Your Step-Daughter as you said... She doesn't feel well, she sleeps a lot, she's feverish, she's spending all day in the tub trying different remedies, she's in too much pain to do anything, after her day of getting a "tan."
So, well, she is like over-dosing... on it.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

How about next time she goes somewhere you tell her that IF she comes back sunburned again then there will be NO next time, that she won't be allowed to go again? The LAST chance.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Omaha on

Yikes! I would take her to a dermatologist for a skin consultation and let him/her show her pictures or videos, stories, etc. about how dangerous and prevalent skin cancer can be these days and how reckless she is being towards her skin. A friend of mine is a P.A. at a dermatologist's office and told me about a young mom, who grew up in the sun, that they had discovered melanoma. I know that particular story probably isn't going to impact a young 14 year old because she is not thinking about starting a family, but who knows what will happen to this young woman that isn't too many years older than your SD is right now. I hope she will come to her senses about this!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My SD has the same issue, but she is younger (10). I always remember to have her put on sunscreen, but her mom and grandmas don't always remember and she gets burned very badly. This is what I did last year when she was 9.

First, as a homeschool project, we learned about skin cancer and prevention. She saw pictures and heard statistics. She read that using sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer. I didn't say a word, she read the material herself.

Then we talked to the doctor about it. An authority figure. We took her in when she got burned really bad and he was gentle but firm. He told her that she needed to take care of it right now, or she could get skin cancer. She cried because she was scared, and we comforted her and told her that she still had time to make a change.

Then we drilled her on WHEN to put it on and how to do it. Her job is to put it on her arms and legs and face, and then ask an adult to help her with the rest. If she's out in the sun, she needs to re-apply sunscreen when she eats a meal. So if she goes out and then stops for lunch, she is to re-apply sunscreen after lunch.

For us, this solved the problem. My SD hasn't had a sunburn since she was 9 and we did those things. She remembers to ask to bring sunscreen, and she applies it often.

I would suggest you try those things, and if they don't work I would do as suggested and treat her like a baby and not allow her to participate in outdoor events for a while.

My SD knows that she will get "bypassed" if she doesn't do something on her own. When she was cheating on brushing her teeth my husband took the toothbrush and brushed them for her. That was the last time we had THAT problem!

Good luck! My SD tends to have low responsibility and she gets caught up in the moment and doesn't think! She make poor choices sometimes, but by handling her on the WHY we do or don't do something she is much more responsible from that point forward. Sometimes you just have to scare them straight, you know? Some kids just don't think of the consequences.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

I'd say your plan is a good one, if she gets burned again treat her like a child that can't take care of herself. In this case, she IS a child that can't take care of herself. Next time she goes, make sure she has sunscreen that's easy to apply (the spray kind, maybe?) and have her set an alarm on her phone when it's time to reapply. Tell her it's the last chance, and then she'll either not be allowed to go or she'll get to go with you or her dad as a chaperone.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

the natural consequence in this case is to be denied going anywhere she can get burned. and to receive zero sympathy when she does get burned.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

I'd cancel all sun related outings until she can act like a big girl & put her sunscreen on.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

Why don't you prepare a slide show featuring pictures of people with skin cancer? Get graphic.

Kind of like the driver's ed movies with the accidents, blood and gore.

Maybe that will crack her tough exterior...


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Hartford on

The symptoms you listed:
"She doesn't feel well, she sleeps a lot, she's feverish, she's spending all day in the tub trying different remedies, she's in too much pain to do regular chores, etc; she just looks red, blisters, peels and goes back to pale."

She's getting severely sunburned also frequently called Sun Poisoning. EVERY SYMPTOM YOU LISTED IS SUN POISONING!

Sun poisoning happening JUST ONCE increases her risk of getting skin cancer disproportionately. Since she sounds like she's fair-skinned to begin with, she's at an even higher risk for Sun Poisoning and cancer from it.

When this happens, she actually needs immediate treatment from a professional. I would take her to a dermatologist.

Additional risk factors from sun poisoning:
She can get cellulitis aka infections from the blisters and peeling if she's not careful.

She can get permanent scarring on her skin, including her face, from the blistering, peeling, etc.

She can get permanent damage to her eyes. It increases the risk of her getting cataracts and macular degeneration dramatically.

She will likely have premature wrinkling as well as scarring from injuries she gets that have nothing to do with the sun exposure (like a cut or scrape) because sun poisoning causes the skin to dry out so badly. It damages the oil glands and collagen as well as cellular damage. She'll look old beyond her years far too soon.

If she can't remember to put the sunscreen on when she's out with friends, then she doesn't go. But you can try to motivate her to do it. Send her with clothes that have built in sunscreen. Send her with a funky wide brimmed hat. Have her wear sunscreen under all of that. Send her with a beach umbrella if they're going to a beach where there won't be any shade trees. Send her text reminders to reapply sunscreen everywhere. Make sure it's the spray sunscreen, the kind that feels like "powder" and non-greasy when it goes on.

But I really can't emphasize enough that you HAVE TO take her to a doctor. My best advice is to take her to a dermatologist, especially while she's in pain and feeling sick and feverish. The doctor will be able to give you the best advice.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

A natural consequence of getting a sunburn while with friends is that she does not go with friends.

A natural consequence of getting a burn and being so dramatic is to not be sympathetic. Tell her to stop complaining etc. and if she doesn't she goes to her room until she's able to be reasonable good company. "I know you're in pain. You did it to yourself. We don't want to hear about it."

Is it possible that this is her way of getting more attention? Perhaps giving her more attention, praise, rewards when she's doing things right would help her not feel that she has to have a sunburn to get sympathy and attention.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I'll start by giving her a little benefit of doubt. Sunscreen (non-zinc-oxide) should be put on a full half hour before sun exposure - it works partly by soaking into the skin. If she is slapping it on while she's already outside, she's not getting the full effect of the sunscreen. If she didn't realize this, she might be actually putting it on, but improperly. She still needs to put it on frequently, though, and she may not realize, either, that there is no "waterproof" sunscreen, even if the bottle says so, and be too trusting of the label. (By 2013, sunscreen manufacturers will be required to replace "waterproof" with "water-resistant," so people are less confused.)

Also, I'd get her checked out by a doctor. We all hate getting dragged to the doc. The threat of that, alone, might get her to straighten up.

And swimsuit shirts are wonderful - I saw you got a mention of those already. When you say she has a "swim shirt," are you meaning swimsuit cover, or an actual swimsuit-shirt, like you might see on surfers or divers? They are super-cute, and will help with the hard-to-reach parts. Plus, if her swimsuit IS a shirt, she can't take it off.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

I'm a Desert Rat, my sister is an English Rose (same parents).

What worked with my sis copying me as a teen:

- Acute embarrassment of being drug to the doctor EVERY TIME she laid herself out (doc warned ahead of time). Doc was in on this. A few times she did have sun poisoning. So it was good they went both for the treatment and embarrassment.

- 1 week of grounding for every day she was flat out like a lizard drinking.

FINALLY got her wearing a sexy rash guard as a shirt under her regular stuff & as a suit top solved most of her problems. Skintight (when worn correctly) these actually cool, even though they're long sleeved. I wear one when it's muggy out as a personal air conditioner. You just get them damp from time to time. Also FINALLY got my redheaded ex husband to wear one a couple years ago (all manly colors). He burns in 50degree weather in the shade, though. SKINTIGHT is the key. If they're loose and floppy like a shirt, they're uncomfortable.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

You must really feel frustriated as a mom I know it's a pain to get these young girls to listen. But as a constant burner, and I use spf 70 I also feel for her. Could the problem be that she dosn't realize how much time has passed since she first applied. That's usually what happens in my case. Finally figured it out, whats the one thing I constatnly check every hour on the hour. And being a teen it's probably true for her. The phone. Tell her every time she checks her phone for messages that's when it's also time to reapply suncreen. I'm happy to say this year Not One sunburn. If not then tell her she loses her phone. No teen wants that.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Take her to the Dermatologist. If that doesn't work, just don't allow her to go out with her friends until she can figure out that by not continuously using sunscreen she is burning her body, as well as increasing the age of her skin. I'd show her pictures of skin cancer, as well as the effects of too much sun. Visuals always work better then audial talks.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

i do think it's time to up the ante on her. she's definitely acting like an idiot..... go back to baby step / square 1 with her. she applies before she goes out, she applies every 2 hours thereafter. without fail. or she does not go out without parental supervision again. period. text her every 2 hours if you have to. whether she's honestly forgetting, or just not doing it because it's not "cool", or whatever- it should not be an option at this point. obviously she's not mature enough to take care of it herself so you need to step in. good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Missoula on

Patty W. gave a great response, her answer sounds perfect for this situation.

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answers from Chicago on

Poor girl doesn't know what she's setting herself up for. I never was as bad as you're describing, but I DID burn and blister enough times in my teen years (2 times), and once on my honeymoon that I am now considered "high risk" for melanoma. I really underestimated the sun's potency during my younger years. If it weren't for the fact that my husband monitors all my moles for me already, I'd be having to go to my doctor every year and possibly to a dermatologist to make sure that they don't change shape or size.

Spray-on Coppertone Sport sunscreen is AWESOME! This is what I wore when we went to Sea World, and I put it on the kids too. Hubby and his parents didn't wear anything. They burned, the kids and I were fine.

Find out all you can about melanoma. Look for medical journals or encyclopedias with pictures and stories of patients with melanoma. Explain to her, in detail, what can happen. Don't assume that she knows what you mean by saying "skin cancer." Some people are under the impression that skin cancer isn't as serious as other cancers, but it has a high mortality rate if not caught early. If she doesn't want to listen to you, make an appt with her primary care giver, of if your insurance allows, go directly to a dermatologist.

ETA: DITTO what S.H. just said about sun poisoning. That is EXACTLY what is happening to your SD. I got it the first time I went to California and the fever & lethargy is exactly what happens.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Cloud on

Since the burning is affecting everyone for days (other than the obvious increase in skin cancer rates), I'd ask DH to talk to her about it with you, but let him do most of the talking. She needs to start being responsible if she wants adult-like privileges, like going places unsupervised with friends. Ask if there's anything you two can do to help her. Maybe an easy spray-on sunscreen would do the trick, maybe a spray-on tan would help her stop burning herself, maybe she truly needs reminders. I'd let her know that she's not going to get any sympathy anymore since she has access to all the resources to keep herself from getting burned.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I never tan. I just burn and peel. I grew up before there was SPF anything. Now, if I go out in the sun at all for more than a few minutes its SPF 50.

I've seen where some here are talking about SPF 70, so I will use that on my next "sun trip".

I would tell her that her next sunburn will be her last sunburn this year and that if she gets a sunburn she will no longer be able to go with her friends into sunny, fun locations. I'd tell her that every year and I'd back that up.

BTW, when I was in my 20's I would wear an old long sleeved white shirt to the beach to keep from being sunburned.

Good luck to you and yours.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My 17 yr old is like me. Tans and never burns, thanks to me being Native American and hubby Italian.

She hates being in the sun and laying out, me too... Waste if time.

My point... A cheerleader on her team was diagnosed with melanoma. She was a sun worshiper.

My daughter was eye witness to the surgical scars on her arm and leg at 15 yrs old.

Enen though we ran if we step outside, we still wear sunscreen. That issue in cheer made an impact on my daughter and she didn't have an issue to start with.

Visit a dermatologist, let the dr know ahead of time what needs to be said. She needs to get a reality check or she's going to end up with a cancer she basically started herself.

Best wishes

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Call her pediatrician and tell the pediatrician about the episodes. Then, make an appointment w/ the doctor (the doc may even refer her to a dermatologist). Let the doctor explain (and maybe even show her some scary/horrible pictures) of skin cancer. Because that is exactly where she is headed--her chances of getting skin cancer have already been increased by these sunbruns/sun poisoning episodes. Let the doctor tell her (without any prompting from you, at least in front of your SD). She may actually listen to the doc. And if she doesn't, then she doesn't get to go to outings without a parent being there, imo. In my opinion, this is pretty serious stuff.

1 mom found this helpful
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