Study says good family communication helps promote sun-safe behavior in children

September 6, 2006

State College, Pa. - A team of researchers at Penn State's College of Health and Human Development say a program that helps parents talk to their children about skin-cancer risks may promote sun-safe behaviors.

State College, Pa. - A team of researchers at Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development say a program that helps parents talk to their children about skin-cancer risks may promote sun-safe behaviors.

Results of the research appears in the August issue of Archives of Dermatology.

The researchers recently assessed family characteristics that may contribute to the effectiveness of such a program in 469 parent-child pairs, with children being 9 to 12 years old. Of those, 340 were assigned to an intervention group, in which parents received a handbook that encouraged them to communicate skin cancer risks, promote safe behaviors and discourage tanning, sunbathing and other high-risk activities. The other 129 were assigned to the control group.

Forty-five days after parents in the intervention group received the handbook, children in both groups underwent an assessment in which they were asked questions about their sun-related habits and their family dynamics.

Among children in the intervention group, several family variables increased the effectiveness of the program. Children in the intervention who exhibited average levels of compliance had less frequent sunburns than those in the control group - and those with above-average compliance developed even fewer sunburns.

Among children who reported that their parents had a low level of monitoring -- for instance, that parents do not typically know where a child is or is going -- the intervention had a larger effect on sunburn severity than among those who reported that their parents monitored them closely.

The study, which was funded by an American Cancer Society grant, concludes that quality of the parent-child relationship, the child’s level of compliance and the frequency of negative communication all affected sunbathing tendencies among those in the intervention group.