When I was little, I absolutely loved going to summer camp. My friends and I spent hours playing tag, making crafts, and exploring the woods of New Hampshire (with adult supervision, of course!) In fact, some of my favorite childhood memories now come from those hot July afternoons.
So I was saddened to see this news story about counselors at summer camps who aren't allowed to apply sunscreen to the kids. They can only remind the campers to put it on, and "guide them in the process." This is going on in several different states; for example, some Colorado camps say that staff members are only allowed to apply soap, water, or Band-Aids—and that's it. Maryland had a comparable policy, but enough complaints from parents (and the American Academy of Dermatology) forced the state to change the rules—now parents must sign a permission slip to allow counselors to apply sunscreen to their kids. This is also the case in New York, but it turns out many of these camps don't understand the rules. Even crazier: Before 2013, New York state law prohibited children from carrying sunscreen at school or camp, because it was considered a drug. Now, the policy requires that parents send in written permission for kids to be allowed sunscreen.
I do understand the fear behind these rules. The last thing camps want is for inappropriate touching to happen, so it's easiest to just completely ban the behavior all together. Then there will be no parental complaints (or lawsuits) to worry about.
It's a nice thought, but I don't think these camps and lawmakers factored in the complaints they'd get from parents when their children come home with sunburns all over. How could a 5-year-old child be expected to make sure she covers her whole body with sunscreen? Even as an adult, I can struggle with reaching all my exposed skin, after all. The likelihood that a child will suffer a serious burn is far greater than the risk of any inappropriate conduct—and it only takes one blistering sunburn to potentially double her lifetime risk of melanoma. To me, that's not worth it. These kids need an adult to help them with sunscreen, end of story.
If your child goes to a camp that won't help him with sunscreen, it seems that your best bet is to make a stink about it. Let them know that these policies are dangerous. I'm encouraged by the fact that some of these states have been listening to the complaints and switching to permission slips instead of outright bans. Hopefully next summer, we'll be hearing far fewer of these stories.
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Chrisanne Grise is an assistant editor covering kids' health and entertainment at Parents. She wishes she could still go to summer camp. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.
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