This is a plea to all children and teenagers, their parents and teachers, and the doctors who treat them: Please take sun exposure more seriously.

Many parents, if not most, are very conscientious about protecting babies from the sun — as long as the infants are still being carried or are confined to a stroller. But once children become ambulatory, sun protection too often takes a back seat to the myriad challenges of getting out of the house with toddlers or bundling children off to school on time.

Unless sun protection practices are established early in life as inviolable habits, akin to using seat belts in a vehicle, children become increasingly lax as they get older about preventing sunburns that can lead to life-threatening cancers decades later. In a study of 360 fifth graders over three years, Alan C. Geller, director of melanoma epidemiology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and his colleagues found that as the children moved into adolescencethe proportion who “often or always” used sunscreen declined to 25 percent from 50 percent.

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