Should cancer be on your child’s curriculum?
How and when do you explain what cancer is to kids, if at all? Or is it a subject that’s just too ‘adult’ for children’s ears? Recent findings from a survey published by Macmillan Cancer Support may suggest otherwise.
The survey included 500 children from the UK between the ages of nine and 16 and revealed that many had picked up ideas about cancer that weren’t only misinformed but worrying too. Over half didn’t know what cancer is, yet one in five believed that those who get cancer will definitely die. A frightening belief to hold considering that nearly 70 percent of the children said they knew someone with cancer.
Some of the children also thought that you can catch cancer like an infection and that you can even get it as the result of being badly behaved. For kids, it’s clear that cancer is a very scary word.
Although a very small percentage of children linked cancer to naughty behaviour (two percent), it prompts some vital questions: is there a ‘right’ age to talk to kids about cancer, should all children be informed about cancer, regardless of whether they know someone with the disease or not, and, should we take cancer awareness into the classroom?
It’s certainly not an easy subject to broach, but honesty seems like the best policy in light of the report’s findings. Not only do they show that many children are confused about cancer, they are also unaware of the causes, which, if left unaddressed could have a major impact on their future lifestyle choices.
In the survey, 11 percent of the children didn’t know that smoking can cause cancer. Yet smoking is by far and away the greatest avoidable risk for developing many types of cancer including throat, mouth , oesophageal , lung , stomach , kidney , bladder and cervical . It surely stands to reason that explaining the effects of smoking to children early on in their life may help them make healthy lifestyle choices as they get older – particularly for children reaching their teenage years who, as they become more independent, may be exposed to some of the risk factors such as smoking.
Nearly all of the children – 97 percent – weren’t aware that sunburn can lead to skin cancer. One of the main risk factors for skin cancer is over-exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun, and research has shown that sunburn during childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later on.
It’s natural to want to shelter children and keep them safe, but these findings show that protecting children from learning about cancer may be doing more harm than good. According to Macmillan Cancer Support, around a quarter of children have learnt about cancer in schools, but the perceptions children have about cancer from this particular study show that we still have a long way to go. With cancer regarded as a global disease, it’s thought that one in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer during our lifetime. It’s certainly clear that cancer isn’t a topic just for adults.
Some things in life are tricky to talk about, but when it comes to cancer and the health of our loved ones, being aware and ‘in the know’ is paramount to helping children from an early age understand scary subjects and ultimately take the taboo out of the term cancer, turning it into something that they know about and understand.
Whether cancer is a subject that’s taught as part of the curriculum in schools, or whether it’s a discussion between you and your child at home, there’s a wealth of information available out there about cancer. With simple explanations, by taking your time and reassuring children at each step, cancer needn’t be something your children worry about because of a fear of the unknown. In short, let’s not treat cancer with kid’s gloves.