New dolls that tan will confuse children

July 01, 1992|By Pat Morgan | Pat Morgan,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

It's summertime.

I know because my mailbox suddenly is filled with missives from skin care companies and dermatologists' organizations offering dire warnings about unprotected sun worship.

The decision to tan or not is a personal one and probably because I still lust in my heart for a golden tan -- I try not to judge hard-core tanners too harshly.

I figure part of being an adult is having the right to make our own decisions, even if they're bad for us.

(Despite the current hoo-ha over the return of the pale complexion, tans are hardly out of style; only the actual tanning is. Our collective lingering desire to go for the gold is why self-tanning creams are selling so well.)

But if adults sometimes need guidance, children depend on it; and the message they get from the new Splash 'n Tan Cabbage Patch Kids is profoundly wrongheaded.

Along with the birth certificate, adoption papers and "unique personality trait" that come with each Cabbage Patch Kid, these new dolls can take bubble baths, have their hair washed, go for a swim.

When they're in the sun, the Splash 'n Tan Kids also tan.

So what's next? A Skin Cancer Cabbage Patch Kid?

In the interest of fairness, I should tell you that Hasbro does include a sun-exposure warning in the Splash 'n Tan package. It's addressed to parents:

"Your child's Cabbage Patch Kids Splash 'n Tan Kid can safely tan in the sun every day, but you should make sure your child wears a sun block whenever he or she takes the Splash 'n Tan Kid outside."

The package contains another directive, as well:

"Warning: Do not apply sunscreens or other lotions to your Splash 'n Tan Kids, as it may hinder their tanning performance."

Talk about mixed messages.

I thought the whole point of Cabbage Patch Kids was to encourage children to treat their dolls like real kids.

Wouldn't a responsible, real parent put sunscreen on a baby's tender skin before taking the child out to splash and play?

Couldn't a Healthy Skin Cabbage Patch Kid wear some sort of make-believe sunscreen that wouldn't damage the doll material but would still encourage children to think about sun protection?

Every dermatologist I've spoken with says the same thing: The amount of sun damage before the age of 18 is a critical factor in determining the likelihood of developing skin cancer later in life.

It's hard to convince a pubescent teen -- ruled by raging hormones rather than common sense -- that a great-looking tan is really bad news.

But if we start earlier, we might teach small children the sunscreening habit just as we teach them the toothbrushing habit.

Even if we don't succeed in instilling in them the good habit (sunscreen), we certainly shouldn't promote the bad one (tanning).

As for Hasbro's "warning" about sunscreen for real children, it smacks of a cop-out ploy that only pretends to be socially responsible.

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