BACKGROUND: Pigmented skin lesions in childhood and adolescence can be diagnostically challenging. It is important for general practitioners to be aware of the spectrum of benign, atypical and malignant pigmented lesions occurring in these patient groups and of features that should raise concern. OBJECTIVE: The aims of this article are to assist recognition of high-risk skin lesions encountered in childhood and adolescence and to provide an understanding of the features and management of suspected melanoma in this population. DISCUSSION: In children and adolescents, there exist a variety of congenital and acquired naevi and other pigmented skin lesions that can be diagnostically problematic. Additionally, conventional detection criteria for melanoma seen in adults are often not present in children and adolescents, making diagnosis more difficult. Melanoma, if diagnosed in these populations, should be treated at a specialist centre whenever possible.