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Health Tips: Backpack and Computer Safety


Two items that most children use on a daily basis—backpacks and computers—can strain their bodies and create physical problems that we more commonly think of as happening to adults. Are you tuned in to the best ways to avoid backpack and computer stress and strain?

Computer posture
Children are not immune to the injuries adults often develop from long hours at a computer. So many kids are using computers at school and at home. It’s important to do everything you can to make sure they’re not suffering from conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome by the time they’re teenagers:

Try to make sure things are “child-sized.” Keyboards and mouses can be too large for small hands. Some children prefer using the trackball to a mouse for this reason. There are also keyboards that are more in proportion to smaller hands. (A search on the Web should help you find smaller computer accessories.) 

Make sure your child takes breaks. Kids easily get so caught up in their projects and games they forget to take breaks, even if you’ve explained how important breaks are. You can remind them yourself to take breaks, or you can buy software that does the job for you.

Check posture frequently. Kids aren’t likely to think about their computer posture much. It’s up to you to look at them and see whether they’re jutting their heads chin-first towards the screen (they shouldn’t), whether their wrists are fairly flat or raised above the fingers (flat is the way to go), whether the computer screen is directly in front of them, as it should be, or at an angle, which it shouldn’t be.

Make sure family computer stations are adjustable. If parents and children use the same computer station, it’s important to be able to adjust the furniture to all the different sizes of your family.

Avoiding backpack strain

There’s been no research showing that kids who carry heavy backpacks will suffer permanent spinal damage. On the other hand, more than ever, kids are showing up in doctors’ offices complaining about aches and pains in the muscles, shoulders, neck and back. Here are some guidelines that might help ease the load:

Weight: A good rule of thumb is that kids ideally shouldn’t carry a backpack that weighs more than 15 percent of their own body weight. So if your child weighs 60 pounds, then the backpack shouldn’t weigh much more than 9 pounds.

Padding: Straps should be wide and padded. Any area that rests against the back should also be padded. (Kids should wear straps on both shoulders to prevent strain.)

Placement of items: Heavier items should be closer to the back itself. Pointy items shouldn’t be placed against the back, even when there’s sufficient padding.

Placement of backpack: Backpacks should hang just below the shoulders and rest on the hips and pelvis. Anything lower than this is more likely to cause strain.

Consumer Product Safety Division; Cornell University Ergonomics Web Site; Washington Post, 14 September 1999.
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