Dec 28, 2010

Backpack Safety Tips For Your Tween

By the time kids reach their pre-teen years, they’re most likely quite used to carrying a backpack to school, sleepovers, camp, etc. In fact, the backpack they choose is often an opportunity for them to express their personal style. There’s a reason that backpacks are so popular as a means to transport books, homework, school supplies and personal belongings: they’re practical — they ensure an equal weight distribution across the body, enabling kids to use strong back and abdominal muscles. The downside is that because they can accommodate so much inside, they can become overloaded and enormously heavy. Under those conditions, backpacks can compromise a tween’s posture and lead to future back, neck and spine issues. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10-20% of their body (less is better, of course). Easier said than done, since far too many students carry significantly more than they should!
Consequences of Heavy Backpacks

  • A too-heavy backpack can pull backward, resulting in the need to compensate by bending forward, which can cause shoulder, neck and back pain in addition to the possibility of unnatural spine compression.
  • Improper backpack use (including a too-heavy backpack or the use of only one shoulder strap) can lead to poor posture, especially among girls and younger tweens, because they’re likely smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body size.
  • Backpacks with tight, narrow straps can dig into the shoulders and interfere with circulation and nerves, contributing to tingling and numbness.
  • Large backpacks can be a nuisance to others when they protrude in a tight space or can be tripped over.
  • Large backpacks can cause a student to be off-balance and increase the risk of falling, especially on stairs.

How To Choose a Safe Backpack

Despite their potential problems, backpacks can be an ideal carryall for tweens to use to tote school and/or personal items around. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following tips be considered when selecting a backpack:

  • Look for a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back (to cushion heavy items and prevent poking by sharp objects/edges).
  • Choose a lightweight version, which most kids’ packs are, and talk your tween out of sporting the enormous quantity of key chains that some like to attach!
  • Though stylistically this will be a tough sell, encourage the use of a waist belt that would help take some of the pressure directly off the back.
  • Make sure the backpack has multiple compartments to help spread the weight out.
  • Consider a rolling backpack, though it can be challenging to maneuver stairs and inclement weather.

How to Safely Use a Backpack

  • Pack lightly and organize the backpack to use all of its compartments.
  • Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
  • Ensure that it never weighs more than 10-20 percent of the tween’s body weight (measure if you have to).
  • Use both shoulder straps (slinging over one shoulder can strain muscles).
  • Tighten the shoulder straps to fit closely to the body and just above the waist.
  • Suggest that unnecessary items (e.g., diaries, ipods, personal books, etc.) be left home.
  • Reinforce proper lifting technique to avoid back injuries (i.e., bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting a backpack to their shoulders).

Consider Getting The School Involved

Just as many parents (and trees!) have benefited from the curtailing of paper overload (thanks to emails and access to important school information online), involving other parents and your tween’s school in solving students’ backpack burdens might help to lessen kids’ loads. Some ways the school can get involved include:

  • Utilizing paperback books.
  • Implementing school education about safe backpack use.
  • Putting some curriculum and assignments on the school’s website, when possible.
  • Encouraging children to remove old items from their folders and backpacks once the subject is complete.
  • Providing a locker or cubby for students to leave material that can remain at school.

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