How to Outfit Your Child with the Right School Backpack
Before you head to the local mall or nearest department store to outfit your child with a new backpack, here’s some important information to keep in mind.
Research shows that there are an increasing number of reports of back pain in children. There’s also some evidence to support the fact this may be due, in part, to overloaded and improperly carried backpacks.
Studies aside you don’t need to be a scientist to see the negative effects of an ill-fitted backpack on a child’s growing body. A trip to any schoolyard before or after school will sufficiently demonstrate the damaging effects of a heavy or unsupported backpack. It’s easy to pick out the children with appropriate sized and weighted backpacks vs. those with overly heavy ones – their walk is different.
And wearing both straps does make a difference. The saying, “As the twig is bent, so goes the tree,” comes to mind. Just think of the damage a school year could do on a growing spinal column if an overloaded backpack is carried on one shoulder.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 4,928 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers. An improperly carried backpack can cause back pain, muscle strain, nerve impingement as well as long term damage.
But what’s a parent to do? You understand the importance of not putting undue stress on your child’s developing body but you also don’t want your child to be the only one in her class who doesn’t have a backpack.
It comes down to two things, one, knowing how to outfit your child with the right backpack for her age, weight, and size; and two, educating your child on how to properly carry one.
Look for a backpack that’s sturdy and size appropriate. For young children, you may want to consider one of the new lighter weight backpacks some manufacturers have designed for school aged children up to ten years of age. These backpacks not only weigh less than a pound but also feature shorter back lengths and widths which offer better positioning on your child’s back.
Whatever you child’s age, it’s important that her backpack is appropriate for her size. A good fitting backpack ends just a few inches above the waist.
To further help with weight distribution, select a backpack with soft padded shoulders, waist straps and lots of pockets. Aside from comfort, padded shoulder straps reduce pressure on the nerves around the armpits. Waist straps help stabilize the load.
Also teach your child how to make the most of all those pockets by distributing her contents throughout the various compartments. If you don’t balance the weight of the contents in your child’s backpack, her body will shift into unnatural postures to compensate.
It’s recommended that the weight of your child’s backpack not exceed 10 to 15% of her body weight. For example, a child weighing 70 lbs. should never carry anymore than 10.5 lbs. of weight on her back. And, if your child’s backpack forces her to bend forward - it’s too heavy.
Keep the weight of your child’s backpack under control by helping her sort through her backpack before heading off to school each day. Leave out anything that isn’t necessary. Place heaviest items in first. The closer heavy items are to your child’s back - the less strain they’ll put on her growing body.
Show your child how to properly carry her backpack. Insist the waist strap be fastened and both shoulder straps are used to balance out the weight. Shoulder straps should be snug but not too tight. Carrying a backpack over one shoulder may look cool but there’s nothing cool about chronic shoulder and back pain.
And don’t ignore the importance of teaching your child how to lift and position her backpack. It may sound extreme but improperly lifting a heavy backpack day after day can cause permanent damage. Show your child how to bend at the knees and lift with her legs, not her back.
The bottom line is we need to teach our children at a young age how to select a backpack, pack it, and wear it. And, just because a backpack looks cool, doesn’t mean it is.
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