Every child who goes to school is likely to have a backpack. We even send our kindergarteners and preschoolers off with cute backpacks that are really more for show than for real function. As our kids get older they develop more and more of a need for those backpacks. By the time that kids reach the upper grade levels they may be carrying half or more of their own body weight in their backpacks!
Carrying around all of that dead weight is definitely unhealthy for the back and shoulders. Adding to the problem is that the backpack designs that fashion dictate and the designs that are the safest to wear are not always in harmony. Backpacks such as those that are worn over one shoulder or are otherwise unbalanced do not distribute weight evenly and therefore worsen the aches and pains associated with backpacks that children often complain about.
There are several things that you can do as a parent to make sure that your child’s backpack is not too heavy. Here is a list of some of these simple suggestions to keep in mind:
Teach your children how not to overload their backpacks. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when determining just how much weight is appropriate for your child to carry is to have your child carry no more weight in her pack than the weight she can carry comfortably in her arms for a few minutes. Take note of your child’s posture as well. If your child is slouched over the weight may be too much. Proper posture means that your child should be able to walk normally with her shoulders and back in alignment and using the stomach muscles to stand upright.
The best backpack in the world won’t do any good unless your child wears it properly. When worn properly a backpack should be evenly centered in the middle of your child’s back. Straps should be snug to the body but not so tight that the bulk of the weight of the backpack is carried up by the neck.
Buckle up for safety. Some backpacks come with waist straps that are designed for safety. These waist straps are meant to fit snugly around the waist and help to distribute the weight to the lower body. This way, the legs can bear some of the weight of the backpack rather than having the back take the brunt of the weight. Make sure that your child actually uses these straps around the waist rather than just allowing them to dangle.
Choose the right size of backpack. A backpack should not be wider or longer than your child’s torso. You measure the length of the torso by measuring the distance from the bony bump at the base of the neck down to the top of the hips.
Search your child’s backpack. Anything that is not used on a daily basis or not needed for emergency reasons does not need to be taking up valuable space and adding to the weight of the bag. Anything sharp that could poke through the pack’s material, such as scissors or sharpened pencils should be stored in a protective container such as a pencil box or a thick plastic sleeve.
Older children with lockers should be encouraged to visit their lockers often. By visiting the locker often, children can transfer out the books that they do not need to have on them at that time. When every class requires a large textbook, filling your backpack with all the books needed for the day can quickly become hazardous. Carrying around fewer books naturally translates into a lighter pack.