My kids have gone back to school and I fully expect my eighth grader to come down with a serious case of scoliosis by the Christmas holidays. I mean, what is up with schools expecting these kids to haul around backpacks that feel as if they are loaded down with about half a dozen bricks? At least if the kids are expected to do this kind of weightlifting all day they could load their lousy school lunches with more carbs and protein.
I told her forget about gymnastics. She’ll be lucky to survive the school year without a catastrophic neck or back injury. Her backpack is loaded every single school day with textbooks the size of international phone books. In order to complete her daily homework assignments, she has to lug these resource materials back and forth between home and school on a regular basis. Haven’t these textbook publishing companies heard of the new technology of e-books? Wouldn’t it be more economical and less of a health hazard for simple e-readers to be loaded with the data for these textbooks? And that’s not all that’s in that backpack. I would not be surprised at all to find that after she stows away her gear for gym class along with some snacks and a bottle of water, she’s carrying a twenty pound load. Good grief, she barely weighs 100 lbs. soaking wet.
I’m not sure educators realize that this kind of expectation is really not good for the health of developing adolescents. Their musculoskeletal systems are still growing and developing. The aches and pains in their back, neck and shoulders are nothing compared to the very serious development of triggering an abnormal curvature of the spine.
At first I thought maybe I was just being an overprotective, overreacting mother hen. After reading reports from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, I think my mother hen instincts were right on target. The commission’s data reports that in 2013, almost 9,000 young people between the ages of five and eighteen were treated for backpack related injuries. Until things change within education culture, what’s a concerned parent to do?
Number one, understand the acceptable weight ration. Your child’s backpack should not weight more than ten percent of their own body weight. My one hundred pound daughter should only be carrying on her back about ten pounds.
Explain to your kids the importance of even weight distribution. They need to make good use of all the little side pockets and compartments, heavier stuff in the center, lighter things on the sides.
Parents need to discourage kids from the common practice of slinging the backpack onto only one shoulder. To properly distribute the weight in order to avoid aches and pains on the side that is bearing the weight burden all alone, they need to use both shoulder straps.
Regardless of how dorky and uncool it seems, they should also be encouraged to use the hip strap. It’s there for a reason. By using the hip strap some of the weight is distributed to the hips and off of the shoulders. This is the friendliest thing backpack kids can do for their back, neck and shoulders.
If parents can afford it and the school will allow it, opt for the backpack with wheels. This is no longer a matter of thinking we are making things too easy for our kids. The amount of weight they are lugging around every day is really not good for them.
After seeing my daughter come home and change into a tank top, exposing shoulders that were raw and red, we sat down and had an honest talk about backpack etiquette. At first she thought her mother was just being silly and making a big deal out of nothing. This gave me a chance to inform her about the real health issues. She had never heard of scoliosis. Now, I’m not into scaring my kids in order to get them to take my advice. I just think that lack of information is usually what leads to kids making poor decisions. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that when she pops out of the car at the school drop off point tomorrow, as I drive off and look in my rearview mirror, I hope to see her with both shoulders straps and hip strap in use.