So you’ve already bought your little one’s backpack and that backpack now seems so very big. Turns out the hugeosity of your baby’s backpack may not actually be an illusion. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, more than 79 million students in the United States carry a backpack to school and an estimated 55% of them are carrying a backpack that is too heavy. That adds up to more than 43 million kids who may unintentionally be doing permanent harm to their growing bodies.
Honestly, I’m not surprised that heavy backpacks are so common! I see tons of school kids walking through my own neighborhood carrying overstuffed backpacks that look like they’d be at home on an infantryman’s shoulders. When I was in school you’d have the occasional day where a flood of homework meant an extra heavy book bag but we weren’t carrying books plus school supplies plus electronic gadgets plus gym shoes plus water bottles and lunch.
You may be wondering what the big deal is. Here’s why backpack safety is so important: Wearing a too-big, too-heavy backpack day in and day out can lead to back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, poor posture, torn tendons, muscle spasms, and numbness in the arms, neck, and shoulders. Yikes!
With only a month of school under our belts, we moms may not even be thinking of backpack safety. I know I’ve been too busy trying to get into the school year groove to think much about it. I also know that as the school year continues, those book bags are going to get heavier and heavier. The best thing to do is have a talk with your kids about the right way to wear a backpack now before they’re hitting the books hard.
Here are 10 tips for backpack safety you and your family can all use to make sure going to school doesn’t become a pain in the neck:
1. Choose lightweight backpacks for kids of all ages. Pediatricians and physical therapists recommend that kids carry packs of no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight, with the caveat that lighter is always better.
2. Backpacks should have wide shoulder straps. Preferably padded. These provide support but can’t be cinched so tightly they dig into your child’s shoulders. This is especially important if there’s no way to avoid carrying a heavy load. Padded backs are good, too.
3. A waist strap can help distribute a backpack’s weight more evenly but the trick is getting kids to wear it. It probably makes more sense to look for book bags with multiple compartments that will do the same thing.
4. Signs your child’s backpack is too big and/or heavy: bending forward at the hips, arching the back, bending sideways, complaints of pain or numbness, or a backpack that just plain looks overstuffed.
5. Pack the heaviest items low and toward the rear of the bag’s main compartment. The strongest part of the back is the middle, so tighten backpacks until the heavy items are centered on the strongest part of the back.
6. Encourage kids to wear both straps. Back in my day the one-strap carry was the cool way to carry a backpack but that doesn’t seem to be a thing now, whew. Even so, stress the importance of using both straps.
7. Lighten the load by making sure your kids are only bringing what they need to and from school. Make sure they’re not bringing unnecessary items from home
8. Set a time limit that has kids wearing their backpacks for 30 minutes or less. If it has to be more than that make lightening the load a real priority.
9. Never ignore back pain in kids or teenagers. It’s certainly not normal and may be the result of a too-heavy backpack.
10. Be a backpack safety advocate. If you think your child’s school is promoting bad book bag practices by not giving kids enough time between classes or multiple teachers are assigning book work every night, it’s time to speak up.