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Kristina Labanauskas
Kristina Labanauskas
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Back to School: Child Backpack Safety

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The start of August means that another summer will soon be a distant memory. It also means for many kids that less time will be spent at pool parties and more time will be spent gearing up for the next school year. This is not all bad news, though. There are many great things about the beginning of the school year. There is excitement about a new teacher, new lessons, familiar faces and new friends and classmates. And, you can’t overlook the excitement of back-to-school shopping. Typically the school will assign a basic school supply list: 5 black pens, 10 #2 pencils, 3 pocket folders, etc. Aside from what to buy, though, in many cases the student gets the freedom of putting his or her own personal stamp on the supplies.

One of the most personal and fun purchases is a new back-to-school backpack. Studies indicate that the wrong backpack can cause immediate pain and long term damage to a child’s back. So, in making this purchase parents need to ensure that beyond looking cool, their child’s backpack is safe and appropriate for everyday use.

There are increasing reports of childhood back pain. By the end of their teen years, more than 50% of youths experience at least one low back pain episode. And, research indicates that this increase may be due to improper backpack use.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nearly 5,000 emergency room visits each year result from injuries related to book bags and back carriers.

As a parent, there are several things you can do to help prevent back pain and injuries:

1) Make sure the backpack is well-built and appropriate sized; purchase child-sized backpacks if available

2) Look for packs with padded shoulder straps and waist straps that help distribute the load;

3) Prioritize the items your child carrier and eliminate unnecessary contents so that the pack’s weight does not exceed 15% of your child’s weight;

4) Teach your child to pack the backpack by evenly distributing the pack contents;

5) Advise your child never to carry a backpack over one shoulder (for example, a messenger-style bag); he or she should use both shoulder straps as well as the waist strap, of course in the manner advised by the manufacturer

Another option is to use a rolling backpack, especially for students who must carry a heavy load. Typically, a grade-school student will not be carrying such heavy loads as, for example, a college or graduate student. Grade-school textbooks simply are not as heavy and burdensome as higher education textbooks. Still, unless your child will be inconvenienced by having to roll the backpack up stairs or through snow and rough terrain, it might not be a bad idea to invest in a rolling backpack at an early age to prevent or alleviate back pain or injury.