Each year, tens of millions of kids head off to school with backpacks full of books and supplies, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association. Thousands of those kids will end up with injuries caused by their backpack.
It sounds ridiculous, but imagine an 80-pound child carrying a 20-pound backpack (yes, it happens). How well would your back hold up lugging around 25% of your weight in books every day?
Fortunately, more and more parents — and schools — are aware of the damage heavy backpacks can cause. Here are five things the National Safety Council says you can do to make sure your student’s academic workload doesn’t turn into a physical one as well:
- Watch for warning signs. A backpack might be too heavy if your child struggles to put it on or take it off, changes posture while wearing it or feels pain, tingling or numbness.
- Check the weight. A good rule of thumb: Kids’ backpacks should not weigh more than 5 to 10 percent of their body weight. Any more than that and they run the risk of bending forward while carrying it, which can put stress on the back, according to the American Chiropractic Association.
- Get the right pack. The fit of a backpack is extremely important. Shoulder straps should be wide and padded for comfort, and the pack should never hang more than four inches below the waistline. A comfortable backpack encourages proper use, so that kids aren’t carrying packs around by one strap, which can lead to neck or back problems. And watch the size, too! Getting a backpack with too much room can encourage overloading.
- Don’t just throw stuff in. Make sure kids put some thought into what they pack. They should only carry what they need for the day and leave things they don’t need at home. And pack it well. Distributing weight evenly increases comfort and safety.
- Be vocal. Talk to your child’s teacher or a school administrator if you need help getting the weight down. There may be solutions, such as bringing home handouts or workbooks instead of heavy textbooks.
A little bit of thought can make a big difference when it comes to backpack safety. And those lighter loads make for happier — and healthier — kids. Here’s to a great school year!