Putting the Back back into Back to School Safety

When you hear the phrase ‘back to school safety’ you probably think of school buses, school speed limits, and school crossing guards (which were called School Safeties back in the day). The National Safety Council (not just for crossing guards) issues annual back to school safety tips that focus primarily on transportation: kids walking and cars, kids riding their bikes and cars, and kids taking the bus and cars. Another take on ‘back to school safety’ might be bicycle helmets or safe, healthy lunches.

Let’s take ‘back to school safety’ a step back to the actual backs of these small humans making their way to school. Some of them are carrying HUUUUUUGE backpacks. I saw a group this morning of what might have been kindergarteners marching along with backpacks so big, I could hardly see their strong little bodies.

I tried to imagine if my adult-sized body was carrying a bag as big proportionately. I contorted my back into what I thought that might feel like: Ouch. After delightedly spying on many little scholars walking excitedly into their new school year, I rushed home to consult Dr. Google about those tender little spines.

The first hit I got was a video from an ABC television station in Richmond, Virginia. According to the report, heavy backpacks are not causing the scoliosis some parents feared, but are certainly causing back pain. According to the National Safety Council: “Backpacks that are too heavy can cause a lot of problems for kids, like back and shoulder pain, and poor posture. The problem has grabbed the attention of lawmakers in some states, who have pushed for legislation requiring school districts to lighten the load.” (https://www.nsc.org/home-safety/safety-topics/child-safety/backpacks)

Here are some indicators that your kid’s backpack might be too heavy:

  • Leaning forward to counterbalance the weight
  • Difficulty picking up the backpack
  • Numbness in the shoulder, neck, or back
  • Backpack hangs below child’s waistline

Here are some ideas for lightening your child’s load:

  • Only carry what is essential each day
  • Urge your children to store their backpack in their locker during the day
  • Choose a backpack with ergonomic design, compartments that distribute the weight, and padded shoulder straps
  • Wear both shoulder straps
  • Adjust the straps to your child’s body
  • Choose a smaller bag (kids and their teachers might fill a big bag completely)
  • Weigh the loaded bag – According to the American Chiropractic Association, a school backpack should be no more than 10 percent of a child’s body weight https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Backpack-Safety

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant