Backpack Safety

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The first time I remember carrying a backpack to school was when I went to college. I distinctly remember it being a change in mindset. Suddenly, I was going to be responsible for lugging whatever I needed from class-to-class rather than frantically running to my locker between classes.

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Didn't you adore having a locker? I decorated mine, stuffed it beyond full, loved having my own lock with one key and at the beginning of each school year raced to see where it was and who my "neighbors" were. Now, for a lot of unfortunate reasons, schools have mostly eliminated them. It's routine for kids starting as early as pre-school to strap their belongings on their back in a backpack and head off to school. Preschoolers with those huge packs on their backs still crack me up - how much could they possibly need to take to school each day?

But, what's amazing is the amount of weight that our kids are loading into their backpacks every day. It's been reported that many of today's students are carrying up to a quarter of their body weight on their backs! Books, journals, paper, supplies, lunch, and electronics - the list goes on and on. And, the older your student, the more they carry. It goes back to the lockers; middle school and high school students literally carry it all. Plus, they lug it home and back everyday.

Backpack Safety Tips

The American Academy of Pediatrics is concerned about this and has put out some important tips to help your child pack and carry safely. Here's what you need to know. Focus on your B-A-C-K.

B - Buy one with two wide straps.

Look for wide, well padded straps. At least two inches wide. Those are much less likely to cut off circulation. Watch out for some of the less expensive "character" backpacks that have a narrower strap. It's been determined that lugging even 10% of your body weight can block blood flow to the shoulders and arms if not carried correctly. And here's the clincher - kids should wear BOTH the straps. Aargh! Extreme coolness factor violation! Most kids will hang their pack off one shoulder - that's not good for circulation or the muscles of the back. About the only strategy I can imagine that you might employ to help your kid NOT do this is maybe to tell them that YOU carried your backpack on one strap when you were a kid - and hope that they're at the stage where everything advocated by grown ups is, by definition, totally uncool. Yeah, I know, it probably won't work, but it's the best I've got.

A- Arrange your stuff evenly.

One thing you CAN do is go over with your child how to best pack the backpack. Heavy stuff, like books and notebooks should go in the center, up against his back. Then use those little pockets to distribute the weight evenly and improve his balance while walking. This is really important if your child is riding a bike while wearing a backpack - balance is really essential here. Packing the different areas helps with safety and also helps with organization.

C- Carry it correctly.

Most of the time we just let our kids slap it on their backs and go. But take the time to fill it up, and tighten the straps so that it rests close to the body. It should land 2 inches above the waist. When full, if the backpack rests low and sags it can really strain muscles.

K- Knees power the lifting and moving - never the muscles of your back.

Take a few minutes to show your kids how bending over with a full pack to pick something up puts extra pressure on the back. Teach them to bend at the knees with all that weight on their backs.

When my son started fourth grade I'll never forget the sight of him with a huge backpack, his lunchbox, and a trombone! For a brief moment I considered just re-naming him "Sherpa" but I quickly came to my senses. It's just how things are today. Plus, I've learned to be careful, I remember once telling him that his backpack was just TOO HEAVY for a sensible human being to lug around - whereupon he reached down to grab my purse and did a weight comparison.......... whoops.

Still, they're our kids. Be strong. Be tough. Try not to let them leave home if they're wider than they're tall!

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