Celebrities, character, and popular designs like Transformers, One Direction, and Frozen may be what's on your child's mind; but when it comes to the kind of backpack to purchase for school, safety should be top of mind for parents.
"About 6,000 children are injured each year from wearing an inappropriate backpack," said Linda Rhodes, Senior Occupational Therapist at Children's Hospital of Georgia. "While it is important to have the necessary books, supplies, and tools handy in your child's backpack, you should also be sure that you are doing your best to prevent an injury."
Rhodes recommends you consider the following tips before buying your child a backpack:
- Stick with a standard backpack to decrease injury risk. Compared to shoulder bags, messenger bags, or purses, backpacks are better because the strongest muscles in the body - the back and the abdominal muscles - support the weight of the packs.
- Select a lightweight pack that doesn't add more pounds to your child's load.
- Make sure the backpack has two wide, padded shoulder straps, because narrow straps can dig into the shoulders.
- A padded back on the pack will provide increased comfort and protect kids from being poked by the sharp edges of pencils, pens, rulers, and other objects stored inside.
- Choose a backpack that is the right size for your student. "It should cover no more than 75 percent of the length of your child's back, which is approximately the space between the shoulder blades and waist," said Rhodes.
- Pack it carefully. The maximum weight of the loaded backpack should not exceed 15 percent of your child's body weight, so pack only what is needed.
- Evenly distribute the weight. Make use of a bag's compartments to help distribute the load. If the pack has a waist belt, wear it appropriately to aid distribution.
- Be sure to place the heaviest books closest to the back as they require the greatest body support. "If the backpack forces the child to lean forward to carry it, then it's overloaded," said Rhodes.
- Lift it correctly. Facing the backpack, have your child bend at the knees. Use both hands and check the weight of the pack. Then lift with the legs and apply one shoulder strap and then the other.
- Don't let your child just sling the backpack onto one shoulder and go. This will put too much strain on one side of the upper body.
- The backpack straps should be snug, but not too tight. Unnecessary tightness can also hurt the shoulders.
And while this last tip may not be directly related to injury prevention, it could also help protect your child.
- Don't put your child's name on the backpack. "What I mean by that is, it's OK to write your child's name inside somewhere to help identify the backpack, but it may not be safe to have your child's name on full display for others to see," said Rhodes. "After all, if someone calls your child by name, it could confuse the child into trusting someone he or she should not." A safer option is to use initials or nothing at all on the outside of the backpack.
Backpacks come in many sizes and designs that allow children of all ages to express their own style.
"But, as practical as they are, backpacks can strain muscles and joints and cause back pain if they are too heavy or used incorrectly," said Rhodes. "So it's important to help your child choose an appropriate backpack and use it wisely."