Your child’s health: Backpack safety

If you are concerned about the effects a heavy backpack might have on your child’s still-growing body, your instincts are correct. Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry packs of no more than 10-15 percent of their body weight – but less is always better. For example, a child who weighs 80 pounds shouldn’t carry a backpack heavier than 8 to 12 pounds.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, at least 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related injuries every year. Improperly used backpacks may injure muscles and joints. This can lead to severe back, neck, and shoulder pain, as well as posture problems.

You may need to adjust kids’ backpacks and/or reduce how much they carry if they struggle to get the backpack on or off, experience back pain, or lean forward to carry the backpack.

What parents can do

Here’s how to help kids find the right backpack. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, you should look for the following features:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • Two shoulder straps
  • Padded back
  • Waist strap
  • Lightweight material (choose canvas vs. leather, for example)

What kids can do

A lot of the responsibility for packing lightly — and safely — rests with kids:

  • Encourage kids to use their locker or desk between classes and only carry what they need.
  • Make sure kids don’t tote unnecessary items such as laptops or video games.
  • Encourage kids to bring home only the books needed for homework or studying each night.
  • Use all of the backpack compartments, putting heavier items, such as textbooks, closest to the center of the back.
  • Ask about homework planning. A heavier pack on Fridays might mean the child is procrastinating on homework until the weekend, making for an unnecessarily heavy backpack.

On the bright side

When backpacks are used properly, they’re incredibly handy and help students stay organized. Compared with shoulder 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.