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Backpack Safety: Start the School Year Off Right

The start of a new school year is right around the corner. With the flurry of back-to-school activities and preparations, there is one item you will want to pause and consider – your child’s backpack.

Armed with tablets, heavy books, writing utensils and more, it is very easy for your child (and their backpack) to be overloaded. While it may seem surprising, the size, weight, and duration of carrying a pack all factor into backpack-related injuries.

So, your child needs a new backpack. In that case, you’ll want to consider its style beyond color – considering straps, extra compartments, padding, material and fit – before purchasing. Learn more about why choosing the right backpack is essential.

Backpack safety for students

While schoolbooks, supplies and technology add significant bulk to a child’s backpack, it is not all they carry around. Items needed for extra-curricular and after-school activities, or even a lunchbox, can add to the weight.

Studies have shown that carrying around all that extra poundage can cause several problems. Some of these backpack-related injuries include:

  • General discomfort

  • Fatigue

  • Poor posture development

  • Shoulder pain

  • Neck pain

  • Low back pain

For that reason, experts recommend that a backpack should weigh 10% of a child’s bodyweight and should not exceed 15%. For perspective, see below for approximate average ages and weights.

Kindergartner (~5 years) 40 pound child 4-6 pound backpack

Second Grader (~7years) 60 pound child 6-9 pound backpack

Fourth Grader (~9 years) 80 pound child 8-12 pound backpack

To prevent your child from experiencing such issues a great place to start is with the backpack itself. You have control over the type, style and fit of bag you purchase.

Choosing the right backpack

While your elementary schooler may be enticed by their favorite superhero or princess, or your teenager may like the idea of a messenger bag, you’ll want to give them stylish and functional choices. Here’s what to look for when searching for a new book bag.

Straps and belts. Parents are encouraged to look for backpacks with wide, double straps. Belts in the waist and the chest area also help distribute the pack’s weight and help your child manage the load.

Padding. Along with wide, double straps, it’s also essential that these straps are padded. The same is true for the backside of the pack. Extra padding can ease discomfort, especially when the child carries the backpack longer distances.

Multiple compartments. Compartments are for more than just keeping things organized. They also help properly distribute the weight in the back, allowing smaller items to be kept up front. In contrast, larger, heavier items can be placed towards the back.

Lightweight material. You’ll want to consider a backpack made of lightweight but durable fabric. Companies offer a wide range of materials like nylon, polyester or canvas. There are now also many eco- and animal-friendly options available as well.

Fit. In addition to choosing appropriate materials, you’ll want your backpack to fit your child correctly too. The pack should sit slightly below the shoulders and just above the hips.

Other backpack safety tips

While what backpack you choose and the fit play a large role in how you carry the load, parents and kids can work together to keep their backpack weight at the right level.

Place heavy items in the back. Be sure to place heavier items, such as large textbooks, tablets or laptops, closer to your back. The farther away these heavy items are from your back, the harder your muscles must work.

Put small items in the front or in compartments. As mentioned above, the compartments are not only to help keep you organized. Placing lighter items in the spaces and towards the front of the backpack help distribute the weight in your pack appropriately.

Lighten the load. Go through your bookbag regularly. Take items out that you are no longer using and organize things so that the weight is distributed properly.

Put it down. Encourage your child to remove their backpack if they will be standing for a long time.

Lift with the legs. Like other heavy items, lifting with the legs rather than the back is important. Start by squatting down rather than bending over. This stance will help you use your legs to stand up the load rather than putting pressure on your low back.

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