Safe and proper backpack use is simple using the four guidelines established by Backpack Safety America/International™:
- Choose it right– The backpack itself has features that can help or harm the child using and wearing it. First, the size should be proportional to the size of the child. Looking at the child’s back, the height of the backpack should be no more than three quarters of the length between the child’s shoulder blades and waist. Larger than that is too large for the child and invites the child to fill it to capacity, which will go far beyond healthy and safe limits. In addition, all backpacks are not created equal. Some have far better padding than others. (You also cannot assume that the more you pay for the backpack, the safer your child will be. We learned that lesson the hard way from one of the nation’s top backpack manufacturers. That’s right. As we heard in no uncertain terms, “Safety doesn’t sell backpacks.”) Look for packs that have padded shoulder straps to prevent pinching nerves in and around the shoulder and neck area. You can also find packs that have a lumbar pad to buffer the lower part of the back from the hard edge of books and other contents of the backpack. Finally, opt for a waist strap when it’s available. The child can use that strap to stabilize the load and prevent injuries that occur when the load swings wildly, taking the child with it.
- Pack it right– Backpack Safety America™ recommends that no more than 15 percent of the child’s body weight be carried in a backpack. That means that a child weighing 85 pounds should carry no more than 12 pounds in that backpack. Another clear indicator: if the child must lean forward to handle the load of that backpack, it’s too heavy. Books are heavy; so are all the other items that may or may not be entirely necessary for this particular day of school. Check the backpack regularly to help lighten the load for your child. (This is also an excellent practice for ensuring there are no secret items that could be health or safety hazards to your child. Routine checks to keep the load under control then provide double value with the added peace of mind that comes from knowing what your child is carrying to school each day.
- Lift it right–Let’s do the math. (Don’t worry about the “new math,” This is the old-fashioned kind.) Consider the numbers: let’s say that your child lifts that backpack just 10 times per day. That’s probably conservative considering the number of times that he or she takes it off and puts it on again. Let’s also conservatively put the weight of that backpack at just 12 pounds. With 180 days of school per year, that’s 21,600 pounds the child lifts each year. That’s nearly 11 tons, roughly equivalent to the weight of six midsize automobiles…every year! Can you see how year after year, improper lifting can do damage to the child’s growing spine? Remember, as the twig is bent, so grows the tree! The video contains the five simple steps to proper lifting, a valuable lesson for all ages, no matter what you’re lifting.
- Carry it right– Children have all sorts of creative ways of wearing their backpacks. (Some prefer now to put the load in front. That’s no safer than on the back, incidentally.) Mostly, you’ll see backpacks dangling by one shoulder strap, hanging so low that they rest on the child’s bottom, pulling shoulders and spine far from their natural and healthy upright posture. Using both shoulder straps and the waist strap and wearing the pack in the middle of the child’s back are still the best way to do it.