Q: My 7-year-old wears a backpack that is absolutely loaded down with notebooks and textbooks. How can I tell whether his back is being strained from all the weight?
A: He'll probably let you know when he's uncomfortable. But if he doesn't say anything, it's best to watch his posture, says Charlotte B. Alexander, M.D., orthopedic surgeon at Houston Orthopedic/Sports Medicine Associates in Texas. Is he leaning to one side? Is he bent forward at the waist? Does he have trouble standing upright? These are all signs that his bag is straining him. And while your child's skeletal structure isn't being damaged from this pressure -- no study has successfully linked bearing heavy weight on the back to scoliosis, for example -- it can create soreness in a child's back and shoulders, says Dr. Alexander.
But there's plenty you can do to avoid this, she says: Look for a bag with padded, wide straps and a pelvic strap (think of a seat belt that clasps in front). Make sure that the backpack weighs no more than 20% of your son's total body weight. Urge him to wear both straps at all times and to make sure that the bag sits snugly against his back instead of down by the pelvic bone. Encouraging your child to carry less to school also helps him plan ahead for his day instead of stuffing every item he might possibly need into his bag.
Copyright © 2001. Reprinted with permission from the September 2001 issue of Child magazine.