Backpack Safety Tips for a Successful School Year

School supply shopping is an exciting time for any student, but nothing tops shopping for a new backpack. With a wide variety of colors, styles, cartoon characters and patterns to choose from, backpacks allow our children to make a statement and start the school year off in style. Unfortunately, when making our backpack selections, we often focus too much on fashion and too little on safety. This can spell trouble for growing children and adolescents.

Backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly can strain muscles, injure joints and even cause chronic back pain. Whether your student is a pint-sized Kindergartner or a six-foot high school senior, here are some features you should look for when choosing the right backpack:

  • Proper size – Backpacks should not be longer or wider than your child’s torso and should not extend more than 4 inches below the waist.
  • Two wide shoulder straps – Those trendy one-strap backpacks might look cool, but they won’t distribute weight evenly.
  • Padded back and shoulder straps – Extra cushioning increases comfort and protects against sharp or pointy objects.
  • Lightweight materials – A light backpack will decrease the overall load your child must carry.
  • A waist strap – This feature helps to evenly distribute the weight of a heavy load.

Once you have selected the right backpack, follow these steps to ensure a proper fit and even load distribution:

  • Adjust shoulder straps – Straps should be tightened so the backpack remains close to the body and two inches above the waist.
  • Pack items to distribute weight evenly – Place heavy items in the center of the backpack and use outer compartments to store lighter items.
  • Use both shoulder straps – Wearing your backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine.
  • Remember to bend at the knees – Bending at the waist while wearing a heavy backpack may cause back strain or injury.

Routinely check your child’s backpack for a proper fit throughout the year. Adjustable straps may occasionally slip, or your child may hit a growth spurt and require a new fitting. Children should carry no more than 10 to 20 percent of their overall body weight, so monitor their daily load of books and contact the school if necessary. Ensuring backpack safety will help your child have a safe and successful school year (Source: American Academy of Pediatrics).

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