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How To Choose The Right Backpack For Your Child
Purchasing a backpack can be challenging
It's that time of year again. Summer was fun and now it's back to the serious business of buying school supplies for your child. One of the most important purchases, and maybe the one that you will spend the most time mulling over is the backpack. Prices can range from the low twenties to hundreds of dollars and colors can be anything from girly pink to classic black. So how do you choose? Of course, you will consider the child's age, size and educational level. A backpack for your five-year-old kindergarten student will be a whole different proposition than one for your eleven-year-old middle schooler or high-school kid. Is she going to be carrying a laptop, three-ring binders or folders with pockets? You will naturally look at appearance -- the one with the cute little pink bow for your daughter and the one with the cars for your son.
However, a backpack should be more than just a container for transporting books, or for making a fashion statement. Purchasing a backpack is a major undertaking, which, if not carefully approached, can result in pain and possible deformity for your child.
Features of a good backpack
With your child tugging at your hand and demanding a backpack just like his friend's, you may be tempted to give in and take it to the cashier. But before you do that, check for the following features:
- Wide, padded straps that distribute weight evenly and prevent pressure points.
- An additional waist belt is a plus, as it helps to distribute the weight more evenly.
- Adjustable shoulder straps to allow the backpack to fit snugly to your child’s body.
- The smaller the better. This prevents the child from overstuffing the backpack. It should not be wider than your child’s back and should not hang below the waist. Some of the newer backpacks are curved at the back to conform to your child's body.
- Made of lightweight nylon or canvas. Avoid heavy materials such as leather.
- Multiple compartments. These can hold smaller items like a phone, crayons or pencil case, and help to distribute weight better
Proper wearing of the backpack
- I see some older kids wearing the backpack slung over one shoulder. Doing this regularly can cause the child to lean to one side.
- The backpack should be worn high on the back to prevent pressure points on the shoulder. A backpack that dangles can throw the spine out of alignment resulting in poor posture and pain.
- Shoulder straps should not be too tight nor too loose. The child should be able to put on and remove the backpack easily and move her arms freely.
- Do not overload the backpack with electronics, gym shoes etc. The maximum weight is 15% of the child’s body weight according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). More weight causes the child to lean forward and compresses the shoulders and arms. This can result in numbness and tingling in the arms according to the APTA.
- Pack the heaviest and flattest items so that they rest against the back. Keep pointy items away from the back.
- Do not carry the backpack for longer than necessary.
The right way
How comfortable is your child with his backpack?
Measuring for a backpack
Before you rush out to buy that backpack, you may want to measure your child first to ensure a proper fit. Physical therapists have certain guidelines they use to measure children for a backpack.
To find the height:
Measure from the shoulder line to the waist line and add two inches for the maximum height of a backpack. The shoulder line is where the straps will actually rest on the body, about midway between the neck and shoulder joint. The waist line is at the belly button. The backpack should fit two inches below the shoulder and up to four inches below the waist.
To find the width:
Measure between the pointy parts of the shoulder blades. An extra inch or two is permissible. The maximum width for an average-sized four-year-old is 6 inches.
What about backpacks on wheels?
Backpacks on wheels are a cool idea for children who may not be physically able to carry one on their back, however they could present a problem with going up and down stairs, getting in and out of the school bus and they may not fit in the school locker. But if you drive your child to school and he does not have to climb stairs or use a locker then you may want to go for it.
Some last words
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) has also weighed in on this matter of backpack safety for kids. The ACA reports an increase in the number of children complaining of back, neck and shoulder pain. When asked if they carry a backpack to school, the usual answer is "yes." http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=65
Another point worth mentioning is that most parents find it convenient to shop online, but when you do that you don't have the opportunity to try the backpack to make sure it fits well. My advice is to take the child to the store with your measurements and have him try the backpack on as you would if you were buying clothes. You would save time and spare your child the pain of having an ill-fitting backpack.