Why Backpacks Can Pose Problems and How Parents Can Help


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Carrying The Heavy Load

When we were growing up it was the norm to use your locker throughout the day, but today’s kids backpack around their schools. Yet during my near-decade of teaching in the public schools, it didn’t matter how many times I encouraged students to use their lockers—they always said they never had enough time.
Sure, kids need to bring books home to do homework, which is part of the issue: in a recent study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy, students receive three times the recommended load of homework. Still, homework isn’t the ultimate culprit.
Schools give students a very short amount of time to visit lockers in between class changes. Administrators implement this policy not just to maximize time spent in the classroom, but also to help curb tardiness and hallway fights. As a result, students feel they have no choice but to lug around their entire lockers’ worth of books.

The Bigger Problem

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that your child’s backpack never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight, but it seems that students are carrying heavier weights than this on a daily basis.
An MRI Study found that heavy backpacks do contribute to back pain in children. The problem isn’t necessarily with the actual bag, per se; it’s with how heavy the contents are and how a student carries that weight. It’s just common sense, after all: when you put a heavy weight on your back and don’t carry it properly, you’re likely to pull or strain something.

What Parents Can Do

No, you can’t carry your children’s books for them. You’ll fight an uphill battle fighting administration to alter the school schedule to allow for more time between classes (although schools might find a reasonable request to base locker assignments on lunch dismissal classes, giving students a mid-day checkpoint at least to drop off and pick up new books).  So what can you do?

  • When you’re out shopping for back-to-school supplies, have your child try on backpacks:  the bag should look proportional to your kid.
  • A backpack fits properly when its weight falls between your neck and your waist.
  • Look for a bag with wide, padded, shoulder straps and encourage your student to use both of them—the one-shoulder look may feel easier or look “cool,” but it will wreak havoc on your child’s posture and back.
  • After that point, buy the smallest lightweight backpack that meets your child’s needs.  Keep in mind that canvas is lighter than leather, and the bigger the bag, the more unnecessary stuff your child can pack into it.
  • Teach your child to pack smart:  heaviest books go in first and closest to your back, and only bring home what you need in order to complete your homework.
  • Choose a time before the start of a new week (so Friday after school or Sunday night) to have your child clean out their backpacks so he or she isn’t carrying around any unnecessary weight.
  • Work with your child to develop a strategy to map out more locker time.  Ideally, he or she could switch out books before the first class, on the way to or out of lunch, on the way to a class, and at the end of the day.

If your child complains about back, neck, or shoulder pain, certainly consider how heavy his or her school bag is, make adjustments, and don’t hesitate to discuss this issue with your general practitioner at the next well visit, or reach out to your local chiropractor.

About the Writer


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