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Backpack Safety 101

By , Hillary Copsey
Do you know how much your child's backpack weighs?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a backpack weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of your child's weight. So, if your kindergartener weighs 50 pounds, his backpack should be no more than 10 pounds when it's full.
Pediatricians say that heavy backpacks are usually the culprit when kids complain of back pain. The pounds add up quickly, especially with smaller children. Many teachers require full-size backpacks for even the youngest students, and even empty, the full-size bags can be half the length of small elementary students. Carrying something that large can throw a child off-balance and put pressure on his growing spine. Kids also forget the bags take up more space and bump into walls and each other. Older kids might end up carrying their entire locker around on their backs in between classes.
The first step to keeping your child's backpack from causing damage is to get one with wide, sturdy straps--and make sure your child uses both of them! According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, wearing a backpack over both shoulders allows the body's strongest muscles (the abdomen and back) to properly support the weight. If your child slings his backpack over just one shoulder, he could be setting himself up for back problems from the uneven weight distribution.
The straps of your child's backpack shouldn't pinch or pull at the neck or dig into the shoulders. They should be pulled tight enough that the bag fits close to the body. The back of the pack, like the straps, should be slightly padded to prevent sharp edges from digging into the child's back. A waist strap can also help distribute weight to the proper muscles.
Look for lightweight bags so you're not starting with a heavy load before the books are added. Check the weight of a fully-loaded bag; if it's more than 20 percent of your child's weight, consider a bag on wheels.
When you're packing the bag, put the heaviest things in the pockets closest to your child. Use the organizing compartments to prevent a jumble of weight at the bottom of the pack.
Help your child determine what really needs to be carried in the bag each day. Can they visit their locker more often? Does every folder need to come home? How many books do they really need?
Finally, encourage your child to let you know if his or her back or shoulders begin to hurt. You don't want school to become a pain in the neck!
Have you taken steps to minimize your child's back strain? How much stuff does he or she carry around?

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RO2BENT 2/8/2019
Yes! Report
My daughter used to have to carry a backpack since they didn't have lockers and didn't allowed wheels in her school and she was just 35 pounds. Her school even had catalogs selling backpacks. Public schools are a business and I don't see any reason why they will change their policies regarding backpacks. Too expensive. Report
My grandson's backpack has always been super heavy-way too heavy for a child to carry and the schools here ban rolling back packs because they trip up other people. Report
My poor daughter is in 3rd grade & not a big girl. I can barely lift her backpack some days and the school doesn't allow backpacks on wheels. I remember having the exact same issue as a kid with the super heavy backpacks. I don't have any long term issues from it so far, so I'm hoping my little girl will be the same way. My son is still in kindergarten, so he only has to tote around his lunch box & one folder. I have a feeling that will change as he gets older. ;) Report
The schools here in our school district in SC encourages the children to leave their books at school. However, I tell them I carried my books and they can bring theirs home; how else will I ensure they are studying correctly. Report
When I was a kid I had to take a book or two for each class, notebooks, etc and walk for an hour to go to school and the same to return to home. no locker to put my stuff. Raining or not, the same routine and I didn't have problem with my back or any part of my body. Report
No it never occurred to me when MY kids were little - in my opinion these kids nowadays are coddled too much. Report
I am just learning this lesson now as I suffer this week from my first backpacking trip ever. If a backpack shouldn't weigh more than 10 percent of one's weight then I over did it on my recent backpacking trip. The ibuprofun, ice packs and heating pads have been working overtime since Sunday night. Sorry I hadn't read this last week. Report
I have heard this before and can't believe all the things my kids have to tote around. I am going to be vary watchful of what they put in their backpacks. Report
When my daughter was in high school, she was tiny.....size 0 & less than 5'2" & because of her pain we took her to a doctor who wrote a note to the school saying she needed two sets of books: one for school & one for home, as they were causing too much damage. She was THRILLED! & the envy of her friends. Report
In college not only did I have a full back pack put I had a pile of books as well and on some days I had a guitar. I didn't have a locker but I had to go from one end of the campus to the other in a short amount of time (even getting to my dorm was hard as it was up 4 flights) Report
Leaving books in a locker would be great however kids in NYC aren't allotted lockers and most kids not only have to carry that load around all day but since most of the kids aren't bused they lug these huge heavy packs around for majority of their day. Report
Leaving books in a locker would be great however kids in NYC aren't allotted lockers and most kids not only have to carry that load around all day but since most of the kids aren't bused they lug these huge heavy packs around for majority of their day. Report
So then, all those years ago when my friends and I would gather in the morning to compare shoulder indents....this wasn't good?

I remember in HS not having enough time to get to my locker in between a few classes and would end up having 3-5 large books and notebooks jammed into a pack. I'm so glad parents (and hopefully teachers) are now aware of the long-term health effects of too heavy backpacks. Report