Backpack safety for kids and teens

Being loaded down with textbooks, gym equipment and school supplies can make backpacks heavy and hard to wear. If they’re aren’t worn correctly, backpacks can cause back pain in children and teens.

The tips below will help you find the best backpack for your child and teach him how to wear it safely.

Find the right kind of backpack

Choose a backpack made of light material, like canvas or nylon. Be sure it’s the right size for your child. Look for one that has:

  • Wide, padded shoulder straps
  • A padded back
  • A waist strap
  • Multiple compartments

We also recommend reflective strips on the bag. They make the child easier to see before sunrise and at night.

How to safely pack a backpack

Always pack the backpack so that most of its weight rests low on your child’s back near the waist. Pack the heaviest books closest to the body and place other items equally on the right and left sides.

Your child should:

  • Bend his knees to pick up his backpack.
  • Clean the backpack weekly and take out unneeded items.
  • Store items in a locker when possible.
  • Take only what’s needed to school.

When a backpack is too heavy

Backpacks shouldn’t weigh more than 15 to 20% of your child’s body weight. This means a child who weighs 100 pounds shouldn’t have a backpack that weighs more than 15 to 20 pounds.

  • If your child needs to lean forward to support the backpack’s weight, then it’s too heavy.
  • Use backpacks with wheels and handles if your child needs to carry more than 20% of his body weight.

Teach your child to wear a backpack the right way

Your child should wear the backpack so that it puts weight on the strongest muscles in the body: the back and stomach.

  • Your child should wear a strap over each shoulder.
    • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack rests in the middle of your child’s back.
    • The backpack should fit close to your child’s body.
    • Secure the waist strap. This helps keep the backpack close to your child’s body.
  • Pack items in compartments. This helps distribute heavy loads evenly.
  • Make sure the bottom of the backpack rests in the curve of the lower back.
  • The backpack should go from waist level up to about 2 inches below the shoulders.
  • A backpack should never sit more than 4 inches below the waistline.

If a child has pain, numbness or tingling in his back, shoulders or neck, check and make sure it’s not due to his backpack habits. Reinforcing healthy back habits for your child can help reduce the risk of back pain.

Also, remember that backpacks do not cause any type of structural scoliosis; they also do not cause scoliosis to progress.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.

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