This happened to me recently when I went looking for research around technology use and children. It’s one of the areas I regularly get asked about, both by friends and clients, who wonder if – after a childhood of increasingly intensive computer use – their children will be more inclined to get musculoskeletal issues by the time they are working and if so, how they will cope with it.
The reality is that our young people are increasingly using technology in all its various forms throughout the day and well into the evening, and in all sorts of weird and wonderful positions. They’re lying on the floor, lying on the bed, sitting in a bean bag or at a school desk, walking along the street – pretty much anywhere they can look at them, they’re on their devices.
Parents are right to be concerned. According to UK based Healthy Working 72 % of primary school children and 64% of secondary children have suffered back or neck pain in the last year. Children as young as 15 have shown posture related early arthritic changes on X-rays. The Kaiser Family research group states that on average, 8-18 year olds spend about 7.5 hours per day on some kind of smart device.
It can be a big challenge trying to educate children about the dangers of being overly-attached to technology. After all, one of the delights of being young is that naturally you feel you’re invincible, right? Well, the older we get, the more we appreciate how wrong they are!
While it’s pretty much impossible to stop their digital consumption, we can think about how to get some good basic information across to help them manage their posture, and stop them getting back problems at a young age. After all, who wants to live with that?
My first attempt to find information on children and safe technology use led me to a site about netsafe, which focuses on ways to ensure our children are unable to access to information that is unsuitable for them in any form. While that is indeed a sad reflection on the downside of accessible technology, it was not what I was looking for.
My focus was on posture and I continued hunting for some sound advice which is easily accessible to anyone (but in particular to parents, caregivers and teachers) on how to encourage regular changes in posture and small shifts to improve posture. It wasn’t easy.
The New Zealand research I did find was from 10 years ago, when the focus around children’s back pain was due to their heavy school backpacks. Other research papers I found were also either out of date or irrelevant to the rapid increase in posture problems we have seen over the last few years, and I ran out of search steam.
Then by chance, I received a monthly newsletter from an organisation called Cardinus Risk Management, (another UK-based organisation) and happened to click on a link to some previous workshops they had held. Lo and behold, a link to Ergonomics4kids led me on to HealthyWorking.com where they have a brilliant set of images of young people in three different age groups– primary, secondary and tertiary students, all sitting in all those weird postures that young people like to do (and still are able to!), demonstrating some easy adjustments they can do to make their spines feel so much better.
The gist of the series is to change position regularly, try and avoid reading with your neck bent right down for long periods, to provide some support for your back when you can, plus stand up and move on a regular basis.
This is all good information for any age and would also be really helpful if added into teachers’ training curriculums. The earlier we get children to learn good habits with technology use, the better the outcome for their health and fitness.
Of course, it’s not just our kids who have problems. We too have likely developed bad habits over time ourselves, so take a look at these sites yourself and maybe you’ll pick up some useful tips for you as well as your family.