So, our last two blogs in this BackCare Awareness week looked at the use of backpacks at school. And while it’s vital to get a decent backpack and keep the weight in it to a minimum, at the end of the day, kids will probably still sling it over one shoulder. But let’s face it, that’s not the end of the world provided you remind them once in a while and try and keep the weight in their back pack down.
The big threat
But there is a far more sinister threat to our kids’ wellbeing – and that’s the ever-increasing use of mobile devices and the lack of exercise and sleep that can result from it.
The use of mobile devices has obviously exploded in recent years especially amongst school kids. Reportedly, the age of a child’s first mobile phone in the UK is 7! Teenagers too are increasingly spending a large proportion of their week using tablets, mobiles and laptops – even in school. And us parents are under increasing pressure to provide our kids with the latest electronic device.
You have to think about posture
Whilst the importance of ‘good posture’ has, at times, been blown out of proportion by the press, there’s no denying the potential impact of inactivity combined with a less-than-ideal forward-bent posture, particularly in the young whose bodies are still developing. In fact, it’s such a problem that new words and phrases are being coined by the media to describe the phenomenon, such as iPosture and textneck. And they’d be funny if it wasn’t such a serious problem.
Various studies have been conducted around the world demonstrating the link between use of mobile devices and back and neck pain in the young. It’s certainly something that my team and I have seen more and more of in clinic over the past couple of years.
Yes, treatment can help but…
Treatment can sort things out, often very quickly as these are young, robust and flexible bodies that generally respond very well to treatment. But, and it’s a big but, if kids just go back to the same habitual use of screens then the same problems can, and probably, will re-emerge.
Personal judgement plays a big part
So, what to do? It’s not easy and I haven’t got a definitive answer. Mobile devices are a massive part of our kid’s lives and that’s only going to increase. We don’t want our homes to become a battleground when it comes to screen time but equally no-one wants their child to be struggling with neck or back pain.
What is clear is that we do all have to take a measure of responsibility and find a way of managing our kids’ use of electronics in a way that works. What that is, will vary from family to family but here are the main areas to consider:
When to start?
Whilst there is enormous pressure on kids and parents alike, you need to ask yourself whether your 7-year-old really does need their own tablet or phone? There are some great alternative resources available (be they educational or just fun) but as soon as the mobile device is ‘theirs’ then the problems of screen time can begin! Compare that to the position you’re in when that phone or tablet is ‘yours’, which puts you in a much a better position when it comes to limiting their use of it.
How much screen time to allow?
As much as we might reminisce to our kids about our childhood spent running in the woods, falling out of trees and running away from bears, advice or instructions to put the phone down and get out there and do the same is going to fall on deaf ears.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t still set some ground rules about when and where mobile devices should be used.
There are no black and white guidelines about how much time is ‘safe’. We’ll all have to make our own decisions about this and how to implement it without creating a warzone in our homes. For me though, it’s just the same as the advice that I would give to office workers. You need to get up and move on a regular basis. So maybe structure it so there are regular breaks?
Whatever age you are, your body will put up with a lot of abuse and compromises as long as you give it something back to help deal with what life is asking of it. A sedentary office worker sat on a train and at a desk for hours each day will benefit hugely from regular exercise that keeps their body moving.
Similarly, a school child using a laptop, tablet and mobile through the school day and at home will be kept free of pain if they exercise regularly. Whether it’s football, swimming, dance or whether it’s mobility stretches and exercises done at home, if they keep themselves moving then any potential issues associated with screen use will be minimised.
If they’re not into sport and you need advice about what exercises and stretches to do, then please book in and we can advise you about this.
Time to sleep
We all know it but screen use is terrible for sleep. Apart from how tiredness may affect concentration levels at school, our bodies need good quality sleep to repair our tissues. Again, I’m not going to say what rules you should apply in your home but screen-free time before bedtime is going to be invaluable and make a big difference.