In the midst of the chaos of getting my three children started with distance learning, proper computer ergonomics was certainly not entirely in mind. We struggled to get everyone logged into their Zoom sessions, troubleshoot technology errors, and keep up with information attacks from more than a dozen teachers.
Although my house was doubled as a temporary school, it did not look much like a classroom. My high school worked as he spread himself over a beanbag chair on the living room floor, bent over his computer. My middle school, laptop in tow, rotated all day from his desk to the kitchen table to the couch to the backyard to the table. My daughter in fifth grade mostly worked at a desk, but her laptop screen was too low and forced her to look down while she worked, and within a few weeks she started complaining of neck pain.
Early in a school year dramatically reshaped by the Covid-1
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Since so many students spend unprecedented long hours on their computers to keep their grades, experts remind parents that distance learning without a proper homework station can cause pain and potentially lead to injuries over time.
“We do not think about children getting recurrent stress injuries or fatigue injuries or muscle aches and pains that parents and grandparents get,” said Dr. Theodore Ganley, an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. section on orthopedics. But children “are not immune to these things,” especially if they work on computers day after day in awkward positions, he said.
“If children swallow and sit with their feet off the ground, they are bent, they stare for hours at hours without breaks, they can get strain in the neck, back, strain in the eyes,” Ganley said. “This is the kind of thing that can affect anyone.”
Doctors know that poor posture while working on a computer can cause discomfort where pain develops in a relatively short time. More severe recurrent stress injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome usually take at least six to 12 months to develop.
Computer-related injuries at work can be traced in adults via workers’ compensation claims, but there is no central database that counts these problems in children, experts say. While children typically have not worked as intensely on computers as adults at work, distance learning now requires many children to spend much more time on computers than before and in a home environment that may not be properly equipped as a classroom. Exactly how this may affect them is unclear.
Researchers have observed that the average age of these injuries has dropped from the early 40s to mid-1990s to the early 20s now, according to ergonomic expert Alan Hedge, professor emeritus at Cornell University. He worries that children who do a lot of computer work in poor working positions may begin to incur cumulative damage, which may not manifest until they later develop injuries, even as they become adults entering the busy workforce. He is also concerned about the possibility of spinal deformities in young children who spend excessive time bent over a computer while their bones are still developing.
“These injuries tend to be slow, and they tend to be progressive,” starting as discomfort, then pain, then pain, then injury, Hedge explained. “So you have time to break in and stop the progression from happening.”
How To Help Your Child Be Safe.
Encourage them to work in a neutral position
Distance learning can be quite challenging, so it can be difficult to get children to sit properly at a desk all day with every other stress factor they are dealing with right now. So do your best to help them improve their posture most of the time, experts say. Once they realize how much more comfortable they feel, they can even thank you.
- Ideally, both children and adults should maintain a neutral posture while sitting at a computer, with the spine not twisted or bent, the lower edge supported and the neck straight.
- Forearms and thighs should be approximately parallel to the floor, and the feet should be flat and supported and not dangle.
- The arms should rest comfortably at the sides, with the wrists straight and relaxed.
- The work area must be well lit with the monitor located approx. arm length and the upper part of the screen comfortable at eye level.
- To ease the eye strain, the Hedge 20-20-20 rule suggests, “that every 20 minutes you look more than 20 feet away from yourself to rest your eyes and blink your eyes for at least 20 seconds.”
Desktops are easier to adjust on a workstation, but small, portable laptops and tablets that many children use can present ergonomic challenges.
“Technology like a laptop was never designed to really be an ergonomic product, because when the screen is in a good position, it’s pretty much impossible to use the keyboard,” Hedge said. “And when the keyboard is in a good position, it’s really hard to use the screen other than in a very awkward posture.”
Children working on laptops may need to place a book or box underneath to raise it to a comfortable level. Another option for achieving a neutral posture is to have a holder designed for a laptop or tablet. Children who use laptops or tablets can also benefit from an external keyboard and mouse so they can keep their wrists straight.
An adjustable ergonomic chair can help a child achieve proper placement at a desk or table, but these chairs can become expensive and may not be affordable, especially if there are several people in your household working from home. An alternative is to equip a regular chair to make it more comfortable for children by using pillows to raise the child or roll up towels to support the lower back. Children may need to put their feet on a box or footrest.
Have them take frequent breaks
Breaks are built into the normal school day as students do things like play in recesses, change classes and go to lunch. But distance learning can be a long sedentary grind with eyes glued to the screen unless you are actively planning to break the day up.
“Try to make sure your kids don’t spend too long, certainly no more than 30 minutes at a time, before getting up, moving around, shaking things out,” Hedge said.
Dr. Jennifer Weiss, an orthopedic surgeon at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, recommends children perform stretching exercises, especially activities that curl the body from the curved position that many fall into while on a computer.
“No. 1 does some sort of counter-stretch all day, even in bite sizes,” Weiss said. “So when they have their lunch break, let them do some counter-stretches, whether it’s in the form of a five-minute yoga YouTube post. video for them, whether it comes together as a family and holds a plank party, doing some planks and some recurring kind of activities. ”
Lunch time is also a great opportunity to get the whole family outside for a refreshing walk, game or other activity. Children may lack indulgences and sports, but they still need the recommended hour or more physical activity a day for general health.
Ask how they are doing
My daughter told me that her throat had hurt, but not all children communicate that they feel uncomfortable or in pain while doing computer work, and they may not connect to their workstation.
Red flags include discomfort or pain, often in the neck, shoulders, back, wrists or hands, as well as tension headaches. If pain persists even after making ergonomic adjustments to your child’s workstation and incorporating rest breaks, experts recommend consulting a physician.
After adjusting my daughter’s workstation to raise her screen, she felt better right away and has not complained since. If only we could get rid of that beanbag chair.
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