Ergonomics for Kids

Preventing computer-related injuries in kids.

Ergonomics for Kids

Photo: Gerri Photography

 

Has your child been complaining of a sore back or an aching wrist? The family computer may be the culprit. Research suggests that children are now experiencing the same computer-related repetitive strain injuries as adults. A repetitive strain injury is damage to soft tissues, such as muscles, resulting from overuse. The risk of injury increases when kids are using improper equipment and as they spend more and more time on the computer, checking out Facebook, playing games, completing homework and browsing the internet.

Understanding the risk factors

Certain risk factors can increase your child’s chance of being injured at the computer. They include posture, repetition/duration and lighting.

Posture is the positioning of the body’s limbs in relation to one another. Incorrect postures when using the computer include:

  • tilting the neck back when looking at the monitor
  • moving arms away from the body when reaching for the keyboard or mouse
  • dangling feet and pressing legs against the edge of the chair
  • sitting perched on the edge of the chair or slouching when seated too far back

Many issues related to awkward posture are a result of inappropriate equipment for kids. The majority of computer workstation products are designed for adult users and offer adjustability with adults in mind. When children attempt to use this equipment they are forced into awkward postures – keyboards and mice are placed too far away, monitors are too high up on desks and chairs cannot be lowered enough for their feet to rest flat on the floor.

Repetition refers to the number of times your child performs a movement, such as keying or mousing with fingers and wrist, while duration refers to how long your child is sitting at the computer. For children, just as adults, prolonged activity at the computer with little or no rest may result in discomfort and injury.

Another risk factor to be aware of is lighting. Problems can arise when there is too much light on the computer screen or incorrect placement of monitors in relation to light fixtures and windows. Improper lighting can result in eyestrain, headaches, blurred distant or near vision, dry or red eyes, double vision and light sensitivity.

How to minimize risk

To minimize risk of injury, parents should focus on eliminating the risk factors.

  1. Limit time at the computer and encourage breaks. Setting time limits for computer use and scheduling breaks will give your child’s muscles time to relax and recover. A break can include stretching, walking around, or looking out the window. Encouraging children to look away from the computer every 20 

minutes will also reduce the potential for vision problems.
  2. Look for appropriate equipment for children. When purchasing equipment, look for adjustable child-sized desks, mice and keyboards. These are made smaller, and fit the body and hands of children better. Have your child try out the desk first to see if he can work comfortably. If purchasing only one piece of equipment, consider a height adjustable keyboard tray to improve shoulder, elbow, and wrist postures for all users.
  3. Educate yourself and your child. For more detailed information on how to set up a computer workstation, try out the “Office Ergo Online Tool” at www.oiweb.com. This free step-by-step tool guides you through setting up your workstation and provides information on repetitive strain injuries. Although this tool is designed for adults, the recommendations are applicable to children too.

Remember, many habits your child develops now will follow them into adulthood. Learning proper posture and technique when using a computer will prove to be invaluable in their future working lives.

Author: Janice Jaskolka, BA, MHK, CK

Janice Jaskolka is an ergonomic consultant with Options Inc., a professional consulting firm providing comprehensive ergonomic services in a variety of sectors. Info: www.oiweb.com.

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