Advice Column, Education, Parenting

Online schooling can literally become a pain in the neck!

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  • Category Advice Column, Education, Parenting

Lockdown has affected our children in more ways than one. Isolation. Anxiety. Confusion. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Most of these emotions and feelings are beyond our control, and nurturing, understanding and just being there for our kids is all we can do. But some things are in our control, and one is comfort. 

Online learning and sitting in front of a computer has become the norm. Video games and screen time have replaced sports and outdoor activities with friends. And this has led to a growing trend in back and neck pain in children. In fact, what was once just a problem for adults sitting, at a desk all day, has veered to the younger generation. More children today are sitting for extended periods and the longer they sit, the more they are likely to suffer from lower back pain and become victims to slouching. In fact, studies indicate that by the age of 15 years, 20% to 70% of children will report some back pain while other say  75% of children between the ages of 8 to 12 years complain of back pain. Either way, the stats are alarming and are likely to increase as dining room tables and kitchen counters become desks once again due to the rise in COVID-19 infections.

Help them find their comfort zone 

The significant causes of back pain in children have been found to be triggered by poor posture, sitting for long periods and continuous inactivity. Poor posture can cause the spinal cord to change shape, creating chronic pain and affecting balance. It can also affect the rest of the body. Sitting for extended periods with poor posture compresses the digestive organs, which can harm the entire digestive system.

As parents, we want to provide our kids with the right tools in everything they do. The correct size bat for the cricket season, good sturdy boots for the soccer season, so why should paying attention to our kids’ posture be any different? Children will spend an estimated 23 years of their lives sitting in a chair, so the time for good habits is now. And that means providing comfort and correct postures while sitting.

When looking for the correct chair for your child, remember that size does matter. A height-adjustable chair is paramount for a growing child. And so is an adjustable backrest angle, height-adjustable armrests, and lumbar support. A foot ring on the chair, or a separate footrest is usually required because the feet have to be anchored, otherwise they land up perching at the edge of the seat. Adjustability, and the ability to be supported in the lower back and under foot will ensure that the time your child spends sitting in front of the computer or doing homework at a desk is painless and productive. The immediate cost should be viewed as an investment in your child’s future and will far outweigh the costs of dealing with future health issues, especially as their spines still have so much growing to do! 

It is also important to try to regulate all screen time – enforcing regular breaks every hour.  Encourage motion – be it a swim, a game of soccer or a walk around the neighbourhood. Create these movement habits daily. And if your child has a hard time sitting still, let them work while standing up. 

Online schooling is part of our lives and is a critical alternative in the current environment. Even when schools can return, online processes are highly likely to stay in place, in some form so now’s the time to act. It’s a whole new world for them too, so make sure they are sitting right to not only survive online schooling, but thrive!

By Gary Arenson, Physio, MD, and Founder of Ergotherapy

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