“Sit up straight! Quit slouching!” Sound like a familiar refrain when watching your kids at the computer? Have your kids spent time complaining about being uncomfortable when working on the computer, maybe they complain a little extra when it comes to homework done on the computer? Children spend more time at the computer every day. And for many of them, taking a break to stand up and walk around is not a habit, so they stay in positions that increase the pressure on bones, joints, muscles and other soft tissues for long periods of time. As you probably remember from being young, the body at that age can take a lot of abuse in terms of posture, activities, injuries, etc. before it manifests as pain or discomfort. Take a little time now to think about how your children use the computer at home and at school.
Kids deal with ergonomic issues every day. They live in a world where most things are big-people sized and they try to use all sorts of things sized for adults rather than kids. Computers and laptops are no different. The ergonomic requirements of a child are not much different from those of adults at a workstation. There are some key postural points here:
- The back is supported by the chair (in other words, no slouching)
- The head sits directly on top of the spine (not pulled forward or tilted upwards to see the screen)
- The upper arms and elbows stay close to the body (no reaching out to get to the keyboard)
- The elbows flex at 90 degrees or more (keeps the shoulders down)
- The feet rest on a surface (so that they aren’t dangling)
But for kids, this can be a huge challenge. In most cases, the keyboards are set up too high, the monitors are so high kids crane their heads back to see the screen, the legs dangle and don’t reach the floor, and the keyboards are at the wrong angle to protect the wrist. (pictures from Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments – http://www.iea.cc/ECEE/guidelines.html)
In the posture above, her elbow is extended out from her body, away from her side, she slouches forward from the back of the chair and has to reach forward to use the mouse and look upwards to see the screen. The poor placement of the screen and the keyboard are key in this situation. To correct it, we need to look at a few things: 1) keeping the screen at her eye level or below means she needs to sit higher in the chair, and use some pillows to support her back; 2) she also needs to lower the keyboard – or more accurately here – raise herself so that she can work with her elbows flexed at 90 degrees or higher; 3) Build up a foot rest for her and she’ll be in much better shape. Here’s an example of how to do that using pillows, chair height and a foot rest:
There are many great resources for ergonomics for adults. For kids, you’ll just need to put together a setup that can get your child into a comfortable position to work on the computer. Use pillows and blankets for support, or even phone books could be used to make a foot rest for the kids. Think about a computer desk with a keyboard tray – especially one that tilts to a good angle to keep the hands in a nuetral position as much of the time as possible.
In addition to computer work at home, children spend time on the computer at school. The same requirements hold true at school, but it’s much more difficult to get them the tools and props that might help them adjust a workstation at school so that they can use it comfortably. Work with teachers and the computer lab professionals to talk about options in positioning kids in computer labs at school in a more ergonomic fashion. You can even use this resource http://www.iea.cc/ECEE/guidelines.html to help explain your concerns and get them on board.
Just remember, the key to position that is easy on the body is keeping the eyes level with the screen, the shoulders down and close to the body, and keeping the keyboard/mouse at a good height for children. And if you’re sharing a computer between children or adults, remember to make adjustments in the chair height, pillow support and keyboard/monitor height between users. It’ll help!
Teach your kids to take frequent breaks, every 20-30 minutes, when they are working on a computer. And make sure they know that they need to get up and stretch, move around and walk around to release some of the tension that builds up from working on a computer. Maybe lead them by example and start taking frequent breaks when you’re working on the computer for a long time. I’m sure you’ll see the benefit in your own body in just a few days if you start taking breaks while working on the computer. And if they don’t listen, try distracting them every half-hour or so to get them off the workstation for just a second.
Photo credit: from Fooyoh Entertainment: http://fooyoh.com/iamchiq_living_lifestyle/5032367