We’re well and truly in the digital age and for many of us, looking at a screen is part and parcel of our daily lives. Even babies and very young children are spending long periods of time in front of a TV, laptop, tablet or phone, but there’s a price to pay for this extended screen time.
It’s taking a very real toll on our physical health and both children and adults are at risk.
In fact, researchers have noted that more and more children are going to the doctor or physio about back and neck pain, and this often correlates with their extended use of mobile devices. Whether it’s ‘tech neck’, sore shoulders or a stiff back, there’s no doubt that a range of musculoskeletal issues can be linked to the age of electronics and extended periods of time slouching or hunching over a device in the wrong body position.
Poor posture can be hard to correct in later life and it can also have a negative effect on many different parts of the body. As mentioned, muscle soreness and joint pain are the most common complaints but there are plenty of other nasties too. Poor posture can actually result in the spinal cord changing shape over time, digestive organs being compressed and an elevated risk of varicose veins and heart disease.
Bad habits are extremely hard to break so it’s really crucial to instil good posture and body positioning during a child’s developmental years. It’s far harder to correct bad posture than maintain it, so it’s is really worthwhile for parents and educators to empower children to develop good habits early on.
The good news is that there are plenty of things that can be done.
First and foremost is the need to establish healthy device habits for children whether they’re at home or in the classroom and to balance screen time with a balanced and active lifestyle. It’s also really important for children (and adults) to strengthen their ‘anti-slouching’ muscles, improve their flexibility and do regular stretching exercises.
Here are some top tips for correcting a child’s posture while they’re at home and at school.
Position the screen correctly
Ideally, the screen should be level with a child’s forehead at arm’s length away. When it’s too low or if the device is lying flat on a table, on the child’s lap or on a bed, the child will naturally slump or slouch because they’ll have to look down at the screen. The increased tension through the neck, upper back and shoulders may result in pain, stiffness, soreness or even headaches.
There’s no need to buy special stands or risers to get the screen to the right height – books or other household items work just as well. Ideally, the child should have both feet on the floor when sitting on a chair or sofa with the backrest or firm cushion providing full support for the spine all the way up to shoulder height. When the screen is in the right position, the risk of eye strain is also minimised.
Movement is crucial
Regular movement is crucial to good posture. Children are built to move and they should be encouraged to stretch their legs and arms on a regular basis. Stretching their arms above their heads regularly can help them reset their posture and ‘iron’ out any kinks. Professional educators know how important getting physical is and they will incorporate games and activities into the child’s day that encourage movement, eg dancing, role playing, team games and even yoga.
Limit screen time
Making changes to the way your child watches TV or uses a mobile device can help decrease the risk of them developing poor posture. There are apps which parents can use to schedule regular breaks from screen time (a break every 20 – 30 minutes is recommended) or to remind children that ‘time’s up’!
Many experts believe that children’s screen time should be limited to no more than an hour a day and in fact, the Australian national guidelines recommend that kids under two shouldn’t spend any time watching television or using other electronic media (TV/DVDs, computer and other electronic games) at all. They recommend that sedentary recreational screen time for young people aged from 5-17 should be limited to no more than two hours a day.
Consider ergonomic furniture
Although the theory of ergonomics is right angles at the knees, hips and elbows, it is virtually impossible for anyone to sit up straight and adhere to the 900 rule for extended periods of time. What’s more, furniture that restricts movement and forces someone to sit statically for long periods of time can be harmful.
There is a wide range of specially designed ergonomic furniture available including tables, chairs and art tables with key features such as supportive backrests (which ideally can be tilted back slightly), adjustable heights, adjustable armrests and comfortable contoured padding.
For many people, extended screen time is a modern day reality, and unless great care is taken to ensure that good postural habits are instilled in children from an early age, they may suffer from health and mobility issues as time goes on.
Another thing that parents and caregivers can do is choose their childcare centre carefully.
A young child will spend a fair bit of time at the early learning centre, and by choosing one where educators are genuinely concerned with empowering children with the right exercises, information and day-to-day which instil good postural habits, parents can set their youngsters up for a healthier future.
Simone O’Brien is the founder of the Treasured Tots Child Care network in Perth, WA. After first starting a day care in Melville, she couldn’t help notice the constant enquiries, interest and rapid growth of the waiting list for quality education and care in the area. With the support of her husband, she has grown Treasured Tots into a quality early education child care network, with locations across Perth, in Fremantle, Mandurah and Bibra Lake.