Backpack Safety Tips

Backpack safety is a concern to any parent who has witnessed children bent under the weight of a backpack or doing the “backpack shrug,” that particular move in which children thrust their shoulders up and forward to make a hefty backpack settle into a more comfortable shape for the back. It’s about redistributing the weight, which is probably a good thing. But should children really be carrying something that heavy on their backs? It’s something to think about when making your back to school purchases.

If you Google the topic of backpack safety, you’ll see article after article citing the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as saying that 14,000 children are treated for backpack-related back injuries each year. If you go to the CPSC website, however, you’ll find no such statistic. One study, in fact, suggests that 89 percent of backpack-related injuries have nothing to do with the back. That study reported that in the most common backpack related injuries, 28 percent of the injuries were due to tripping over a backpack. This statistic was followed by wearing a backpack (13 percent), with another 13 percent  of injuries due to getting hit with a backpack.

The upshot? While back problems due to backpack use are probably not as common as most websites would have you believe, it’s good to have a general idea of what sort of backpack is best, and to make sure your child uses it properly. In other words, buy and have children use backpacks with care, but don’t stress.

Backpack Buying Tips

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that backpack safety begins with making sure parents purchase the right backpack. Look for:

  • A lightweight backpack that doesn’t add weight to what your child must carry. If it’s a choice between that cool leather backpack, and a more common canvas backpack, choose the canvas. It’s lighter, so better for backpack safety.
  • Two broad shoulder straps with padding are better than narrow straps which are more likely to dig trenches into a child’s shoulders. A backpack with one shoulder strap may look awesome, but isn’t good for backpack safety. Your child needs two straps to distribute the weight of the pack as evenly as possible.
  • Padded backs are a feature of better quality backpacks and a must for backpack safety. Padding makes the backpack more comfortable, and also keep those sharp pencils, rulers, and book corners, for instance, from poking your child in the back.
  • Waist belts are important for backpack safety, as they keep the weight of the backpack more evenly spread out, to prevent stress on any one part of the body.
  • Lots of compartments are good for backpack safety, because these too, help spread the weight around, preventing injury and stress to the body.

To Roll Or Not To Roll

It’s probably best to avoid backpacks on wheels. Some schools don’t allow backpacks on wheels, because they can present a tripping hazard inside the hallways of the school, the very opposite of backpack safety! Rolling packs are also really hard to drag up the stairs or through the snow. Still, if your child must carry a very heavy load each day, the rolling pack may be something to consider, if the school allows them.

Backpack Safety: Tips On Backpack Use

Buying the right backpack is only the first step in backpack safety. Using the backpack the right way is every bit as critical as purchasing the right backpack. Here are some tips on backpack use:

  • Lighten up! A child’s backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of the child’s weight for backpack safety. Check the weight of the backpack on a bathroom scale to make sure it’s not too heavy for your child.
My child weighs:

50 pounds

75 pounds

100 pounds

125 pounds

150 pounds

Backpack should weigh no more than:

5 pounds

7.5 pounds

10 pounds

12.5 pounds

15 pounds

  • Make sure your child uses both shoulder straps. This is important for backpack safety, because it ensures the weight is evenly distributed.
  • Tighten the straps of the backpack so that the backpack is close to the body. You want the backpack sitting in the middle of your child’s back and not drooping over to cover the child’s buttocks.

Lightening The Load

For best backpack safety, parents should work with their children to make sure they are carrying as little as possible. Some tips:

  • Urge kids to use their lockers and desks for whatever they do not need to be carrying in their backpacks. There’s no need to keep that science book in the backpack when science class is finished and there’s no science homework that day.
  • Try to talk kids out of taking extra items to school. For instance, does your child really need his laptop/cell phone/handheld game during the school day? Even lightweight items add up to extra pounds to carry.
  • Teach children to only bring home the items they need at the end of the day, for studying or for homework.
  • Help your child plan the week to lighten his load, for best backpack safety. For instance, is your child’s backpack heavier when he returns home on a Friday? Could he be pushing off all his Sunday homework until the last minute? That could mean extra stress on your child’s back.
  • Teach your child how to pick up and put on the backpack the right way to avoid back injuries. Backpack safety means bending at the knees and using both hands to lift the backpack to the shoulders.
  • Use each compartment of the backpack to help distribute the weight. The heaviest items, such as schoolbooks, for instance, should be placed as close to the center of the back, as possible, for backpack safety.

Backpack Safety: More Safety Issues

With us so far? If so, you know that limiting and distributing the weight and having a quality backpack are crucial to backpack safety in terms of avoiding back and other stress injuries. Here are some other issues to consider:

  • Remind children that when they turn around, or go through a narrow space, such as the aisle of a school bus, they need to remember they’ve got a backpack on and consider how to move so they don’t hit anyone with their packs! This is a big one for backpack safety.
  • Teach children to be considerate of others by not leaving large backpacks where children can trip over them, and to be careful about placing backpacks in overhead compartments where they might fall on others’ heads!
  • Encourage children to be extra careful when walking on stairs or in slippery, hard-to-navigate spaces, since carrying a backpack can affect the balance, and cause a child to slip and fall.

Has your child had a backpack injury? What are your best tips for backpack safety?

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About Varda Epstein

Varda Meyers Epstein serves as editor in chief of Kars4Kids Parenting. A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Varda is the mother of 12 children and is also a grandmother of 12. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Learning Site, The eLearning Site, and Internet4Classrooms.