College of DuPage Nursing Student Bennett Rubenacker shared with Healthy Lombard that with many children still spending some or all of their time learning at home, the use of the internet and technology for schooling has become essential. The time that would normally be spent in the classroom sitting behind a desk is now relegated to video calls on computers, tablets, and phones. Naturally, the extended time on screens should raise concern for parents, even if it is for their children’s benefit. Having access to the internet during school can lead children to wander away from their lessons, and can even lead to addiction (Petersen, 2020). But on a physical level, how is an extended time in front of screens affecting children in the age of e-learning?
A number of studies have found that periods of smartphone use longer than two hours per day lead to an increase in pain in the lower back and shoulders for children (Domoff et. al, 2019). Additionally, children who utilized tablets exhibited excessive muscle use and torso and shoulder asymmetry (Domoff et. al, 2019). Looking down at a screen leads to poor posture, often causing a “forward-thrusting” of the head that increases strain in the muscle and ligaments of the neck (“Technology may be,” 2020). According to Dr. Georgia Lowe (2018), the spines of children are not strong enough to manage the prolonged stress of poor posture that can occur when using screens. Eventually, the increased weight on one part of the spine can cause permanent changes in response to poor posture. This leads to other health risks, including postural kyphosis (hunched back), poor balance, fatigue, body pains, and decreased self-esteem (“Technology may be,” 2020). So, what can be done?
Safer posture must be adopted when using technology. If the child is using a computer or tablet while sitting on the floor, having the child sit on a wedge-shaped cushion can promote proper posture. The device in use should be propped up on a cushion in the child’s lap, bringing it closer to eye level. At a table, the tablet should be placed on a stand, with the screen at an upright angle (“Concerns raised,” 2013). When the child is using a desktop computer, the guidelines for proper posture mostly follow in line with those for adults. Children should follow the 90-90-90 rule, meaning their elbows, hips, and knees should rest at a 90-degree angle.
Young children may require a footrest, so their feet do not dangle. Pillows on the child’s chair can be used to help raise them to the height of an adult-sized desk. A towel can be placed behind the child to provide better lower back support. Consider using adaptive workstations, like those that can be tilted to prevent lurching over the table.
It may be beneficial to show the child the differences in when they personally exhibit poor posture versus good posture (“3 Tips,” 2020). Take a picture when the child is in each position to demonstrate proper form. Ask the child if they feel different or better in one position over the other. Finally, children should take breaks and stretch every ten to fifteen minutes (“Technology may be,” 2020). At the end of the school day, children should turn off their screen, stand up, and be encouraged by their parents to run and play. This is a worthy reward for working hard at paying attention and maintaining proper body alignment.
Concerns raised over impact of tablets on posture. Nursery World. (2013, December 2). https://www.nurseryworld.co.uk/news/article/concerns-raised-over-impact-of-tablets-on-posture.
Domoff SE, Borgen AL, Foley RP,Maffett A. Excessive use of mobile devices and children’sphysical health. Hum Behav & Emerg Tech. 2019;1:169–175.
Lowe, G., Dr. (2020, September 07). The effects of technology on your child’s spine. Retrieved March 26, 2021, from https://thrivehealthco.com.au/2018/06/07/the-effects-of-technology-on-your-childs-spine/
Petersen, A. (2020, April 15). Is Your Child a Digital Addict? Here’s What You Can Do. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/parenting/big-kid/child-screen-addiction.html.
Technology may be harming more than your child’s posture. (2020, August 24). https://www.dupagemedicalgroup.com/health-topic/technology-may-be-harming-more-than-your-childs-posture.
3 Tips for the Ideal Posture for Children during Home Based Learning. Core Concepts Physiotherapy. (2020, May 11). https://www.coreconcepts.com.sg/article/ideal-posture-children-home-based-learning/.