Back to basics: Kids, screens and back pain

From head to toe, technology is wreaking havoc on our children’s physical wellbeing. But there are ways to minimise the risk, and get them off to the right start.

Part 2 in our series on technology and kids’ bodies. Today’s topic: Back pain.

You’re reading these words on a screen right now. (You may have spent the better part of your day reading words on a screen ...) Just for a second, stop and have a look at your own posture.

Are your shoulders slumped, and your middle back rounded? Are you looking down and practically resting your chin on your chest? Is your device at eye-level or more in the neighbourhood of lap-level, and how far away is the screen? When’s the last time you had a break to walk or stretch?

Ugh. And then at the end of the day, we wonder why we still have that nagging back pain, that stiffness in the neck, that tension in our shoulders.

Now think of all the hours your kids are clocking in online. Their screen-time probably dwarfs yours, between 1:1 policies in the classroom, social media on the schoolbus, after-school TV, screen-based homework, gaming … Need we go on?

So it’s a no-brainer that all that screen-time is having an impact on their bodies as well. They may not be complaining of an aching back quite yet - but then again they might be.

squirrelsYou might think your children are too little to experience back pain. Think again.


Poor posture is a common cause of back pain and soreness for children. In a study of back pain in 648 children and adolescents, 50% of children reporting back pain were found to have non-specific musculoskeletal pain – aka overuse and improper use of muscles.

It’s important to recognise that the risks are not directly related to devices per se but rather to the physical habits that device use encourages (sitting, lounging) or displaces (walking, running, jumping, and other rough-and-tumble play).

“Over my 30 years in practice I am seeing more back pain, neck aches, neck-shoulder pain and headache in the adolescent population related to prolonged sitting and excess amounts of screen time."

Dr. Jeffery Tucker, US-based chiropractor

What’s more, the habits they are forming right now will carry through over a lifetime - and that, say experts, may be setting them up for chronic pain into adulthood.

Swayback - a spine disorder characterised by an extreme inward curvature of the lumbar area just above the hips - is on the rise, according to many observers. And the poor posture kids (and adults) adopt when looking at phones and sitting in front of computers seems to be a significant reason why.

Swayback puts more strain and weight on back joints and ligaments. And its effects are especially pronounced in kids with under-developed abdominal and core strength. And that, in turn, is an outcome of inactivity. Which leads us right back to screens.

Another risk factor for swayback is obesity - a health epidemic that has also been linked with screen-time.

What parents can do to help

Time out

We’re all capable of losing track of time when we fall down the digital rabbit-hole. Our kids are especially susceptible. Experts recommend setting a timer to remind them to walk or stand at least every 30 minutes.

Get support

Children need to avoid spending screen-time on the floor, or low-backed couches, or anywhere else offering poor back support. Make sure feet are firmly planted on the floor.

Position, position, position

Screens should be at or slightly below eye level. Optimal monitor distance is an arm’s length away.

Let them have a ball

A therapy ball, that is. Therapy balls feature a dynamic surface that forces the user to work their trunk muscles. This builds core strength and helps promote proper posture. A no ball, no play policy might be just the ticket for your gamer.

Family Zone alone can’t prevent a lifetime of back and neck pain. But as part of a holistic strategy, our parental controls are helping more than 350,000 families grow a healthy, balanced digital generation. To learn more, have a wander around our website - and start your free trial today.

Topics: Screen time, screen hygiene, smartphone, text neck, sway back, posture

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