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Atlas Would Shrug

Earlier this week, I posted a photo of my kids’ new roller backpacks on Instagram (and Facebook) and a discussion got going about the insanity of backpack heaviness and the load that kids have to LITERALLY carry around with them. Every. Day. So, I wanted to talk about that here, because it has been on my mind lately and I feel like this is an issue. Our kids are like little Atlases carrying around the weight of their studies—which is totally a metaphor, by the way, because, ugh.

Not that homework is a bad thing. I don’t have any issues with homework but that may be because I have a child who only asks me to help him once a month because he, at age 9, is already smarter than I am. (I literally cannot help him with his math. I can help him with his writing and that’s about it.) Archer is very type A when it comes to schoolwork and will do his homework immediately when coming home, some of which he has already managed to do in class during free time. He never has more than 45 minutes of homework a night and if he does, we don’t let him finish. Because, in the words of his (amazing) teacher, “You should not have to do more than 45 minutes of homework a night.”

Deal. Done. Case closed.

But Archer’s backpack is hard for ME to carry and I am EXTREMELY buff and strong, you guys. I baby-wore two toddlers at once!

So, for this post at least, my issue is more to do with the physical workload more than the academic workload. Because while my 9-year-old shows little sign of struggle when it comes to homework, he has been physically in pain for years from carrying around so much weight.

(Side note: I feel terrible that it took me until now to purchase him a roller backpack, but it took Archer a minute to be OK with it, which I totally get. Who wants to drag a suitcase up a school stairwell? It’s better than carrying all that weight on your back, though, that’s for sure.)

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10-20 percent of a child’s body weight. (If only!)

In a New York Times piece from 2012, this was written:

Heavy backpacks don’t just sap children of energy that might be better used doing schoolwork or playing sports. Lugging them can also lead to chronic back pain, accidents and possibly lifelong orthopedic damage.

Among the risks described by Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston, are stress fractures in the back, inflammation of growth cartilage, back and neck strain, and nerve damage in the neck and shoulders …

The issue has been raised repeatedly in countries all over the world for more than a decade. In December 1999, doctors in Milan reported in The Lancet that 34.8 percent of Italian schoolchildren carried more than 30 percent of their body weight at least once a week, “exceeding limits proposed for adults.”

The load carried by these sixth-graders was equivalent to a 176-pound man hauling around a 39-pound backpack each day.

But even in this digital era, when at least some schoolwork can be done online, there has been no apparent decrease in the burdens we ask the younger generation to tote around all day.

And what of the kids who have to walk to school or to and from bus stops? (There is no bus system where we live which totally sucks. But at least my kids don’t have to channel Cheryl Strayed when negotiating hills!)

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Meanwhile, some kids aren’t even ALLOWED to use roller backpacks because they can trip people, which, OK—but what about rolling suitcases in airports? Is there a difference? Is the risk of a child tripping here and there greater than hundreds of children dealing with chronic back issues? I mean, you tell me. Tripping sucks, don’t get me wrong, but airports somehow make due with rolling bags.

And what’s even crazier is that along with a backpack full of books, Archer also carries a laptop to and from school every day. Surely there are ebooks that are compatible with that laptop, right?


What do you think? Is this an issue for your kid(s)? Are their backpacks insanely heavy? Fable’s still in kindergarten so her backpack is only heavy because she brings all of her favorite things to school with her, not because she has to bring books home, but Archer’s backpack is hard for ME to carry and I am EXTREMELY buff and strong, you guys. I baby-wore two toddlers at once!

Ugh, you guys. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

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