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Get ‘em off their butt! Help your child resist computer-related health problems

By Dr. Steve Hansen
At least 70 percent of America’s 30 million elementary school students use computers and as a result, I’m seeing more and more young patients suffering from the effects of working at computer stations that are either designed for adults or poorly designed for children. If children and adults in your home share the same computer workstation, make certain that the workstation can be modified for each person’s use. Specifically, for children:
Position the computer monitor so the top of the screen is at or below the child’s eye level. This can be accomplished by taking the computer off its base or stand, or having the child sit on firm pillows or phone books to reach the desired height.
Make sure the chair at the workstation fits the child correctly. An ergonomic back cushion, pillow or a rolled-up towel can be placed in the small of the child’s back for added back support.
There should be two inches between the front edge of the seat and the back of the knees. The chair should have arm supports so that elbows are resting within a 70 degree to 135 degree angle to the computer keyboard.
Wrists should be in a neutral position while typing – not angled up or down. The mousing surface should be close to the keyboard so your child doesn’t have to hold his or her arm out.
The child’s knees should be positioned at an approximate 90 degree to 120 degree angle. To accomplish this angle, feet can be placed on a foot rest, box, stool or similar object.
Reduce eye strain by making sure there is adequate lighting and that there is no glare on the monitor screen. Use an antiglare screen if necessary.
Beyond musculoskeletal problems related to overuse of computers and repetitive stress (usually seen in adults), the problems we see in children are conditions such as obesity, type II Diabetes, ADHD, joint pain, and other issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Herein lies the underlying cause … the sedentary lifestyle. Limit your child’s time at the computer and make sure he or she takes periodic stretch breaks during computing time. Better yet, open the door and have them go outside and play and get some physical movement! Kids (and adults) spend too many hours on the computers and personal devices, and not enough time being active. As a result we are seeing a huge influx of childhood health problems related to excessive computer use, or a lack of activity.

So, while your child is on the computer, do everything you can to accomplish ergonomic integrity. But limit that time on the computer or other electronic device. Push those kids out the door and tell them to climb a tree, ride a bike, or throw a ball. It’s amazing what a little movement will do for them both physically and mentally! Because if your child is complaining about pain in the back or neck because of computer use, they’ve got bigger issues than postural stress. Healthy active children should not be having these issues. When they do I’m looking beyond the symptom into the true cause that, very often, is simply too much butt time. n

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