Ergonomic Guidelines For Children

With the advent of personal home computers and laptops, it is not unusual to see children as young as toddlers playing computer games or using the internet. Make sure they are sitting properly to ensure their support and safety.

In the earliest days of electronic computers, no one would have imagined a 6 year old child climbing on top of a massive tower and inputting his or her own data into the mainframe. Computers were clearly not child-friendly, and had to be maintained by hundreds of trained specialists. With the advent of personal home computers and laptops, however, it is not unusual to see children as young as toddlers playing computer games or using the internet. While some companies have designed computers especially for the smaller users, most home computers are designed for adults, with keyboards meant for large hands and monitors designed to tilt at angles safe for full-sized viewers.

When a child uses a computer that is designed for an adult, any number of health problems can arise. Most of these problems can be directly attributed to the conditions a child must work under while using the computer. These problems range from repetitive motion disorders to muscle strains and vision problems. If these conditions are not dealt with by a parent early on, they can easily lead to more permanent problems later on in life.

But what can an adult do to prevent injury to their computer-savvy child? Remember these three "A's"- Assess, Adjust, and Accommodate. Much of this advice falls under the category of 'ergonomics', which deals with devices and habits meant to ease strain when using equipment. Here are the three A's in more detail:

1. ASSESS. If your child has been using your computer for entertainment or educational purposes, chances are that they have already spent too many hours in the wrong position. Assess your child's present condition, and use this information to make the needed changes in your computer station. Ask your child if he or she ever feels really achy or sore after using the computer. Muscular aches may indicate a bad monitor angle, or a chair set at an improper height for a child. They may also indicate a lack of sufficient breaktime. No one should use a computer for long periods of time without stretching or taking a walk. Children are especially prone to spending too much time in front of a computer when playing their favorite games. Does your child complain of headaches, or show signs of eyestrain? These symptoms could indicate a excessive glare situation, or the beginnings of a general vision problem which is aggravated by the use of a computer. Has your child shown symptoms of sore wrists or complained of numbness in the arms? They may be showing the first signs of a repetitive motion disorder, such as tendinitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. The first step in any ergonomic change is assessment of the current problem(s). Knowing what is bothering your child should help you select the right course of action.

2. ADJUST. Once you've gotten a clear picture of what your child may need for proper computer usage, then make the adjustments yourself or demonstrate them to your child. If a child complains of neck or back strain, the angle and height of the monitor may be to blame. A properly adjusted monitor should be at or slightly below the eyelevel of the user. You can usually adjust the monitor at its base- swivel the monitor up or down to match your child's eyelevel. If you have an adjustable chair, raise it sufficiently to create the proper angle. Demonstrate the right way to adjust your chair, and remind your child that the chair is not a toy. If the chair cannot be adjusted, then add cushions to raise the child's eyelevel. Once you've adjusted the monitor, then move on to the other pieces of equipment. Can the child reach the mouse from where he is seated. Is the keyboard accesible without strain? It may seem inconvenient to make these temporary adjustments, but your child's overall health should improve. If you notice excessive glare on the monitor, invest in a glare-removing screen cover. Adjust the brightness level of the monitor to match the available light in the room- no extreme brightness or dimness.

3. ACCOMMODATE: If your child already shows signs of computer-related conditions, try to accommodate their needs to prevent future aggravation. Tired wrists may be eased with the used of ergonically-designed keyboard. The keyboard rest should fit comfortably under the bottom of the keypad and will keep the wrists from forming an extreme angle to the keyboard.

Some children may respond better to the newer keyboard designs that implement ergonomic thinking. These keyboards divide the keyboard in two, and raise each side to an angle more conducive to long typing sessions. The hands are held at natural angles while typing, not at the more severe angles of a traditional computer keyboard.

If your child shows signs of eyestrain or headaches induced by computer sessions, you may want to have a professional eye exam performed. There could be a condition that is being aggravated by the monitor or the size of the text on the screen. If your child needs special glasses or eyedrops, make them available. Never allow a vision problem to continue unchecked. You can also show a child how to increase the size of text on a computer, so they will not be straining to read small print.

If your child's present symptoms are more pronounced, then you'll need to provide even more accommodation, such as typing gloves and medication for inflammation. You may have to set some guidelines concerning computer usage, to keep healthy children from developing computer-related illnesses, and children who are already affected from making their conditions worse.

If you take the time to make the necessary ergonomic adjustments for your child, then he or she should be able to enjoy the benefits of the home computer every bit as much as an adult.

© High Speed Ventures 2011