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Find ways to lighten her backpack load

Armin Brott McClatchy-Tribune

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A. You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck and shoulders.

Every year, I wonder why more schools haven’t switched to using digital versions of textbooks. After all, most kids these days have computers or tablets at home. That would go a long way toward reducing the overloaded-backpack problem. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of resistance to that idea, so the next best step is to get two copies of all of your daughter’s books – one of your house, one for your ex’s. Your daughter is certainly not the only student who’s had to deal with this issue. Ideally, the school will loan you the extras. If not, you may have to buy them.

As far as wheely backpacks, even if they were cool, they’re not such a great idea. Because they’re easier to move around, kids may load them up with even more stuff. And wheels or not, those packs still have to be lifted to get them in and out of the car or bus and to go up or down stairs. Many schools aren’t too big on wheely backpacks either, complaining that they ding up walls, scuff floors and are major tripping hazards (because they’re below eye level and people just don’t see them).

At the very least, you should insist that your daughter wear her backpack properly, meaning that she use both shoulder straps. The straps should be wide and padded. If they’re not, get another pack. If possible, the pack should also have a waist belt, which can move some of the load from the neck, shoulders and back to the hips. You should also review the right way to lift heavy loads: bend the knees and use both hands. Yanking a heavy load with one arm can strain the back.

Speaking of backpacks: A quick note about a previous column, in which I recommended a number of National Parks. Several readers pointed out that I hadn’t included any that were east of the Mississippi, an oversight that I’ll chalk up to having lived most of my life on the West Coast. There are, of course, many fine parks to the east, including Great Smoky Mountains (in Tennessee and North Carolina), Everglades (in Florida), Shenandoah (in Virginia), and Acadia (in Maine), which was the first National Park east of the Mississippi. And since we’re going in different directions, let’s not forget about Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii and Denali in Alaska. All in all, the U.S. is home to 58 national parks, all of which are well worth a visit.

Read Armin Brott’s blog at, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to
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