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Is Your Child’s Health Being Affected by Technology?

on May 5 | in Health & Fitness, Issue 6 | by | with 1 Comment

Children’s Posture in a Modern World

This is the second in a two-part series about posture by Dominique M. Taylor, D.C. 

Attention parents, there is something you need to know: The new age of technology, and all the devices associated with technological advancement, also represents a new age of posture.  The technological changes that are taking place before our eyes can negatively affect our children’s posture.  In some ways, the average person’s posture reflects their lifestyle or what that person does each day.  The same is true for children.

kid at laptop in bedChildren are using handheld technology or electronic devices as early as two years of age, if not earlier.  Their comfort with and ability to use technology can be absolutely astounding.  Arguments abound regarding when is an appropriate age to place technology in the hands of our children.  I do not generally participate in such discussions, as I am not an expert on the subject.  However, I do enjoy a spirited conversation about what our children’s posture should look like while they are gazing into their phone, sitting in front of their computer, or using their tablet or gaming console.  Postural changes are occurring not because we are using technology for longer periods of time, but rather because we are not sufficiently self-monitoring our posture while using technology.

it’s important to look at the amount of time our children are likely to spend using technology regardless of the usage type

For the most part, we use technology primarily for knowledge, entertainment, and to make our lives easier or more efficient.  The time aspect of our technology use alone is staggering and not likely to lessen in the future.  Therefore, it’s important to look at the amount of time our children are likely to spend using technology regardless of the usage type.  Our children’s education curricula at primary school, secondary school, and college is increasingly delivered or closely integrated with technology.  This fact alone makes postural awareness as it relates to technology even more essential.  Let’s take a closer look.  The average school student, from kindergarten to twelfth grade in the United States, sits at a desk or a computer at school for over 13,000 hours.  Yes, that is correct—sitting at a desk or computer for over 13,000 hours at school.  To put this in perspective, 13,000 hours is approximately 550 full twenty-four hour days or 1,625 eight-hour days sitting at a desk or computer.  This does not count all the time the student will use handheld technology away from school during those years.

Posture Then and Now

family at dinnerA generation ago, posture education was closely related to formality and decorum in certain situations.  However, new research is suggesting that there may be a long term health benefit to having good posture.  Before we get to how to begin to teach your children about posture, it is important to reflect on our own posture education.  Take a look back in time.  What was said about posture, if anything?  What was done? If posture was mentioned, was it in a positive format?  Traditionally, posture education was either nonexistent or closely aligned with manners and etiquette.  By taking a look around, it is clear that neither approach was particularly helpful or successful.  Manners and etiquette are dull and boring topics to most children, and posture is too important to be dull and boring.  So, try to make posture education positive and health-focused where and when you can.  There are three posture teaching must do’s for parents:  1) Model good posture as best you can, 2) Be brief and positive, and 3) Start teaching about posture early on.

Modeling Good Posture

Positive body positioning can be taught simply by modeling good posture.  Little to no talking or discussion is required.  Parents must model good posture for their children to see and learn good posture.  There is no substitute.  A small part of your job as a parent is to make your children aware of what posture is (body positioning) and why it is important.  The bigger part of your job posture-wise is to model good posture, especially while using technology.  You want to make your children aware that you are monitoring your own posture while using technology, and making adjustments to your body positioning as needed.  The importance of modeling good posture cannot and should not be underestimated.  Exhibiting good posture is far more important than talking about or teaching posture.

mother and daughter with laptopThe goal is to model good posture as much as possible, while teaching children to self monitor their own posture.  Admittedly, self monitoring is a simple concept that is difficult to implement.  Here are several questions that you can ask yourself to help with self-awareness: How am I sitting?  How am I standing?  What activities bring out my best posture in the presence of children?  What activities bring out my worst posture?  How am I walking?  Am I exhibiting good posture at this moment in time?  What would I look like in the mirror right now?  How is my posture when I look at my phone?  Is this my usual computer posture?

all of these can easily show you where you may need to correct your own posture.

Reflections are helpful for the purpose of self monitoring.  Sometimes it is helpful to use mirrors to focus on our body positions rather than our face or hair or what we are wearing.  Compare the height of your shoulders.  Is your nose directed straight ahead?  Is your head tilted slightly to one side?  Are one of your feet turned in or out in relation to the other? These are just a few things you might notice, but all of these can easily show you where you may need to correct your own posture.

Be Brief and Positive 

Parents, this is one of those “less is more” categories.  Nonverbal communication is more powerful than verbal communication as it relates to posture.  The worst approach is to nag, pester, or belabor the point.  After all, your modeling of good posture is far more important than anything you can say.  When discussing posture, keep it simple and positive at all times.  For example, say: “Always remember to sit tall and stand tall!” instead of saying: “You are slouching, sit up straight.”  Offer complements on good posture early and often.  Reward good posture where and when you can.  Parents often ask me, “How much should I even talk about posture? I have so many other worries.”  As a general rule, I recommend that parents mention posture for five minutes or less per week.  This amount of time should adequately emphasize that posture is important, but not overemphasize its importance over other priorities.  The overarching goal here is to keep the discussions positive and brief.

Start Teaching about Posture Early On

parents and child playing video gameLike many other teaching and learning topics, posture is important to teach at an early age.  Why?  Because once it is blended into daily living, posture awareness and subsequent modifications seamlessly become a part of one’s subconscious actions and body movements.  Additionally, early age posture education is also important because once a child begins school and related activities, their day and daily activities are largely out of the parent’s control.  The basis of posture is body anatomy positioning awareness.  In short, to be aware of our bodies we must have basic anatomy knowledge.  While some children do have basic anatomy knowledge, most do not.  I recommend teaching basic posture anatomy prior to age five or six.  In terms of general anatomy, there are certain parts of the body that often align, depending on body position.  Those anatomical structures are the ear, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle. In addition, the nose, chin, spine, and the crevasse between your collar bones are also important anatomical structures posture-wise.

“How do I know when to start? At what age?”

The question I often get from new parents is: “How do I know when to start? At what age?”  My suggestion is to start as soon as you notice your child mimicking your behaviors.  At this point, you will not be teaching posture per se, but you will be teaching them about movement and parts of the body.  It should be simple and fun.  It is a time when parents and children are bonding.  Use games when possible.  For example, how does a toddler know what their nose is?  Likely, because their parent, grandparent, or another family member has played a game with them where they touched their nose and said the word nose.  Mother or father laughed.  The baby laughed and pictures are taken!  Here is the time where you can begin to teach your children some basic anatomy even before they can read or write, all while you are bonding.  And many times it is fun!  Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of making learning positive.  Laugh, smile, coo, and giggle—these are the sounds you should be hearing while teaching small children about themselves.

if I walked into almost any kindergarten class, and we played a fun game of “point to the part of the body,” we would assuredly get a few laughs regarding where the hip, ankle, and elbow are located.

An important part of posture education is for young children to know where those posture-important structures are located on their bodies.  It seems so completely obvious, but it is not obvious to children.  Most parents do a terrific job of teaching the basic anatomy of the face and extremities.  Most children as young as three or four can easily point to their eyes, ears, nose, feet, toes, hands, and fingers.  However, parents can do even more by taking it a step further and teaching the most basic anatomy needed for good posture down the road.  As a benchmark, most children should be able to point with their own finger and touch their ear, shoulder, elbow, wrist, hip, knee, and ankle by the age of five or six.   However, if I walked into almost any kindergarten class, and we played a fun game of “point to the part of the body,” we would assuredly get a few laughs regarding where the hip, ankle, and elbow are located.

Remember to keep the teaching positive and brief, and always look for ways to embed posture education with other types of learning.  Finally, in the event that you must have a posture-oriented discussion with your child at a later age, it is always an easier discussion if they have heard you talk about posture from time to time in the past.

Posture Screenings

I recommend that most children have a posture screening conducted by age seven or eight.  An initial posture screening gives you and your health care provider a postural baseline for comparison purposes down the road.  Regardless of age, children should have a posture screening if a parent or child has a specific concern.  Like most other health matters, problems are usually easier to fix or improve when discovered soonest.  If you believe you or your child needs a posture screening, contact your health care provider.

We must be aware of and adapt to these changes proactively for the sake of our postural health.

New technology has brought forth a new age of posture.  We must be aware of and adapt to these changes proactively for the sake of our postural health.  I hope the information herein has been both helpful and thought provoking for parents as it relates to posture.  Remember to model good posture as best you can, be positive, and start early.

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