Children and Ergonomics:
What is the Big Deal?

More than 20 million American adults complain of numbness and tingling symptoms, making RSI the #1 injury in workplaces.  With children now spending hours a day playing computer games, working on school projects, RSI may be as likely to develop at home or in the classroom.

Two areas that need to be addressed:

bulletFirst, we need to look at the simple definition of ergonomics: Ergonomics is the study of fitting the workplace to the worker (in this case, the child).  This may be a problem in the mismatch between a child's body size and the size of adult furniture and computer equipment.
bulletSecond, children are learning unhealthy computer habits early.  These are then integrated into adulthood.

Both of these factors lead to awkward postures which in adults would be considered high risk activities to be eliminated.  Usually, they go unnoticed in children but they are fairly obvious if one takes a look at some common postures of children.

Compare Adult Desk, Chair, Keyboard to Child's Desk

Height of the Keyboard

Both adults and children should allow for forearms to be parallel to the floor with elbows bent at a 90-110 angle. 

This presents a problem at the adult desk; the child is reaching too far up causing strain on shoulders, elbows and writs.  This can be accommodated by either:

bulletBringing the keyboard down to the child's height on and adjustable keyboard tray or lap cat (for children who are not wiggly) OR
bulletRaising the child to the height of the keyboard (chair height or pillows).  This would require a box or support for their feet as this dangling position may place strain on their low back and reduce blood circulation to the legs.

A child's desk is a better match to their proportions.  The child is able to hold the shoulders and elbows relaxed, with the wrists in correct alignment.

Monitor Height

Simply because an adult desk height was made to fit a range of adults, the monitor at this height places it well above a child's eye level, thus causing her to hold an awkward neck posture to look up at the screen.  Many times children will lean forward off the back of the chair, arching their back in and raising their chin.  This places great strain on the neck and upper back as well as gives a poor visual relationship.  This is a red flag risk factor for adults which we correct immediately.

At an adult desk the only way to correct for this is to raise the chair, making sure that the keyboard height is in correct relationship and that the feet are supported.  Using a laptop screen for older children may bring the monitor height down just enough.  Also tilting the screen downward will have a lowering effect.  This does make the eye open more at this angle, causing a little less protection from the eyelid for glare and dryness.  There are manufacturers (Kinderlink, Metamorphosis) which make adjustable keyboard/monitor tables which can be adjusted to the child and adult.

At a child's height desk, this risk factor is reduced.  The height is matched to the child's size and they are able to look at the top of the monitor at eye level.

Chair Size

Again, we are looking at fit and proportions.   When using a shared adjustable chair, you can teach your child to quickly adjust it to their fit.  Raising the height, bringing the backrest in to take up some seat room and lowing the back support.  There are some manufacturers that make chairs in various sizes, some of the small and extra-small adult chairs would fit older children.

When using a kitchen chair, a lumbar support may be placed in the chair to make it smaller and ones with sides will give children good lateral support and trunk stability while they sit.  Also pillows and phone books may be placed in the chair to raise the child to the proper height.

Keyboards and Mice

Look at the difference in hand size, finger length and span.  An adult keyboard was engineered to fit a range of adult hand sizes.  Some potential solutions may include.

bulletUsing a smaller keyboard, where the numeric keypad and arrows are deleted.  This allows for closer mouse placement.  The result is a child does not have to strain their shoulder to reach the mouse.
bulletLittle fingers keyboard (data desk) was designed with little hands in mind.  They have reduced the actual size and spacing to match a child's finger size and reach.
bulletKeyboard track balls and touch pads also reduce the shoulder reach.
bulletMice now come in various shapes and sizes; using a smaller size to accommodate a child's hand size is best.  Placing it at the same height and close to the keyboard is important.

Habits

The good thing is that children are seldom completely still.  The constant motion of their shifting weight in the chair and standing then sitting can be to their advantage.  However even still they can become so attentive to the screen that they can fix in unwanted static postures which latter become adult bad habits.

bulletWrist leaning.  This causes compression of the median nerve through the carpal tunnel.  Teaching children proper typing position and techniques should not be lost or put off until high school.
bulletElbow and forearm leaning to see the screen.  This places strain on the shoulder joint capsule.  Teaching them proper posture now is important.
bulletImproper mouse grip.  Relax mouse grip with neutral or straight wrist.

Exercises

Because more and more children are spending an increasing amount of time in the seated posture whether it be watching TV or working on the computer, they are inherently getting less exercise.  What we may begin to see are children with tight hamstrings and weaker abdominal muscles.  These muscle groups should be stressed early on.  This can be accomplished by:

bulletSimple abdominal work such as ball exercise and traditional sit-ups
bulletHamstring stretching

As far as computer exercises children can relate to their favorite athlete.  No Washington Redskin or Baltimore Oriole takes the field without warming up.  Teaching children warm-up stretches and periodically repeating them while they are on the computer will allow their muscles to work more efficiently.  None of these should cause pain or discomfort:

bulletWrist stretches
bulletFinger fans
bulletNeck stretches
bulletBack extension, especially for those that sit with slouched posture

  Please call or email us for further questions or information. 

  ERGOWORKS Consulting, LLC
  Phone: (301) 417-2077
  Email:
info@ergoworksconsulting.com

(Ergoworks Consulting Home Page)
 

Send mail to info@ergoworksconsulting.com  with questions or comments.
Created by Desktop Computing Solutions

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