Things have changed tremendously over the past two decades when it comes to children’s toys.
As a parent of a young child, you probably remember the thrill you got riding your bike in your neighborhood, playing tag or perhaps even Pokémon flip chips, making a toy out of every box, and if you were lucky, playing with your Gameboy in your room but only late at night.
Today, I see more and more children, sometimes toddlers, carrying cell phones, and playing video games on handheld devices or on the television using remote consoles.
I’m in no way against teaching our children about electronics, applications, games, coding, and how to properly use the internet. There is a problem, however, with overworked, stressed-out parents using these games as babysitters.
Neck and Shoulder Pain in Young Children
As a chiropractor, the majority of my patients are adults, especially middle-aged adults. You can expect some back problems, health issues, or injuries to happen at one time or another in your adult life that will require professional care.
However, I am seeing a larger number of children between the ages of 8 and 12 with neck and shoulder pain. These aren't injury-related, either, but come as a result of something known as “tech neck”.
Adults also sustain tech neck and it is obvious how this happens. After spending all day hunched over your keyboard at work, you check your cell phone all day long and might even play games during your breaks, you look at the phone or a tablet once you are home, shoulders hunched up, neck bent over to look at the screen.
When this happens hour after hour, day after day, it is any wonder that our neck and shoulders start to ache, develop pinched nerves, or even become numb from a lack of circulation and movement?
The problem here is that children are developing what should be an adult problem.
Poor Posture is a Set-Up
Many children also suffer from poor posture, as well as tech neck. While you might recall your mother telling you to sit up straight, the truth is that today’s child sits for many more hours a day than you or I ever did!
In fact, one study by Common Sense Media found that today's children are subject to 10 times the amount of mobile screen time from just 2011. That's not even 10 years ago.
Sitting for hours with poor posture, including that bent over neck called tech neck, is setting up your child for health problems they shouldn't experience until they are middle-aged!
Poor posture in children can lead to:
- Chronic back pain
- Chronic neck pain
- Permanent changes in the development of the spine
- Balance issues
- An increased risk of heart disease
- Poor digestive health
- Overweight or obesity
How to Avoid Tech Neck and Poor Posture in Children
While it might be difficult, as a parent, our role is to look after the well-being of our children until they are old enough to do so themselves.
You wouldn’t dream of letting your child eat chocolate cake and ice cream all day. No matter how much they cried for it, you would put it away and limit how much your child could eat in a day.
The same must occur with electronics. The following are helpful tips that you can use to teach your child a healthy balance between physical activity and playing with electronic games.
Tip #1- Limit the Amount of Screen Time
Don’t limit their electronic use to video games, but remember to include ALL screens, including television, cell phones, tablets, laptops, handheld games, and remote games.
Your child might need to use a laptop for school and that’s fine, but this means that you must limit their other screen time to whatever amount of time you feel is “healthy”.
Most experts recommend that children between 4 and 8 have only 1 hour of screen time per day and that children older than 8 be limited to two hours per day.
Tip #2- Create Media Free Zones
One rule in my house is no cell phones, tablets, or any type of electronic at the dining room table. My wife and I even turn the sound off on our phones, so we won’t be distracted by the sound of notifications.
You might want to create other media free or electronic free zones in your home, including bedrooms or the family room.
Tip #3- Encourage Other Activities
To encourage children to get outside and play or to play indoor games when the weather makes outdoor play impossible, give lots of encouragement and support for sports, gymnastics, or other types of physical classes.
Allow children to stay up a half-hour later than their usual bedtime as long as they are reading or are playing a game or doing some other activity other than watching a screen.
You might want to think about an exchange system where children have to “earn” their screen time (other than what is required for school) Washing the dishes or taking the dog for a walk, for example, earns them 15 minutes of screen time.
Limiting our children’s exposure to electronics is a healthy way to teach our children that screens only mimic real life and that real life is much more enjoyable when it is experienced, not merely looked at.
If your child complains about neck or shoulder pain, or if you have concerns regarding their spinal health, contact your chiropractor sooner rather than later. There are many natural ways to relieve neck pain that your chiropractor will be happy to discuss with you.