If you're like a lot of kids, you probably spend time sitting at the computer, doing schoolwork or playing games. But whether you're writing a report about aardvarks or zapping aliens, using a computer can be tough on your body. How?
Sitting for a long time in positions that aren't natural for your body can strain your hands, wrists, back, and eyes. Over time, this can result in pain and a kind of injury called a repetitive stress injury.
The way you sit is important. To sit square in your chair, put your behind in the center of the seat. Your legs should bend at the knees and rest on the floor. Most kids are too short to do this, so use a footrest or find a box or a stack of books to place under your feet.
Sit so your back touches the seat back the whole time. Try not to slouch or lean over the keyboard while you type. A chair that has lower-back support can help you do this.
When you type, sit so your elbows are bent at 90-degree angles (like an "L"). Your wrists should be straight, not angled up or down so your fingers rest gently on the keys of the keyboard. And if it feels like you have to stretch your fingers to reach the keyboard, move it closer to you.
Try to keep your fingers and wrists level with your forearms (the lower part of your arms). A wrist wrest can help you stay in the right position. If your wrists are starting to hurt, or you are waking up at night with wrist pain, you may be getting an overuse injury (this is also called carpal tunnel syndrome). If you're having this kind of pain, let your parents know. You might need to see your doctor.
A small wrist rest also can help support your right hand as you move the mouse (some mousepads have wrist rests built into them). Using a trackball instead of a mouse is also a good solution. A trackball allows you to use a few fingers, instead of just one, as you move around the computer screen.
Any time you're using the computer, your eyes are hard at work. Be kind to them by positioning the monitor 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51 centimeters) away from your face. At this distance, you shouldn't have to lean in to read what's on the screen.
Position the screen at your eye level, with the top of the monitor itself level with your forehead. This will keep you from having to lean your neck back (or bend forward) to see the monitor. Your mom or dad can help you get adjusted. They can help you raise the monitor a little higher by stacking a few books under it. You also can raise the height of the chair or sit on a pillow or two.
Here's a good piece of advice: Don't get so involved in the computer that you forget to go to the bathroom! And even if you don't have to go to the bathroom, be sure to take breaks. Kids shouldn't sit at a computer for more than 30 minutes without a break.
When it's time for a break, start with your eyes. Focus on something far away by looking out a window. This gives your eyes a rest from all that focusing on the computer monitor.
Then you'll want to give your body a break, too. Try to move your muscles. Go for a walk, shoot some hoops, or dance in front of the mirror. Doctors recommend only 1 to 2 hours of screen time per day — which includes TV, the computer, and computer games. Make computer time just one of the activities you do instead of the only thing you do. Your body will thank you later!
Reviewed by: Wendy Harron, BS, OTR/L
Date reviewed: March 2014
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