In many schools across America, backpacks have taken the place of lockers. The days of struggling with stubborn lock combinations, balancing armloads of books and racing through hallways to beat the tardy bell to retrieve essential materials are virtually gone. Portability, low cost and attractive organizational features make backpacks invaluable accessories for busy students. However, recent health and security issues have raised questions about the pros and cons of backpacks in schools.
Backpacks help students stay organized by providing a portable receptacle for school essentials. They permit students to keep school supplies, books and personal items like cell phones and keys in one readily accessible location. Zippered pockets and pouches help students keep up with belongings and develop positive habits of neatness and organization. With the number of students bringing laptops to school on the rise, backpacks also offer convenient storage for lightweight electronics.
Despite their obvious appeal, backpacks pose some serious health concerns. Parents, medical experts and school administrators have raised questions about the long-term effects of backpack weight on developing bodies. Heavy contents can increase health risks for students by placing excessive strain on growing bones and muscles. Each year, thousands of students visit emergency rooms for treatment of backpack-related injuries, including muscle strains and spasms of the back and neck. Growing concerns have prompted some schools to initiate weigh-ins to determine whether backpack loads are excessive for students' stature. Health experts discourage carrying backpacks weighing more than 10 to 20 percent of the student's weight.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, following simple safety guidelines can help backpack wearers minimize health risks. Ensure that the backpack is properly designed and positioned. Look for backpacks with wide straps and use both straps for even weight distribution of contents. Adjust strap length so that backpacks sit properly on the shoulders rather than riding on the lower back. Wheeled backpacks also provide a safe alternative to traditional versions.
Increased concerns about school security have raised further questions about backpacks in many schools. To discourage the concealment of guns and contraband, some schools now require that backpacks be constructed of clear material that allows visibility of contents. Many schools have implemented policies permitting security guards to search backpacks. A few schools have gone so far as to prohibit backpacks, citing security concerns and spatial challenges posed by hefty backpacks cluttering crowded hallways and classrooms.
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