Recent medical studies have pointed out that a regular use of smartphones and tablets by children and teenagers may have physical consequences for them.
Warnings about the physical injuries that may arise from poor posture while using computers have been about for years now. Long hours using a computer have serious and varied consequences on children: from eyesight or back problems to obesity due to the lack of physical activity. Long hours using computers plus long hours watching TV create havoc unless they are controlled and combined with thorough physical activity.
We thought mobile connectivity would have a positive impact on this problem, as it allows young people and teenagers to stay connected to their families and friends while they are away from home. And in fact, one of the most repeated statements in the working groups we hold with students between 14 and 16 years old is the following: “I feel much freer with a smartphone. That way I do not need to stay glued to the computer in order to find out about what is going on or about what my friends are saying”.
Nevertheless, this freedom must be combined with knowledge and responsibility (as in any other matter). With regards to the physical consequences, their effects are not the same as those observed after long hours using a computer or watching TV, but they exist. A recent research carried out with several tests on children and teenagers, which included a MRI scan, has brought to light a very worrying piece of data: 40% of children between 8 y 18 years old are growing with back injuries typical of 50-year-old people.
Orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Piet van Loon warns in the Medisch Contact magazine about the fact that 19 and 20 year-old young people with herniated discs are now being operated, and that there is a growing number of young people with back problems and developing the so-called “humps”. Analyst André Soeterbroek observes that children bend over smartphones and tablets in order to stay balanced, bowing their head and pushing their hips forward.
In order to prevent the back from growing in a deformed shape and squashing the front of intervertebral discs, these devices should be used “lying face down”. This way the muscles in the back become stronger, just as parents lay babies on their tummy to help them develop the necessary strength so that they can hold their heads.
Taking into account that this may be corrected in children and teenagers, I believe it is important to work with them on the whole issue of posture. Minors spend several hours a day using their smartphones, and they must start doing so with a good posture. Some recommendations would be the following: do not use the device for too long without taking breaks, raise your head, stretch your back, exercise your neck every now and then and strengthen your back. We must not forget well-known exercises to help protect our eyesight: taking frequent breaks, getting up and looking at targets situated at medium and long distance, etc. Children and teenagers will spend most of their lives operating this kind of devices, so it is important to pay attention to this issue.