Recent Australian and international studies reveal that between 36% and 60% of children experience pain or discomfort when using computers or digital devices . If families do not take care to adopt good ergonomic practices, there may be potential lifetime repercussions for a child . Ergonomics for children involves designing practices that allow young people to interact with technology efficiently and safely. Although seven in ten Australian children habitually use digital technology such as iPads and computers to guide learning activities at school , many parents and educators do not yet recognise the importance of instilling good ergonomic habits that support children’s well-being while using this digital technology . In many classrooms, students are using furniture ill-suited for their size, height or learning requirements without instruction on best ergonomic practice .
This article will provide specific advice on how to achieve good ergonomic posture and outline steps parents can take to encourage healthy postural habits in their children.
Why is it important to teach children positive ergonomic habits?
Children now spend an average of one to three hours daily on computers , making it more important than ever that parents and schools help younger generations foster positive posture habits while using technology . Despite the prevalence of technology in our culture, there are no conclusive studies on the long-term impacts of poor ergonomics on children . From a young age, children are adopting poor practices role-modelled by adults at home . Physiotherapists are now treating young patients with injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic pain in the hands, back, neck and shoulders [1, 5]. Since a child’s developing bones are more malleable than an adult’s bones [3, 7], it is important for a child’s health that they learn to consciously correct their posture through good habits and balance the use of digital technology with active exercise .
What are some guidelines for good ergonomic posture?
Good posture is critical for all digital technology users, especially children, whose posture habits now will impact their habits and physiological comfort as adults . To support healthy posture, a computer workstation should be designed with a child’s optimal health in mind . Chairs, desks, lighting and equipment should match a child’s size [3, 5] and support their physical comfort while engaging with digital technology . Whenever a child is using a computer or a portable digital device, their feet should be placed flat on the floor with their shoulders relaxed and their back well-supported by a chair . For more specific guidelines, read the suggestions below to help your child adopt a comfortable, healthy ergonomic posture each time.
#1 Ensure comfortable seating with proper back support
When your child sits down, ensure that the workstation chair fits the child correctly . Ideally, they should be able to sit back and relax into the back of the chair without slumping forward . Make sure the gap between the front of the seat and the back of the knees is five centimetres [5, 6] with the child’s knees positioned at a 90 to 120-degree angle [1, 5]. Feet should touch the floor [3, 6]. If this places an uncomfortable strain on leg muscles or the feet do not reach the floor, use a footrest [2, 8]. For additional back support, place a firm ergonomic back cushion in the small of the child’s back [1, 5].
#2 Reduce eye and neck strain
Steps should be taken to reduce eye strain and ensure the child’s neck is positioned comfortably. Start by reminding your child to check that the top of the computer screen is at or below eye level [9, 2]. This may involve taking the computer off its stand or arranging for your child to sit on firm pillows until they reach the necessary height [1, 5].
To reduce eye strain, screens should be at least an arm’s distance away from the child’s face [3, 9]. Encourage your child to turn on the lights in a room whenever they use a digital device to avoid a large contrast between the screen’s lighting and the surrounding area, which can hurt the eyes . If possible, install an anti-glare filter on your computer screen to reduce glare [1, 5].
#3 Establish comfortable typing habits
Ideally, a child’s hands should be at or below elbow height while typing with elbows tucked close to their side . Teach your child to keep their wrists in a neutral position [4, 1] with the mouse mat close to the keyboard [1, 5]. Provide a smaller mouse and keyboard at their workstation to fit a child’s small hand  so that their wrist does not bend at an uncomfortable angle when they grasp the mouse . When your child uses a portable digital device such as an iPad or tablet, encourage them to alternate hands when holding the device and to stretch their hands and fingers regularly to avoid cramps 
#4 Protect hearing
Using headphones at high volume can damage hearing . When teaching your child to use headphones, show them how to set the volume to 60 per cent of the maximum . Alternatively, search for child-friendly headphones, which automatically limit this volume to a safe level .
How can I help my child develop good ergonomic habits?
Once your child understands the elements of good posture, the next step is to help nurture good ergonomic habits. Here are some tips to help your family and community cultivate good ergonomic habits.
#1 Encourage good posture
Enforcing good posture may be difficult at first, but with regular reinforcement, good posture will become natural for your child . To support learning, it may be helpful to set guidelines for digital technology use, such as asking your child to check they are sitting properly each time they sit down to use a digital device .
#2 Promote regular breaks and regular hydration
Encourage your child to take frequent breaks [9, 2, 3] with exercise and regular stretches every 20 or 30 minutes . Since a child’s muscles need adequate hydration to work properly and avoid injury , suggest to your child to drink water regularly and remind them to finish or fill up a glass of water each time they sit down . Whenever your child sits at a new workstation, advise them to choose a physical object across the room and look away from the screen to focus on this distant object at least once every 15 minutes; this will help their eye muscles relax .
#4 Model good ergonomic habits
Since children learn best from role models, set a strong example for your child by adopting and normalising healthy ergonomic practices at home . Whenever you use a computer or digital device, maintain an upright posture and take regular breaks. If your child is nearby, narrate why these practices are important .
#5 Advocate for education on computer ergonomics in schools
Helping children cultivate good ergonomic habits is a community goal and requires support from teachers and schools. Ask your child’s school about how they support proper ergonomic practices in the classroom [1,5] and champion the installation of ergonomically correct computer workstations at school [2, 6].
#6 Support frank discussion
Talk to your child openly about the importance of good ergonomics and forming good posture habits, and why this will benefit them in the long-term. Encourage them to ask questions about best practice and ask them to come to you if they experience any pain . Remember that younger children are unlikely to recognise this pain, while older children can .
In today’s digital world, the importance of fostering good ergonomic practices in children is undeniable. Helping your child to recognise good and poor posture and empowering positive habits will help protect their body from short-term and long-term damage . Instilling children with these habits will support their future wellbeing and help generations to come to manage and minimise the potential negative impacts of digital technology on their bodies .