Kiddie Ergonomics
by Gareth Branwyn for Digital Living Today

All hype about wireless living aside, most of us still have our eyeballs glued to a big piece of glowing glass all day. If we're lucky, our boss (which may or may not be us) has been smart enough to install the proper kinds of ergonomic furniture and tools we need to keep our chiropractic bills to a minimum (along with our radiation exposure). But there's an often-overlooked segment of the desktop-enslaved public that should be a top priority when thinking about ergonomics: our children. An alarming number of teens are ending up with annoying-to-serious degrees of repetitive stress injury before they reach college. These are kids who grew up glued to computers and console game systems with little thought to the damage they were doing to themselves. It's time to change that. If you have a child who frequently uses a computer and/or a console game machine, you should make sure that you and they are educated about ergonomics and you should set up their computer area appropriately.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Do Your Homework: Watch your kids as they work at the computer. What is their posture like? Are they far enough away from the screen? Do they have good lighting, properly placed? This will give you some idea of areas that need improvement.

Sit Still!: Children can get in the most contorted positions as they work or play at their desk. Point out to them that they need to find a comfortable posture and stick with it. Show them proper working posture. Having a really good, comfortable chair is key. If they don't already have a quality chair, take them shopping for one. Get a chair that's not only comfortable to them, but has lots of adjustment features for height, seat tilt, back tilt and arm rest height. Encourage them to get up and take breaks (run around the yard?) frequently (at least every 30 minutes). It will help not only physically, but mentally. Make sure your child's feet reach the floor. If not, use a footstool, phonebook, or something else to raise them up.

Get Some Light on the Subject: Make sure their desk is positioned so that glare is minimized on the screen. A desk lamp aimed at the keyboard and direct overhead ambient lighting are ideal.

Location, Location, Location: Your child should be at arm's length away from the monitor and the top of the monitor should be at or below eye level. If you have more than one child, make sure they each get in the habit of adjusting the chair appropriately to their needs. An adjustable keyboard drawer can also be helpful for multiple users. As with all users, each child's arm, when seated, should be parallel to his or her thighs and the floor.

Special Gear: Although you can most likely get by using the same chairs, computer hardware, lighting, etc. you would use for an adult, some kids, especially wee ones, can benefit from hardware especially designed for them. DataDesk Technologies makes a "Little Fingers" keyboard ($100, Data Desk Technologies) that's optimized for children up to eight years old. Contour Design offers the "Perfit Mouse", which comes in many different sizes (including several small enough for kids) in both left- and right-hand models. The always-recommended Handeze typing gloves ($19.95, Hand Eze) are a lifesaver if hand problems arise. These gloves are a worthwhile investment for users of all ages. They not only support the hands while you type they also keep your hands warm, which increases circulation to them, reducing the possibility of swelling and inflammation.

The wired world (as opposed to the wireless one) is not going away anytime soon, and our children are even more at home in this world than we are. Teaching them the value of good "desktop health" can have a long-lasting impact on their lives and careers. Just ask the teens (thankfully still small in number) who have had to drop classes, change majors, or even leave school because of crippling repetitive stress injuries.

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