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Computer Workstation Ergonomics for Children

Monday, March 16, 2009
By Anne Kramer

When children use the computer, they should follow the same principles as adults, maintaining neutral posture. This can be a challenge, since most workstation products are designed for adults over five feet tall. It is possible, however, to keep a child healthy and safe at the keyboard. By creating a kid-friendly workspace and promoting healthy habits, parents can help their children avoid injuries and begin to work effectively and safely.

Making the Workstation Kid Friendly

The first step is to ensure that the workstation fits the child’s size. Ideally, a child would have an adapted workstation, with a smaller chair and shorter desk. However, because the entire family often shares a computer workstation, it is important that all aspects of the workstation be adjustable, and that children can independently adjust each component.
  • Because children’s legs often dangle, a footrest is indispensable. The purpose of the footrest is to ensure that the knees remain in the proper position, at or slightly below level. The footrest should be high enough to allow the child to rest the feet directly in front of the body, either flat or at a slight angle.
  • Often adult chairs are too deep for children, so the child either sits too far forward, or the child’s legs stick straight out. A child-sized chair is the best option. Another solution is the addition of a detachable back cushion. This will decrease the distance to the back of the chair, while providing necessary lumbar support to the child.

  • Since children have smaller hands than adults, traditional keyboards and mice are generally too large for them to operate comfortably. A smaller keyboard or mouse, designed specifically for children, can be a valuable accessory. Tracking balls are also a safe alternative to a mouse.

  • Children tend to be less aware of their own posture, and may not be aware or the position of their wrists. A wrist rest is a wise investment, since it forces more correct posture during typing and resting.
Encouraging Ergo-Friendly Habits

Parents can help their children create lifelong habits that will prevent strain and injury as they grow. By teaching a child about ergonomic principles, and modeling them in the home, a parent ensures that the child will adopt these behaviors and habits.

  • It is important to physically show a child what adjusting the components of a workstation looks like. It may be helpful to hang a picture of the workstation next to the computer, so the child can refer to the picture and remember to adjust each piece of equipment.

  • Children are often unaware of the passage of time, so parents should monitor computer usage and remind children to take frequent breaks. Software is also available to help children self-monitor time spent at the computer.

  • Since they are less likely to be conscious of their own posture, children are prone to leaving the neutral position, for instance by slouching or resting their wrists at an improper angle. Parents can post pictures of proper and improper posture, but they should also monitor and correct posture as needed.

  • Parents should take breaks to shift posture, change tasks, and stretch, just like they want their children to do. Children who observe this behavior are more likely to mimic it and develop ergonomic awareness early.
With their growing bodies, children are just as susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries as adults. Some simple steps can prevent these injuries and help children to begin healthy ergonomic habits that will last a lifetime.

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