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08 April 2017

Australia: Overuse Injuries Already Affecting Canberra Children Behind Screens

Emma Lucas, 10, with mum Cecilia Shlegal.  Cecilia lives
with RSI and is worried about how the use of technology
by children today will impact on them in future.
Photo:  Jay Cronan
The RSI and Overuse Injury Association of ACT raises device concerns
by Emily Bakercanberratimes.com.au,
8 April 2017

Increasing numbers of Canberra parents are reaching out for help with their child's neck, back and arm pain as more schools implement "bring your own device" policies.

The RSI and Overuse Injury Association of the ACT has raised concerns about how the use of iPads and laptops in classrooms could impact on mental and physical health.

Association director Ann Thomson said more parents were getting in contact with the organisation for help addressing their teenagers' injuries.

"We're concerned about the use of notebooks and iPads in schools because of the lack of adjustability and a separate keyboard and mouse, and also the fact that child is holding them with one hand while using them with the other, so that's placing a lot of strain on the arms, neck and hands," she said.

"They tend to adopt a posture which is like the letter C - in other words they're hunched over the device - rather than the letter I, with their head sitting nicely on top of a straight back, which is a much healthier posture.

"Also, studies show that when you give children devices that can be carried around at school they tend to be used a lot more than when they have a computer set up in a computer lab, so it's putting them at higher risk of injury."

The Education and Training Directorate's Bring Your Personal Electronic Device (PED) Policy for Schools advises schools to consider health risks when developing guidelines for the use of student-owned devices.

An Education Directorate spokeswoman said teachers were aware of the risk of device overuse.

"Whilst schools are committed to providing our students with ICT that is fit for purpose, devices are used in moderation and balanced with outdoor, physical education and non-screen time," she said.

Bonython mother Cecilia Shlegal was diagnosed with RSI more than 20 years ago after working a computer-related job.

Her 10-year-old daughter, Emma Lucas, uses an iPad at school, and she commended Bonython Primary School on taking steps to ensure its students' safety.

"I'd like to see [all] schools take reasonable steps to prevent these injuries in schoolchildren," she said.

Ms Thomson, a former teacher, suggested schools provide ergonomics training for teachers and re-evaluated the use of devices in the classroom.

"Don't assume that the computer is better than a pen and paper or a blackboard or a group activity or a game," she said.

"Teachers need to look at the evidence. The evidence is that IT works best as a supplement to teaching, not a replacement.

"A child who uses the computer at school and then comes home and sits in front of a computer or hunched over a laptop is not getting out, playing and being physically active, which is incredibly important for their physical and mental health."

Labor promised to buy every public high school and college student in the ACT a tablet device over four years from 2018 ahead of winning October's election.


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