Have you ever hoisted your teenager’s history book and been surprised at how heavy it is? Or gone to toss your younger child’s school bag into the car and grunted with the effort?

The number of books, papers, notebooks, supplies, clothes and other items kids are shoving into their backpacks has increased tremendously since a strap was all it took to get the books home from school for studying.

A backpack should not weigh more than 20 percent of the child’s total body weight or it may have damaging impact on his
or her body. It makes sense that overstuffed bags could lead to aching backs in today’s children, but there are other safety concerns as well, including:

  • Children carrying large packs are not aware of how much space they take up and can hit others with them when turning around or moving through the aisles of the school bus.
  • Large packs pose tripping hazards.
  • The packs can also fall on a small child, causing injury.
  • Carrying heavy packs can change the way a child walks, which can increase his or her risk of falling, especially on the stairs or other places where the pack sets the child off balance.

When shopping for school supplies this year, you can help keep your child’s back and body healthy by following these American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for backpacks:

  • Choose a lightweight pack with multiple compartments that help distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Find one with two wide, padded and adjustable shoulder straps; narrow straps can dig into the child’s shoulders. Make sure the backpack is not wider than your child’s shoulders and not taller than his or her shoulders when sitting.
  • Look for a pack with a padded back.
  • Encourage your child to use the attached waist belt, which helps distribute the weight more evenly across his or her body.

Rolling bags were popular a few years ago as parents sought to avoid the strains of heavy backpacks, but the AAP suggests you avoid them because they are difficult to pull up stairs or navigate through snow.

Planning and a few extra minutes can help, too. Encourage your child to:

  • Go to their locker more often during the day instead of carrying the day’s worth of books at once.
  • Leave unnecessary items at home or in their locker.
  • Bring home only the books needed for that night’s homework or studying.
  • Bend at the knees to pick up the pack and grab it with both hands to get it onto their shoulder.
  • Distribute the weight evenly among the bag’s compartments, keeping heavier items like text books closest to the center of the back or pack.