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Children at computers

More ergonomics for children research  |  About the book


Ergonomics for children:  products & places for toddlers to teens  (the book)

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Should children use computers like adults?

Rani Lueder, CPE

Do ergonomic guidelines for adults at computers apply to children?

Children need to move, but for different reasons than adults. They grow and develop while adults undergo degenerative processes.

As a result, ergonomic considerations for children can diverge considerably from adults, particularly regarding vision and the cervical spine.

Some of these include:

1. Ergonomic considerations change as children age.

Young children’s spines differ from older children. Bones are soft (particularly at the growth plates) and the relationship between child bones and muscles changes over time.

From one vantage point, one might conceptually group children as infants, 3 to 8 years, 9 to early adolescence and early, middle and late adolescence.

Some vertebrae tend to be more wedge-shaped until around their 7th or 8th year, when they begin to differentiate and square off. They don’t have lumbar curves.

Before adolescence, about one out of five cervical spines is kyphotic; unlike adults, this is considered normal. The growth plates at the ends of bones are very soft and vulnerable – awkward postures can be more hazardous than with adults.

child ergonomics, ergonomics for children, children & carpal tunnel
©Ursy Potter Photography
With permission.

Periods after adolescent growth spurts are especially important. In early adolescence; the growth plates are often in overdrive, growing bones and spine much longer without substantially adding mass. In mid-adolescence, children’s spines increase in volume without a corresponding increase in mass. In late adolescence, child spines play catch-up by increasing in mass as growth slows.

Such high growth periods deserves particular concern. Bones and spine are weak and vulnerable; tendons, ligaments and muscles are still developing.

2.   Don’t assume that design principles for adults readily translate to children.

We all need foot support, but this does not mean children require the same viewing angles and distances. More on this. Children under eight have more neck motion because ligaments are more lax, muscles are weaker, the orientations of the shallow facet joints and cartilage is not has not ossified***.

Injuries of the spinal cord tend to occur at different sites on the spine than with adults. Unlike adults, children’s spines (inter-vertebral discs) can actively "feed" and eliminate waste.

3.   Distinguish between movements at different ages.

Postural support and freedom of movement often conflict. Further, these tradeoffs vary at different ages. Let’s not lump all movements together. Two decades ago, Olov Ostberg wrote the widely cited phrase "the best posture is the new one"*** in order to question the emphasis at the time on supporting fixed postures. His partial truth has since become a mantra that obscures the importance of distinguishing between postures and movements.

Please... Do you really believe that movement solves all problems? Aren’t we ready to take the next step and try to make sense of what kinds of postures we want to support? Take a look at gardeners... they move a great deal yet are more prone to back injuries than sedentary couch potatoes.

Movement is not the only answer. We need to shift our focus to means to design and use "adaptable" products and environments that encourage a range of age-appropriate postures and movements.

So, let’s shed our common assumptions about children and ergonomics. Research indicates that many children experience high back and neck discomfort rates that some researchers compare to those of adults. Research suggests that their visual environments may expose them to long-term risk. Yet children’s needs differ from adults and change over time as they develop and evolve. The decisions we make have long-term implications.

*** See for example Dormans (2002) Evaluation of children with suspected cervical spine injury. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. 84-A1, p124-132.

Rani Lueder, CPE is president of Humanics Ergonomics Inc., an ergonomics consulting firm in Austin, Texas specializing in workplace ergonomics, product design research and evaluation for able, disabled and children as well as user-friendly design of cyber-technologies.  Her second edited book, on sitting postures (Taylor & Francis), is sold worldwide.  She edited the newly published book Ergonomics for Children.

Download article as a pdf file  |  Are children just "little adults"?

More ergonomics research on designing child products and spaces

Ergonomics for children workshop, ErgoExpo  |  Slide show
The National Ergonomics Conference & Exposition

Ergonomics for Children (new book) (TOC)

Children and adult handwriting by Cindy Burt, OTR


More ergonomics for children  |  Child Ergonomics (ErgoExpo)

Ergonomics for children:  products & places for toddlers to teens  (2008)

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