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Wired for Pain: Kids Becoming Computer Casualties

A parent's biggest worry used to be what their children were doing on the computer. Now, an even bigger worry may be how they're doing it.

"My neck starts to get sore and my back can ache and my eyes sting a little bit," says student Ariel Gold.

The newest computer casualties, reports CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan, are the young, tech-savvy kids who are beginning to complain just like adults.

"Sometimes my wrists hurt," says Ryan Ferguson. "Usually, just my back starts to hurt," adds Donny Hakim. "My neck starts to hurt and my eyes kinda go blurry after a while," says Veronica Schott.

Some 30 million elementary school kids are using computers these days, for everything from doing homework to sending email to friends. The aches and pains they're complaining about are usually the result of poor body position.

Karen Jacobs is an occupational therapist and professor at Boston University. This week she released the results of a 5-year ergonomic study, showing that kids need not only better workstations, but also better computer habits.

More than half of the sixth graders she surveyed reported pain--35 % in their necks and 20 % in their backs, along with aches in their shoulders, wrists, and elbows.

Without any ergonomic guidelines for kids, Jacobs says, those numbers will continue to grow. "It's not going away and if we don't do something, the potential for it to be an epidemic, I think, is there," she says.

There aren't enough studies to know exactly what the long-term impact of poor computer habits will be on kids. Most health experts, however, agree on one thing: If there are painful side effects for kids as early as elementary school, it's likely to only get worse by the time they get to college.

Dr. David Diamond has seen computer-related injuries in students--at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example--jump 20 % a year.

"Habits that they learn in grammar school and high school will carry forward into college--good and bad," he says.

This leaves one more consideration for parents: While computers are undoubtedly healthy for the mind, they may not always be healthy for the body--young or old.

The jury is still out on whether specific exercises really help, but here are some that are widely recommended:

  • Squeeze a foam resistance ball 15-20 times, rest, and then repeat.
  • Make a fist and rotate your hand in one direction 15 times, then repeat going the other direction. Repeat, this time with your fingers extended
  • Make a fist, extend your fingers as far apart as possible, hold for 10 seconds, and relax. Repeat five to ten times.

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