From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Kids Need Pint-Sized Computers

More than privacy or convenience, kids might need their own computer because Mom and Dad’s isn’t the right size for them said Professor Peter Buckle of the Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surrey, UK in a recent BBC article. “The current picture, of children working in systems that appear to affect their current and future health, is a disturbing one,” Buckle said.

The equipment problems arise because, while children are regularly using computers at home and school, the computers are sized for adults. Unfortunately that’s not a right fit for children and, according to Buckle, that leaves the kids at risk for painful and permanent injuries.

“Most parents wouldn’t, for example, have an eight-year-old using a full size cricket bat or an adult bicycle but seem unaware of the possible dangers of children sitting for long periods unsupported, with necks twisted and wrists over extended,” said Buckle during the British Association’s science festival in Leicester. And while measures might be taken to minimize the impact of computer usage on adults, according to Buckle, those same principals are rarely applied to children. Buckle’s own research found that 36 percent of 11- to 14-year-olds suffer some sort of ongoing back pain. “Worryingly, evidence is starting to show that, for some health problems, we may be leaving it too late before we start helping,” said Buckle.

According to Buckle, the long-term implications are already starting to rear their heads in studies that have shown children with back pain are more likely to suffer back pain as adults. “In other words, the workforce of tomorrow is already damaged before starting the rigours of an adult working life,” Buckle said. Buckle recommended designing more user-friendly computer equipment for children.

While occasional attempts have been made to market computers in the U.S. to children, most kids’ computers are decorated adult models like Gateway’s former Rugrats and Blues Clues computers — built around Gateway’s Astro model, a one-piece Mac-esque computer, with stickers and cartoon-character software. Toy manufacturer Mattel sold Barbie and Hot Wheels computers as well — products featuring brightly-colored decorative cases designed to appeal to children visually. In both the Gateway and Mattel instances, the products were adult-sized computers with special software and exterior decorations.

To date, a few specialty manufacturers sell pint-sized peripherals like kid keyboards and miniature mice easily grasped by small hands. Additionally, adjustable chairs, smaller desks and footrests are also available.

–BBC News World Edition Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 10:14 GMT 11:14