Weighty issue of hefty schoolbag

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on July 21, 2013

I have known for the longest time that the heavy schoolbag is a regular bugbear among some parents.

But somehow the issue did not seem real until one day I had to lug home my older daughter's schoolbag for her when she had to stay behind in school for a co-curricular activity (CCA). It felt like there was a ton of bricks in her bag.

When I complained to my wife upon reaching home, she gave me a I-told-you-so look.

She said with some asperity: "That's what I've been saying all along. On the days when she has to stay behind for CCAs, my shoulder hurts carrying her bag home."

Like I said earlier, it's not as if the issue came out of the blue.

Heavy schoolbags have been a perennial issue since Yanrong was in Primary 3 when a classmate's mother proactively sought out the school principal in an attempt to lighten the children's load.

The principal was accommodating and agreed to allow pupils access to school lockers. I thought it was a neat way to address the problem.

But as the saying goes, there is nothing like walking a mile in someone's shoes to understand that this was an issue that has not only not gone away but has also grown to become, well, weightier.

Although the distance from carpark to house was hardly a mile, the heft of that schoolbag on my back was undeniable.

Suitably mortified, I kicked into action and dropped the bag on the bathroom scale.

I was aghast at seeing the needle stop at 7.5kg.

That is equivalent to 11/2 bags of rice, I calculated, trying to recall the strain I felt the last time I carried that much rice home from the supermarket.

To have that amount of weight resting on the tender shoulders of an 11-year-old girl is surely too much. Moreover, she has to climb stairs with her bag as her classroom is five floors up from the school driveway where her schoolbus drops her off.

"Yanrong should either carry fewer books to school or store them in a locker," I said to my wife.

That sounded like a no-brainer but reality was altogether a different proposition.

When Yanrong got home, I attempted a systematic approach to try to get her to carry fewer books in her bag. Except that most of what I wanted to remove was met with fierce resistance.

"No, I need this in school," said Yanrong, stopping me from taking out a textbook.

"What about these loose notes? Surely you don't need them anymore," I ventured.

"Okay, fine," she conceded, before adding, "but only these. I will need the others in school."

When we were done, there was no discernible difference in the weight of her bag.

"What if we get you a roller bag?"

"What's the point? I still have to carry the bag up the stairs."

She was right. A roller bag will only add to the weight, on account of the pair of wheels plus a more solid base on which they sit.

School lockers were also dismissed as impractical.

First, they are not located inside or near her classroom. Accessing them during school hours is problematic as lessons run back-to-back, save for a 30-minute recess break.

Second, primary school pupils are less adept at managing their belongings. Yanrong is pretty disorganised and I fear she will have a hard time keeping track of her books and notes if she were to leave them in her locker.

In the end, we settled on a less-than-satisfactory solution. These days, she carries a cloth bag in hand to lighten the load in her backpack.

I am not sure if this helps.

Worryingly, following a health screening in school last week, Yanrong was issued with a referral letter to see a specialist to do a thorough check for scoliosis, a condition caused by a curvature of the spine.

It seems her right shoulder blade bulges more than the other.

Studies have shown that scoliosis mostly affects teenage girls. About 1.4 per cent of girls aged 11 and 12 have scoliosis, compared with 0.2 per cent of boys in the same age group.

There are no conclusive studies that link heavy schoolbags to scoliosis but I can't help but wonder if my previous lackadaisical attitude contributed to Yanrong's present condition.

Now all I can do is hope that she isn't afflicted with scoliosis. Or if she is, it can be corrected without surgery.

Is your child struggling with a heavy schoolbag? E-mail

This story was first published in The Sunday Times on July 21, 2013

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