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Worried about your kids hunching over their phones? These 3 exercises can help

The jury's still out on whether cell phone use is the primary cause of "skull horns", but there's no doubt kids are spending more time hunched over their favorite devices.
Smiling friends using mobile phone while sitting at bus stop
Spending more free time over electronics rather than running around increases the amount of postural kyphosis, which is basically a hunch due to posture, which can cause back pain. Maskot / Getty Images/Maskot

Thanks to smartphones, I feel compelled to nag my kids about their sagging posture more often than my mom nagged me. And like most parents, I felt somewhat justified about my nagging when I read a recent article in “The Washington Post” that referenced a study published in “Scientific Reports” about how bone growths at the base of the neck (also known as “exostosis,” or “horns”) have been showing up in the x-rays of people aged 18 to 30 more often, attributing these “horns” to “text neck,” or a bent neck posture due to heavy handheld technology use.

A mild rebuttal, published in the “New York Times” eased my panic a little, because the experts they interviewed were skeptical that technology was the the only cause of these “horns.” They didn’t, however, deny how text neck can contribute to pain and postural issues in young people.

“Kids are definitely spending more time hunched over,” says Shevaun Mackie Doyle, MD, pediatric orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “It’s a pain generator. The combination of spending more free time over electronics rather than running around outside increases the amount of what we call postural kyphosis, which is basically a hunch due to posture, which can cause back pain.”

So, aside from relentless nagging, how can a parent encourage their kid — easily and feasibly — to stretch out and realign their posture in order to fend off some of this text neck and hunching? We asked Dr. Doyle, who had three moves to recommend:

1. Wall alignment breaks

After a long spell hunched over a desk or a bed doing homework (or just lazing about on their phones), Doyle says this minute-long move is an effective way to remind the spine to straighten out. Before beginning, Doyle says your kid should set their phone timer for a full minute, put the phone down and hold this posture until the full minute is up. “When switching homework subjects, your child can stand up straight, aligning their heels, tushy, shoulders and head against a wall, placing their arms up at an angle like a goalpost or a cactus (also against the wall). This move keeps the spine in kind of the opposite position of text neck,” says Doyle.

2. Assume the anatomical position (while walking)

Instead of ‘wexting’ all the time (walking and texting) on the way to school, Doyle recommends asking your kid to spend a few minutes walking with their palms facing forward (also known as the anatomical position), fixing their gaze on a point that’s a little higher on the horizon than they are. “This posture forces them to put their scapulae (shoulder blades) back, strengthening the back and the pectoralis (chest muscles) area in the front,” she says.

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3. Backward shoulder rolls

Doyle says this move is good for when you see your kid hunching in a chair, or in the car. Ask them to fix their gaze straight out in front of them, extending their neck a little bit. Have them try to pull their shoulders to their ears into a full shrug, extending their shoulder blades toward each other. Then, slowly release the pose, rolling the shoulders down backward. Repeat five or ten times.

Now all we have to do is convince our kids to give these moves a try. Perhaps my first step would be to lead by example.

Don't miss: 4 exercises to combat text neck


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