Back(pack) to the Future

Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter’s backpack is insanely heavy. I’ve mentioned this to her teachers and they say that textbooks aren’t used much at school and that students shouldn’t have to bring them in every day. But because my daughter spends half her time with me, and the other half with her mother, she’s worried that she’ll leave a book at the wrong house and won’t be able to do her homework. I get that, but I’m really worried that she’ll hurt herself. She doesn’t want a wheely backpack (says it’s not cool). How should we handle this?

A: You’re absolutely right to be worried about your daughter’s backpack. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are about 14,000 backpack-related injuries every year, 5,000 of which are bad enough to land the child in the emergency room. Most of those injuries involve muscles and the skeleton. But a study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering found that heavy backpacks can also cause short- and long-term nerve damage by pressing on the nerves that go through the head, neck, and shoulders.
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Hit me, school principal, one more time…

When I was in elementary school, I was not the easiest of kids. I had (and still do have) some serious authority problems, interrupted my teachers, was rude and disrespectful. And that was on my good days. On my less-than-good days I was throwing paper airplanes (that I’d specially modified with a pin sticking out of the nose). All of that made me a regular fixture in Mr. Tague’s office. And it always seemed to me that when he saw me coming, Mr. Tague, the principal, got a gleam in his eye. And why not? He was about to paddle my butt with a large wooden racquet of some kind. (Where did anyone come up with the “the principal is your pal” as a way to remember how to spell principal?)

I used to tell my kids about my butt paddling experiences—partly to impress them with how difficult my childhood had been, partly to emphasize how lucky they were not to be living in more barbaric times. So you can imagine how shocked I was when I read that spanking by school administrators is still allowed by law in 19 states. In Georgia alone, more than 28,000 students were spanked (usually with a Tague-like paddle)

It’s against the law for prison guards to hit prisoners unless it’s in self-defense. And it’s against regulations for a drill instructor to hit a recruit in boot camp. So why on earth is it okay for some school principal or teacher to smack our kids around?

Personally, I’m against spanking (no sense rehashing the whole spanking debate here—another example of a topic where it’s nearly impossible to change anyone’s mind). But I can imagine that even if I thought it was okay, I wouldn’t want someone else deciding how, when, what for, and how long to hit my child.

According to the Center for Effective Discipline, here are the states that allow corporal punishment in schools: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming. If you’re in one of those states, please write your congressperson or senator and ask them to help drag your state out of the dark ages.