They Broke The Kids: Revisiting Posture for Our Teenage Students

Weekly Teaching Tip – April 10, 2017
by Earl Harville

Stiff lower backs. Sore shoulders. Aching knees. Sounds like the complaints of middle aged adults, right? Well maybe, but these are the things I am hearing from my teen clients on a regular basis nowadays. Seems crazy, but it is a very real phenomenon with the high school and even middle school students that we see every week in our studios in Northwest Indiana.

A large contributor to the problem is poor posture caused by the enormous amount of weight these kids are carrying on their backs daily. Many of them are highly driven students enrolled in AP and honors classes. Though most of the local school districts have adopted laptops, many of their teachers choose to continue to use the very large textbooks that they have long loved. Most also have large 3-ring binders for these courses. The young singers are then carrying a laptop, multiple notebooks, and thick hardback books throughout their school day. I have had several of them to estimate that they are schlepping 45 to 50 pounds in their backpacks. No wonder they are leaning forward like my almost 80 year old mom!

We also have to contend with the “text neck” issue. Many of the teenagers are also constantly curved forward because of the near constant use of mobile electronic devices (Ok, I’m guilty of that as well- don’t judge). Their shoulders are staying sloped over for long periods of time. I read recently that this poor alignment adds quite a bit of extra pressure to the neck and shoulders – for every so many degrees that they are out of line, an extra 10 pounds is added. So some of the kids add 20 to 30 pounds to bearing load of the neck. Yikes!!

For these reasons, I am having to do more posture work than I had been doing for quite some time. It is remarkable how completely foreign good posture looks and feels to so many of these young clients. Here are some of the strategies I have been using most recently:

1) I have the students stand with their back against the wall. I have them press their shoulder blades back and together until they can feel the wall. I then direct them to step away from the wall and relax the shoulders. For many, this allows them to experience a drastically different feeling. They often crack up laughing when I tell them that is what they’ve been missing in their lives.

2) The rag doll has also proven really helpful for these tensed up singers. With knees bent, they slowly roll down, letting the arms and head dangle for a few seconds. They slowly roll back up, one vertebrae at a time, until they arrive back at their initial position. I point out that now the shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles should be a natural alignment. Again, they feel the difference immediately. It’s also great because it stretches out the lower back.

3) I now have a full length mirror in my studio at HGS Music and it come in handy when working on posture as well as for checking facial tension, tongue tension, shoulder heaving, etc. The immediate feedback is priceless. Once again, the students respond in utter amazement at what they look like when standing (or sitting) with good posture.

4) I tell students to think of themselves as puppets with strings attached to the sternum. A puppet master is standing above them, pulling on the strings until to have they have a comfortably high rib cage. This usually gets them into a good standing or sitting posture. I can give a hand signal of the strings being pulled on to remind them to get back in alignment.

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