Correcting Posture in 12-year-old
August 17, 2008 5:56 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my 12-year-old daughter correct her posture? She’s fit, physically active, has decent self esteem…and perpetually rounded shoulders. When I remind her to stand tall, she temporarily straightens up, but then she’s slouched again soon after. At this point I’m concerned that her body doesn’t know what it’s supposed to feel like to stand straight, and that it will be even harder to correct later. I hate to be constantly nagging her, and it doesn’t seem to be working anyways. Suggestions?
posted by rsclark to Health & Fitness (49 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Talk to her pediatrician at her next checkup? They can rule out any possible physical causes and discuss posture problems and possible correctives with you and your daughter. That puts it into the realm of a conversation about overall health and takes the stress off both of you-- the doctor's office is a neutral ground, and the doc's a professional who takes this stuff in stride.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 6:04 PM on August 17, 2008

I did this at 12. My godmother started just walking up behind me and putting one finger in the back of my spine. She didn't have to say anything -- I would straighten up involuntarily, like she'd pushed a button. (And then scowl.)

I started paying attention to my posture a few years afterward, when I became constantly concerned about looking chubby (which hunching can produce) and about keeping the necklines of my shirts looking right. That's not ideal, but it did do the trick, with no nagging.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:07 PM on August 17, 2008

If you google "posture myths" or "posture facts" you'll find many sources telling you not to worry about this. The type of posture you want to encourage is a social construct and not a natural way for a human to stand.

She stands that way by default because it's a natural way to stand.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:07 PM on August 17, 2008 [5 favorites]

Anecdata: I dragged my feet when I walked constantly at around that age. I got nagged about it, with identical results to yours. Eventually (I think maybe a year?) I stopped. The end.
posted by jinjo at 6:08 PM on August 17, 2008

Best answer: The type of posture you want to encourage is a social construct and not a natural way for a human to stand.

Very true. And also why it's important to have the slouching corrected. I was a terrible sloucher and was nagged until I stopped. My mother used to say (and it worked): "Slouching is like turning up at a party where your friends all look gorgeous and you haven't washed your hair or bothered to change out of your pyjamas." As a teenage girl, this got the message across.
posted by meerkatty at 6:15 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I slouched when I was your daughter's age because I had begun to "develop" and was very self-conscious about it. Could that be the problem? If so, she'll probably get become more comfortable with her new body with time, and begin to stand up straighter.
posted by amro at 6:19 PM on August 17, 2008

Errr...not to derail, but this seems like a bit of an important thing to sort out.
chudmonkey suggests Googling "posture myths", and suggests that the articles you'll find tell you not to worry about posture, that "good posture" is a social construct.
Out of curiosity, I did some googling, and found the opposite was true...the articles I scanned indicated that slouching *is* bad...and isn't a natural way to stand.

So if the first couple hits on Google are to be believed, trying to correct posture is valuable. Which doesn't answer your question, but might clear up what appears to be some accidental mis-information on this page.
posted by Ziggurat at 6:21 PM on August 17, 2008

I'd be more concerned about sitting posture (more ergonomic variables at work like ill-fitted adult-sized furniture) than standing, because standing posture is sort of "free" with the body working only against gravity and feet, and the body usually ends up in some kind of equilibrium. But checking for other possible problems with a doctor isn't a bad idea either. Sports? Dance? Toastmasters? (Heh heh.) The social issues implied above are also something to think about.

Of course, let's not start talking about standing/walking posture with high-heeled shoes. There are few things as unnatural as that crap on the human skeletomuscular system.
posted by Ky at 6:21 PM on August 17, 2008

If you google "posture myths" or "posture facts" you'll find many sources telling you not to worry about this.

The first hit says the myth is that you don't need to be concerned about this. I think it is good that you are concerned. Yes, it should be easier to correct early on. She may not have the right muscles developed that would make it easier to keep the correct posture. A visit to a physical therapist might help assess the situation.

She stands that way by default because it's a natural way to stand.

"Natural" does not mean healthy. For example, humans naturally did not brush their teeth during evolution, but I hope you make your daughter brush hers too.
posted by grouse at 6:23 PM on August 17, 2008

This is kind of out there, but when I was 13 I went backpacking (honest-to-god 80-miles massive-backpack backpacking) for a couple of weeks and when I came back everyone thought I was taller and manlier due to the residual effect of being cruelly strapped to a frame and frog-marched for days and days. When put that way it sounds like something Donald Rumsfeld wouldn't even approve of, but you could see if she's interested in serious hiking. :)

This is clearly not in fact a long-term solution per se, but seriously, if she's doing anything remotely rigorous and awesome as a hobby then her posture will be just fine. Even if "just fine" is a bit round. Similar pursuits: canoeing/other boating, rock climbing, swimming, intramural sports, yoga, martial arts, skateboarding, carpentry, weightlifting, jazz dance...

...marching band...
posted by mindsound at 6:28 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Offhandedly show her a picture in which she's slouching. If she's bothered by the way she looks doing it, she'll stand up straighter on her own. (Works for me.)
posted by oneirodynia at 6:30 PM on August 17, 2008

The reason I didn't provide specific links has damned me, I suppose. Almost every viewpoint to be found on the 'net is sponsored somehow. I find it hard to evaluate the merits of a claim made by someone selling a book or a shoe insert or something. I guess I hope that rsclark will do a bit of research and draw a new conclusion with some new data.

Anyhow, I wasn't thinking along the lines of how a young lady's comportment might benefit her socially, so I suppose I missed the point. Perhaps someone with access to trust-worthy sources can tell us more about natural posture and motion versus the socially proscribed varieties.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:31 PM on August 17, 2008

Is she taller? She might be trying to minimize her height out of self-consciousness.
posted by Brian B. at 6:31 PM on August 17, 2008

Does your daughter's school have band class? Playing a brass or wind instrument requires good posture. It's also fun, social, teaches the value of hard work, and looks good on a college application. To this day, whenever I catch myself slouching at my desk, all I have to do is think of playing music, and my posture improves.
posted by Drop Daedalus at 6:43 PM on August 17, 2008

"Natural" does not mean healthy. For example, humans naturally did not brush their teeth during evolution

Humans didn't use toothbrushes "during evolution" (what a terrific phrase) because our teeth largely evolved under circumstances totally different that we face today: diets with less sugar and other enamel-damaging compounds & shorter life-spans that required less durability of teeth, among other factors. It's not a coincidence that the development of dental hygiene technology correlated with significant shifts away from agrarian lifestyles.

Another great example of somethings human lacked during evolution is shoes. Before shoes, we all walked around with our weight and balance predominantly on the balls of our feet. Now we all wear shoes, which necessitates the old "heal-toe" style of walking for those who don't their shoes to hurt, and virtually every adult develops back or hip problems.

Natural sorta does mean healthy when it come to the basic operation of an organism's body. We live in a world that contains much our evolutionary history did not prepare us for, and I'm not making any judegement calls about how we do or should treat our bodies in it, but if so-called "proper posture" was a naturally beneficial state, we would have to train healthy young people to adopt it.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:45 PM on August 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

er, we wouldn't have to train healthy young people to adopt it.
posted by chudmonkey at 6:47 PM on August 17, 2008

I studied ballet as a child and my teacher was very strict about not allowing us to slouch, sit on our hip, etc. If my mom had nagged me, especially in those early adolescent years of crazy hormones, I would've probably greeted the suggestion with seething indifference, but having someone else invested in me was a different story. Is there someone (relative, teacher, counselor) that she admires who could remind her how beautiful and capable and strong and mature vibe she projects when she keeps her back straight?

Seconding that if she's tall or developing a chest already, she may be self-conscious. Also, those school desks kinda promote slouching -- you can't comfortably sit up straight and write.

Just an aside for future benefits -- as an adult, people often feel that I am several inches taller and 10 pounds skinner than my real height/weight because I actually stand up straight.
posted by desuetude at 6:48 PM on August 17, 2008

Chudmonkey: Your argument refutes itself, the reason we sometimes have to correct our own posture is because our world contains things that our body did not naturally evolve to compensate for, such as sitting down six to eight hours a day while in school or at work. Unless a person is very strict about their posture, they will probably sit with their arms too far in front of them, stretching the back and tightening the chest, leading to slouched shoulders and a head forward posture. Computer use is notorious for this.
posted by Loto at 6:55 PM on August 17, 2008

If she's at all interested in yoga or ballet or an instrument, theater or singing in a choir, all those skills will foster good posture.
posted by jennyjenny at 6:56 PM on August 17, 2008

Track and Field, as well as Cross Country, will help with posture if she happens to be more interested in sports than the arts.
posted by Loto at 6:58 PM on August 17, 2008

this is hard. i have an inherited slouch-like thing that means there's a bump on the back of my neck and my head naturally sits more 'forward' than other people. i am sure there is probably a name for it but i've never found out. i was very self-conscious about it as a kid and still try to sit up straight and pull my shoulders back as often as i can. i worked part-time with an RMT once and while i'm sure there are other stretches, she taught me that lifting my shoulders up, back and then stretching them down 1, 2, 3 is quick, simple, and feels pretty good. the other thing that will help is regular exercise, as others have mentioned, or yoga.
posted by janepanic at 7:13 PM on August 17, 2008

Definitely yoga if she's into it -- it makes you very, very aware of your posture. WiiFit yoga is also good for this.
posted by pised at 7:27 PM on August 17, 2008

marching band, playing the flute in an ensemble, yoga, ballet, one of those back holsters made of nylon straps - I've done all of these things. After being a scolded sloucher at the age of 12, I did all of these things and get compliments on my posture from little old ladies almost ever day. I think one or two would suffice, however!
posted by Acer_saccharum at 7:56 PM on August 17, 2008

If she wants to change her posture, then you can do what my Grandmother did for us. Have her stand in the position she wants to learn. Then take some to that old skool pink hair tape and run that down her spine and across her shoulders. Whenever she slouches, the tape will give a light tug. She'll have instant feedback to correct her position.

janepanic - try googling "head forward posture" you'll get lots of great links. Surprisingly it's chest stretches that'll make a difference.
posted by 26.2 at 8:18 PM on August 17, 2008

I don't know. I was nagged my entire childhood about my posture. It just pissed me off. It wasn't until I was an adult that I cared. FWIW--it did hide my development, which is what I was trying to do during middle school and high school.
posted by 6:1 at 8:35 PM on August 17, 2008

Twelve is such an awkward age for most people and the posture may just be a reflection of that. However, I remember a friend telling me once as I was standing up very straight for a photo how pretty I looked. Maybe some positive reinforcement when you see her sitting straight would be appropriate. It may not catch on immediately but to this day I sometimes remember that comment as I'm slouching, and it's a nice reminder to straighten up.
posted by wundermint at 8:46 PM on August 17, 2008

I don't hunch when I'm walking, but I do hunch when I'm sitting or standing. I have a neck problem, and for me it's actually very uncomfortable to have my shoulders back unless it's part of a fluid movement. So, I agree with the above answers that say ask a doctor to rule out medical reasons for the slouch before you move on to more hardcore nagging.
posted by phunniemee at 9:03 PM on August 17, 2008

there's a bump on the back of my neck and my head naturally sits more 'forward' than other people. i am sure there is probably a name for it but i've never found out.

Excessive thoracic kyphosis is known as Dowager's Hump. Proper posture & exercise can reduce the size of the hump and associated pain.

My teenage daughter is also sloucher. With the nagging I've also explained that she looks tired, unwell, and lacking in confidence when she slouches. She tested this out looking at her reflection and agrees she looks much more attractive when she stands properly, she just can't get into the habit. I've been meaning to bring home some sports strapping tape from work and strap her shoulders.

I'm thinking of buying one of these devices to test out on her, but I think I'll try the tape first.

Pilates is excellent for retraining your posture. Most people have really poor proprioception and Pilates can improve proprioception while lengthening shortened muscles and strengthening weak muscles to rebalance the body. I'd guess she probably very likely to have a forward pelvic tilt also.
posted by goshling at 9:23 PM on August 17, 2008

If she's slouching, it's likely a structural issue from too much time sitting in that position. She may need shoulder and upper back strength and flexibility. Physical therapy would be excellent for her and not overkill. (IMHO.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:45 PM on August 17, 2008

("Remembering to stand up straight" doesn't work for many people because they're out of alignment. They don't balance on their spine--they have to use muscle power to maintain a good posture. Therefore, they always sink back into the slouch. Increasing strength(!) and flexibility are key in these cases.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:47 PM on August 17, 2008

The reason I suggest physical therapy is because feet, knees, hips, pelvis and lower back might all be the cause of the slouch. It may not be a shoulder issue at all. Let a professional sort it out. (Ok, no more posts, sorry.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:50 PM on August 17, 2008

Best answer: Like several people have said, don't minimize a 12-year-old's unconscious attempts to minimize breast obviousness, or height.

Also, I have noticed with my teen girls, that hours spent either sitting at the computer, handheld games or reading can result in less than upright posture. In those cases some light stretching, massage and/or a brisk walk can make them feel taller and more comfortable standing upright.

If it seems like she just can't stay up, with shoulders back, even with your positive intervention, she may have what a friend of ours has kyphosis. The girl in this case is in a brace and receiving physical therapy because for whatever reason, her muscles and spine are not allowing her to stand without a hump. Her case was more visibly abnormal than typical slouching, but it is real.

I have yet to find that nagging has anything more than a temporary influence. But, my now thirteen-year-old is now actively working on her own posture because she cares. That will have much more effect than my haranguing ever did. I also have slumpy shoulders, as do my mother and aunt. I try to work on my posture with my girls in a "we all can try more" kind of way.
posted by rintj at 10:13 PM on August 17, 2008

Yoga. The only thing that changed my posture ever. Hmm, maybe also swimming, but not necessarily in a good way.
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on August 17, 2008

I slouched until I was 27 and took up weightlifting. My parents told me not to slouch when I was a teenager, but I had better things to than fiddle around with something that felt so natural and normal to me. I was a good runner when I was 15 and still slouched. I think it was deadlifting that forced me to pay attention to spine position. Anyway, I don't think I suffer any ill effects from my 27 years of slouching.
posted by creasy boy at 11:09 PM on August 17, 2008

Horseback riding might be another option - I was constantly harangued for slouching during dressage and show-jumping lessons when I was 12 until it became second nature to sit up straight and be aware of my overall posture. Falling off a few hundred times going over jumps helped too - if you are slouching forward you'll most likely find yourself flying through the air over the horse's head.

It's safer than I've made it sound, but um, buy her a good helmet if you go down that road :)
posted by unbearablylight at 4:19 AM on August 18, 2008

Best answer: I'd say take her to a chiropractor. Slouching could be caused by the spine being mis-aligned. I'm not talking a deformity, but the spine has a natural curve (similar to the arch in a foot) that can, over time, lose its natural shape. A few adjustments at the chiropractor can do wonders.

And it's not all "cracking" and "pain." If you want a subtitle approach, call around and find one that uses the Thompson Technique. This approach is gentle and involves light tapping.
posted by thebreaks at 5:52 AM on August 18, 2008

I am a 36-year-old semi-recovered sloucher.

My dad, with whom I have a great relationship, has, in my adult life, told me he was sorry for bugging me about slouching as a kid -- that he knows now it made me feel bad and sad.

Of course, though I internalized the constant parental criticism, I never put forth any effort to correct it. As I got older, in better shape, braver, not ashamed to be super tall, I slowly stood up a little straighter. And even though I'm still slouchin', my life has turned out just fine.

Oh, and please don't take your daughter to a chiro - goodness! Any real doctor can check her spine for any abnormalities, but otherwise, I hope you'll let her off the hook for it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 6:58 AM on August 18, 2008

IANAD. I am male.

Check out what I wrote on posture for a previous askme question. In summary, good posture comes from back and core strength. Deadlifts, barbell rows, and pull-ups/chin-ups are the best exercises for this. But your daughter is only 12 years old, it seems to me like pushing any kind of corrective exercises on her may be poorly received. Also, if she is developing there is going to be extra weight on her chest, thus pulling her forward and down. This extra weight is something new that her back is not accustomed to supporting. Again, she is only 12 years old. So unless there is a very profound hump visible, I'd hold off on taking her to a doctor/chiro whatever.

As people above have stated, posture can be fixed/adjusted at any point in your life, within reason I guess. Really, posture is just a result of how your muscles are in a relaxed state, and muscles can be add/sculpted no matter how old you are. I had rounded/slouched shoulders for years because I rarely if ever did weightlifting for my back, instead focusing on the chest. This created a tremendous imbalance. After finally realizing my error, I added deadlifts, squats, barbell rows and pull-ups/chin-ups to my routine. All are great for your core and back. Within a few weeks my upper-back was straighter and my shoulders naturally stayed in a more aesthetic location.

What I'm saying is, let your daughter be. It's going to be hard for you to offer help without making her feel poorly about herself. But if you must nag, then you need to present it in a reasonable manner, you need proof of the advantages of good posture. Of which I can only think of two, better appearance and more efficient breathing. Actually better posture would equate to better running posture as well, so add more efficient running to the short list. Just saying 'stand up straighter,' isn't going to convince her of anything.
posted by trueluk at 7:40 AM on August 18, 2008

Please make sure you yourself are sitting and standing up straight. My mother nagged me ceaselessly about posture, and all I could notice was how she rarely sat or stood up straight herself, which didn't exactly incline me to listen to her.
posted by agregoli at 7:45 AM on August 18, 2008

Response by poster: I'm actually Ms. RSCLARK, borrowing my husband's account. I can't tell you how impressed I am with this community and all the caring, thoughtful responses! Our daughter is a swimmer, averaging about 8 hours a week in the water, and takes jazz dance. She's average height and is just developing but her bad posture and been around longer than her "boobs" so I don't think it's that. I do have an appointment scheduled with her pediatrician and suspect she has some scoliosis. I'm not sure I can mark a best answer at this point, but I really like the suggestion about the chiropractor and about the pink tape, though with the daily swimming, I don't know that that would realistically work for us. I have tried the light finger in the back, which works for about a second. My best idea right now is to show her this link. I'm interested to hear what she thinks is the best response. I'll let you know.
posted by rsclark at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2008

Wow, she's ok with her mom asking a public forum about her posture? I'm eager to hear what her response is too.
posted by agregoli at 8:19 AM on August 18, 2008

Wow. I was just going to show up and say that I remember being 12 (20 years ago) and for me having my parents criticize my appearance, after getting it all day every day from my classmates, would have just about done me in. If your daughter is comfortable with this, then good for you and her.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:51 AM on August 18, 2008

Response by poster: We have a great relationship and talk about all kinds of things. My husband actually joked to her, "you'd better straighten up your posture or your mom's going to post a question on Ask Metafilter." Since this is an anonymous forum, and it's highly unlikely any of her friends monitor it, I think she'll be okay about it, and actually be interested in the responses. We'll see... By the way, I don't have great posture which is why I'm so concerned for her - but looking at her posture reminds me to stand straight every time I see her rounded shoulders.
posted by rsclark at 9:08 AM on August 18, 2008

Ask your pediatrician for a referral to another health professional to help you deal with this. This might be a chiropractor but it is more likely to be a physical or occupational therapist. Even if you insist on a chiropractor, it would be better to go to one your pediatrician trusts rather than some guy out of the phone book (or worse, from TV).
posted by grouse at 9:34 AM on August 18, 2008

I'm a chronic sloucher myself, and one thing I noticed is that wearing moderate heels improves my posture greatly, without me even trying. I've been wearing flats lately and I feel very slumpy, but if I put on my heels, they turn my hips or something in a way that improves how I hold my shoulders.

Soo...not advocating stilettos or anything, but if she's the type of 12 year old girl who would get a kick out of getting to wear heels sometimes, it could be fun.
posted by redsparkler at 11:17 AM on August 18, 2008

Definitely get the scoliosis screening. My older daughter slumps and has scoliosis that wasn't detected until she was 15 and it was too late for corrective action. Chiropractor visits and T-back bras may also help.
posted by notashroom at 12:30 PM on August 18, 2008

I was a very shy girl when I was twelve. I looked at the floor constantly by tilting my head forward. The side effect was a bad posture.

Recently, at a trade show, I noticed how unattractive slouching was. I was standing all day and while I was viewing the profiles of passersby, it dawned on me that it didn't look cool to be like the models in stylish standing poses.
posted by ayc200 at 5:26 PM on August 18, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, my daughter read the post. She picked the pink tape on the back as the best answer. I asked her if she was upset I posted it and she said, no, she was happy for all the suggestions. We'll do the dr. appt. with the pediatrician, who happens to have a couple kids right around her age, and see what she says. BTW, she was purposefully sitting straighter at lunch today. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to post a reply.
posted by rsclark at 5:50 PM on August 18, 2008

I know this thread is most likely dead, but I wanted to add some peer reviewed evidence to the debate over weather slouching is good or bad:
This paper indicates that slouching can lead to lower back pain.
posted by nprigoda at 4:54 AM on August 20, 2008

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