A Guide to Safe Listening for your Children: Headphones and Hearing

boy wearing headphones listening to loud music

A Guide to Safe Listening for your Children: Headphones and Hearing

Children are beginning to wear headphones at younger and younger ages. Brands of headphones are even claiming to be “safe for young ears.” The devices with this claim limit the volume at which sound can be played. Parents rely on these headphones to prevent their children from blasting the newest hit song into their ear drums at a level that could be damaging or possibly lead to hearing loss.

A new analysis by The Wirecutter, a product recommendations website owned by The New York Times Company, has found that half of 30 sets of children’s headphones tested did not restrict volume to the promised limit. This is definitely not “music to our ears!”

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 50 percent of teenagers and young adults are exposed to unsafe noise levels from smartphones. One in five teens today have some form of hearing loss.

You, as parents, should be aware of the risks and precautions to take when your child is using headphones. Headphone hearing loss (or nose-induced hearing loss) is entirely preventable. Below are a few ways to avoid hearing damage from headphones.

Keep it to an 85 decibel listening volume

Listening at high volumes for long periods of time takes a toll on hearing. Listening to sounds above 85 decibels for more than 8 hours can lead to hearing loss. 85 dB is the key number, but today’s smartphones can blast sound up to 120 dB. At 120 dB or more, hearing damage occurs almost immediately.

For reference, here are decibel measurements of some common sounds:

  • Whisper: 30 dB
  • Normal conversation: 60 dB
  • Heavy traffic: 85 dB
  • Lawn mower: 90 dB
  • Power drill: 130 dB

Balance is key when wearing headphones. The louder the volume, the less time you should be listening. Experts recommend sticking to a 60/60 rule: listen at 60 percent of the max volume for no more than 60 minutes per day.

More tips for safe listening with headphones:

  1. Follow the 60/60 rule.
  2. Take listening breaks to allow the hair cells in the inner ear to rest.
  3. If you are an arm’s length away from your child while they are listening and they cannot hear you, the noise level is unsafe and potentially damaging.
  4. Be mindful of the environment you are in when your child is wearing headphones. Avoid wearing them in noisy places because it is common to crank up the volume to an unsafe level to block out the surrounding noise.

Another thing to consider about headphone safety is keeping them clean. Noise is not the only risk. Dirty headphones and earbuds can increase the possibility of an ear infection. Use a soft, dry toothbrush to gently dislodge clogged dirt or earwax. Finish cleaning them by dampening a cloth with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer and wipe down.

If you are finding it difficult to get your child to turn down the music, there may be an underlying sensory issue or possible hearing loss. Our Occupational or Speech Therapists may be able to help rule out these concerns or address these issues. Request an appointment using our  simple online form.
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