Headphones and kids: What’s safe?
It seems every electronic device aimed at kids comes with headphones – the portable DVD player you use on long driving trips, the educational hand-held gaming unit they love and even the little iPod Shuffle you’ve loaded up with Wiggles songs.
Our tots are certainly wired for sound now but will they be wired to a hearing aid in the future because of the damage inflicted from the targeted noise directed through earphones?
A new study has just been released in the US claiming that one-in-five teens display some degree of hearing loss, and that number is increasing.
And while the authors of this study fall short of pointing the finger at MP3 players and the like, the report did cite a previous Australian study which indicated that a whopping 70% of children were at an increased risk of hearing loss due to the use of personal listening devices.
According to medical experts, this hearing loss starts well before children reach their teens because young children have shorter ear canals that are not fully developed so can suffer greater damage from loud music or toys. And no matter what age, the ear cannot tolerate loud music for long periods of time.
Before you start to panic, researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have determined that it’s relatively safe to listen to a portable music player with headphones – as long as the volume is set to no higher than 60% of its potential volume, and the listening duration is no longer than an hour.
How to keep kids’ ears safe
Here are some simple measures parents can take to protect their children’s ears and still allow them to use headphones.
- Ditch the “bud” style earphones: these fit so snugly in the ear that they don’t allow any noise to escape. Plus they allow music to be played louder without distortion. Replace with headphones which sit outside the ear.
- Do a sound test: If you can hear your child’s MP3 player from a metre away, it's too loud. Make sure they turn down the volume to prevent hearing damage.
- Set the volume: Many personal music players don't have volume control indicators so an easy way to set a safe listening level is to crank it up all the way, then wind back to halfway.
- Take "listening breaks": and don’t let them use their headphones for much more than an hour.
- Can you preset a limit? Most iPods enable you to set a maximum volume limit , and parents can assign this a “secret” combination to prevent the setting being changed.
- Use kid-safe headphones: There are a whole lot of these on the market which have lower than usual maximum volume levels, and also better fit little kids.
- Talk about safe headphone usage: Make sure your kids are aware of the dangers of listening to really loud music or the like for long periods of times and set limits in the same way you set limits on watching television or playing electronic games.
- How to protect your child’s eyes
- How safe are mobile phones for kids?
- Car safety for kids
- Car safety
Written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best family health resource. Sources include Medicine Plus, Science Daily and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Last revised: Sunday, 12 September 2010
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.