Tech In A Pinch: Kids' Headphones
The feel of fall is in the air, just that little touch of coolness that says it's nearly time to go back to school. Our oldest is entering kindergarten, which means we're doing extra research before buying. This is a good thing for you, as my husband is the ultimate tech guy in my world. He's the guy that researches the heck out of an item before buying it. Below is his research on kids' headphones.
Kids Volume Limiting Headphones
A seemingly innocent item appeared on our ‘School Supplies' list: headphones/earplugs. I say “innocent” because, as parents, not only have we been popping in those little white earbuds for over a decade, but we can probably remember back to those Sony Walkman headphones of our youth. It's to the point that we just don't think about them. They are ubiquitous, tangled commodities of time. Any old pair of earbuds sitting in a drawer should fill the school supply need, right?
Two major points: 1. Children need to use volume limiting headphones to protect their hearing and 2. Headphones are preferable to earplugs as you don't need to put them into the ear.
Loud noises and children
As adults, we are quick to respond to loud noises, and cover our ears or turn down the volume on our mobile device, computer or TV. Adults know about the long-term effects of being subjected to loud noises. Children, however, do not have this understanding, and they might not be quick to react properly when subjected a loud audio source.
According to an American Academy of Pediatrics publication, “One in six adolescents has high-frequency hearing loss.” The study further points out that, “This type of hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud noises, such as music played through headphones.” It is important to understand that the amount of harm caused by noise depends not only on how loud it is (decibel level) but also on how long the exposure lasts. The louder the noise, the less time we can safely listen to it. Even seemingly safe sound levels can, given prolonged listening, cause damage.
Educating children to keep the volume low (60% of the maximum volume is a good rule-of-thumb) on their electric devices is a great place to start, but the reality is that we've all experienced situations where sound levels can vary quite widely from one moment to the next. One minute, we could be listening to a person speaking in a normal voice (and perhaps have turned the volume louder to compensate), and the next minute they might begin playing a loud instrument. This is where technology can help.
There are many noise-limiting kids headphones on the market. Helpfully, the New York Times' Wirecutter blog rounded up a number of models for a review earlier this year. The Snug Play+ Kids Volume Limiting Headphones that we selected was not included in the Wirecutter list, but in our own subjective testing, it did seem to limit the volume somewhat and appears to be quite well-built. And the cost of $18.95 was great!
In terms of selecting between headphones and earbuds, we went with the headphones for a few reasons. First, we've always instructed our children to keep object out of their ear canals, and earbuds would encourage the opposite. Second, earbuds often have soft tips which conform to the shape of the opening to the ear canal. That creates a tighter seal which keeps the sound waves/pressure waves contained and unable to dissipate easily. Third, earbuds place the actual sound source (the speaker or driver unit) closer to the eardrum. Finally, if your child wants to share what they are listening to with a teacher or fellow student, it seems more hygienic to share a headphone as compared to an earbud.
One last note: These headphones and earbuds should always be treated like an airbag in a car. They are intended only as supplemental protection. Just as seatbelts must always be worn, the volume of our electronic devices should never be turned all the way up when using headphones or earbuds, even if they are noise-limiting.