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Headphones for Kids: Which Are the Safest?

With mobile devices becoming more and more commonplace, it won't be long before your toddler will have a need for their very own pair of headphones. When the time comes, you'll need to make the right choice. But finding the best pair of headphones for kids, especially ones that won't damage their ears, requires care and research. Many companies that advertise their headphones as being safe for children actually don't have the decibel-limiting factors they claim, so it's important to be well-informed.

The Prevalence of Hearing Loss in Kids

Hearing loss is a big problem for children, and it could potentially be an even bigger issue as mobile devices become more commonplace. ABC News reported that one in five teens suffers from some type of hearing loss, and some of these cases are caused by listening to headphones at full volume. The news outlet also reported that a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimated that about 5.2 million children (12 percent being between the ages of 6 and 19) suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. This causes them to have trouble deciphering certain words or understanding what their teachers are saying.

Causes of Hearing Loss

Noise-induced hearing loss is caused when nerve cells in the ear, called hair cells, are damaged. Loud noise, such as a couple hours of loud headphone music or a few minutes next to speakers at a concert, can temporarily damage the hairs. But chronic exposure that occurs again and again is cumulative and can lead to permanent damage.

According to a National Institutes of Health public education program, anyone exposed to noise at 85 decibels or higher for long periods of time is at risk for hearing loss. Mobile devices can have a maximum volume that is far above safety levels at 105 decibels, and the World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that listening to headphones at 95 percent of a device's maximum level for even five minutes can contribute to hearing damage. Other sounds can also contribute to a cumulative effect; for example, firecrackers can reach 150 decibels, and a power lawn mower can reach 90 decibels.

The Best Headphones for Kids

The Wirecutter did an in-depth study of headphones designed for children, and they consulted with experts at the WHO, CDC, and National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) to determine which pairs are the safest. Unfortunately, nearly half of kids' headphones that claim to limit volume to 85 decibels can actually be pushed beyond that limit. Using caution when choosing your child's headphones is definitely warranted.

The Wirecutter recommends the Puro BT2200 because the pair keeps volume at a safe level and kids enjoy wearing them. These wireless headphones connect via Bluetooth, have a long battery life, come in fun colors, and are comfortable. You should take care when using a cord with the headphones, however, because incorrect use can cause volume issues. The Wirecutter also recommends the Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore for kids ages 2 to 4 and the JLab JBuddies Studio for kids ages 5 to 11.

If you want to protect your child's hearing as much as possible, investing in a safer pair of headphones is a great first step. You can also lower the volume on devices like your television and encourage your children to sit farther away from speakers. If you're worried about hearing loss, take your child to the doctor to have them evaluated.

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