Earbuds, Headphones & Kids: How Loud is Too Loud?
It comes at no surprise that the kids of today use headphones and earbuds more frequently than their parents or even older millennials did at their age. According to a new study titled Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives, the average age a child gets a smart phone is only 10.3 – compared to about 12.5 years in 2009. (https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/19/the-average-age-for-a-child-getting-their-first-smartphone-is-now-10-3-years/) Along with cell phones, comes unlimited access to loud music, noisy videos, and blaring mobile games. Children are even exposed at school, with a concerted focus on increasing technology use and proficiency in education.
Center for Disease Control (CDC) data estimates that 12.9% of kids aged 6-19 suffer from noise induced hearing loss. According to the World Health Organization, about 1 billion teens and children worldwide are at risk of hearing loss due to excess noise exposure through the use of earbuds and other personal listening devices. (Source: CDC.gov)
Fact of the matter is this: kids are using headphones and earbuds more often than you did – and their hearing health is paying for it.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
When discussing noise induced hearing loss and appropriate sound volumes, it’s important to start by understanding how we hear. When sound waves enter our ears, they travel through the canal until they reach the eardrum. The eardrum then sends vibrations through the middle ear and into the inner ear. The inner ear has a spiral shaped cochlea full of delicate hair cells. These hair cells turn the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain to be processed into sounds we recognize and understand – and thusly, hear.
With continuous exposure (or even a one-time exposure) to loud noises, these delicate hair cells become damaged. Once these delicate cells are damaged, there is no opportunity for repair or regrowth. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
Because earbuds are nestled directly against eardrums – their potential for damage is intensified.
Come on, these devices aren’t that loud, are they?
It is recommended that adults with fully developed ears should only be exposed to sounds at 85 decibels (or 85dBA) for an 8-hour stretch. 85 dBA is about as loud as a garbage disposal or a dishwasher. It’s also the decibel level that Apple headphones put out when at only 70% volume. When on full blast, Apple earbuds pump out noise at a whopping 102 decibels. 102 dBA is about the same volume as a jackhammer on a demolition site. This exposure is only safe for adult ears for 10 minutes per day. Imagine what this is doing to our children listening to it for multiple hours per day?
According to an report from CBS News, “When it comes to loud sound, the general rule of thumb is the greater the volume, the shorter the acceptable duration” (CBSNews.com).
What We Can Do to Protect Our Kids’ Ears
Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher or a child yourself you can help in decreasing the risk of hearing loss among our youngest generation. Take these steps to help kids understand the importance of hearing protection.
- Encourage Awareness. If you have a family member with hearing loss, ask them to talk to your child or teen about life with hearing loss, and the importance of hearing protection early in life. There are also programs that can come to schools such as the Dangerous Decibels Program – aimed at teaching youngsters the dangers of excess noise exposure. (https://dangerousdecibels.org/)
- Teach the 60/60 Rule. The 60/60 rule is as follows: listen to music through earbuds at 60% volume for up to 60 minutes per day. This helps to give your ears a break from constant sounds, as well as ensure that the music you do hear, is not at a volume that will damage your child’s ears.
- Monitor decibels of mobile devices. There are multiple ways parents can monitor their child’s activity on their mobile devices or tablets. Did you know that there are also apps which can be downloaded that track noise exposure on devices? This way, you can monitor your child’s decibel exposure, and even award rewards or consequences for more or less exposure.
- Swap the earbuds for headphones. Although headphones pump the same volume of noise into your child’s ears, the distance from the eardrums can help to protect your child’s hearing. Be careful to still follow the other steps listed here, as noise induced hearing loss occurs in headphones as well as earbuds.