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These 'Child-Safe' Devices Can Actually Cause Hearing Loss in Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

If you've been lured by those kids' headphone ads promising to limit volume and protect young ears, you're not alone. Surely they wouldn't print it on the packaging if it wasn't true, right? WRONG.

The product recommendations site The Wirecutter tested 30 of these supposedly kid-safe products and found that they actually did not restrict the volume as promised.

Some of them were so bad, the reviewers consider them hazardous within minutes of use. Half of all 8- to 12-year-olds and two-thirds of teenagers use them, warned Common Sense Media. When turned all the way up, most of their devices can have sound that is 97 to 107 decibels, according to a 2011 study.

Exposure to 100 decibels (the sound of a riding lawn mower) should be limited to 15 minutes. When the decibel rises to 108, the time should be less than three minutes. As a general rule, the louder the sound, the shorter period of time you should have them on. But how many kids will self-monitor use and take them off? Few that I know.

Ideally, children's headphones should not allow for more than 85 decibels, but half of the ones tested easily exceeded that. One even went up to a staggering 114. The Wirecutter ultimately recommend going with models that both limit the decibel level and provide noise canceling, like Etymotic ETY Kids 3 ($49) and Puro IEM200 ($29.99).

Still, parents can't rely on technology alone to keep kids' ears safe. Instead, experts say follow these simple rules:

  • Keep the volume at 60 percent.
  • Have your child take breaks every hour because continuous listening can cause damage.
  • If your kid is arm's length away, he or she should still be able to hear you.

Though, experts admit that those rules may not be enough. A 2010 study revealed that hearing loss among adolescents had increased to 19.5 percent in 2005 from 14.9 percent back in 1988. But the cause wasn't just loud noise. Low- frequency problems like ear infections and even earwax had an impact.

And parents of boys have more reason to fret. Boys have historically had more hearing loss because they are more likely to engage in loud activities. Girls, however, are catching up. All children are exposed to lawn mowers, concerts, firearms, sirens and sporting events that can be damaging these days.

So what's a parent to do? Don't make the problem worse by allowing kids to crank up the music or even while watching a movie on a device. Make sure you or they limit the volume. Easier said than done, I know. But the future of your child's hearing may depend on it.

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