As audiologists, we know that noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) is on the rise, especially in the younger population. Parents have some control over their children’s headphone use at home, but what about the headphones kids use at school?
The use of digital media in schools is on the rise; the questions to be asked are how loud are they? Are kids listening to sound that is too loud for too long?
Butterworth and Dragan of the New York Times purchased headphones from several companies who sell directly to educational institutions. Of dozens of models, only a few were advertised as volume-limited headphones. The authors tested the maximum volume of eight different headphones that are sold to schools, and the results were surprising.
Using the guideline of 85 dBA for no longer than an hour per day, results revealed that ALL of the school headphones produced much louder sound than 85 dBA. In fact, three of the tested school headphone pairs could top 100 decibels, a level that can damage hearing in just 15 minutes.
The authors, then, contacted dozens of parents across the country with kids in grades kindergarten to high school, as well as children who regularly used headphones at school. Most reported that the headphones at school were used less than twice a week. Thus, assuming these reports are correct, non-volume limited headphones likely pose little risk for most students.
Butterworth and Dragan conclude, however, that it’s better to be safe than sorry. They recommend parents speak with their children and/or the teacher about how much headphone use occurs during the school day. They also recommend parents provide their children with volume limiting headphones and talking to the school about setting volume limits on school devices. Parents also may engage with the parent teacher association (PTA) or school board to encourage those with the purchasing power to order headphones with volume limits.
As a final reminder, kids who use headphones on the bus, during sports practice or at home after school are far more at risk than kids who use non-volume limited headphones for only 30 minutes a day at school. Parents will need to teach their children healthy listening habits.
Butterworth B, Dragan L. (2022) We tested Headphones for schoolkids. Some were worryingly loud. Wirecutter: The NY Times. Retrieved April 1.
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