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Ear buds and headphones: Safe listening tips for kids and teens

There’s a big push to pay attention to how much “screen time” kids have these days, with electronic tablets now becoming more commonplace in schools as well as at home. Part of that effort should also be focused on the impact this has on their hearing.

While there are many different causes of noise-induced hearing loss, the pervasiveness of portable listening devices can’t be ignored. In fact, a 2010 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 1 in 5 teenagers have experienced some degree of hearing loss. Ear buds are placed directly in the ear and can increase the sound signal by as much as 6 to 9 decibels. At maximum volume, this places music from personal audio devices somewhere between the noise created from power tools and that of loudspeakers at a rock concert.

Here are some tips for safe listening from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA):

  • Keep it down: We’ll start with the obvious and point out that a good guideline to follow is keeping the dial to about half volume.
  • Take breaks: Like any part of your body, your ears can get tired, and any damage from noise is made worse with longer exposure. Think of the 60-60 rule: 60 percent volume for 60 minutes. This also helps with that pesky “screen time” issue.
  • Be an example: If children see you blaring your tunes, it’ll be tougher for them to want to keep the volume down.

It’s also important for parents to have their child see an audiologist to establish a baseline hearing level. The audiologist can then recommend a hearing-loss prevention program suited for that child’s individual needs.

We know that parents are concerned about this, too, but that hasn’t always translated into action. In a recent AHSA national poll, 75 percent of parents said that teaching the proper use of ear buds and headphones is important, but that only 50 percent have brought up the topic with their children. It’s never the wrong time to start the discussion.