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Photo credit: ExpectGrain licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This post at SoundGuys discusses choosing headphones for kids. The author discusses a variety of considerations, including many that lead me to my opinion about headphones for kids:

Headphone use should be limited to those old enough to understand the dangers of hearing loss. Giving a younger child a pair of headphones–volume limited or not–is like giving a toddler a beer or a 9-year-old a pack of cigarettes. No one does that.

It takes years to decades of noise exposure to produce hearing loss as measured by standard audiometric techniques, but the reports of hearing loss at very early ages associated with headphone use have already begun to appear. A Dutch study in June 2018 reported increased hearing loss another auditory problems in children as young as 9 to 11, compared to those who didn’t use headphones to listen to personal music devices.

I’m not sure exactly when the idea evolved that everyone, including toddlers as young as 3, needs to entertained by audio or visual material for almost every waking hour, but I can guarantee that generations of children were raised to adulthood quite successfully without these devices. Perhaps headphone use should be regulated like driving, smoking, or drinking, each of which has an age limit at which the behavior is allowed. In the U.S., the age requirement for driving varies from 15 or so to 18 depending on the state, 18 for smoking, and 21 years old for drinking.  Laws are different in Europe and Asia, but to my knowledge there are no laws or regulations restricting headphone use or personal music device use anywhere in the world.

In the old days–whenever that was, but certainly up to a decade or two ago–children either entertained themselves by playing with blocks or toys or dolls, or were entertained by friends, parents, and others. As children got older, they entertained themselves with coloring books, and then by reading. At a meal or waiting in a line or when traveling, parents and children interacted, whether it was the parent making up a story for the toddler, or the slightly older child telling the parent or grandparent a story, or looking at and talking about what was outside the window of the car, bus, train, or airplane. Or people read books. Now I see families sitting in a restaurant with each person wearing earbuds, looking at a smart phone or listening to some content on it, instead of interacting with each other.

This can’t be good for personal and social development. It can’t be good for developing ties among family members and others. And I can guarantee that it is not good for hearing–headphone use in children will cause hearing loss in adults.