We live in a hectic society where it’s now the norm to have both parents working. Gone are the days where children would start their days doing chores around the house, have a home cooked breakfast, then head off to school, only to be welcomed home by their mom when school is over. Even new moms and dads juggle housework and childcare and once both parents are back at work full time, children are raised in the care of others. Because of this changing dynamic, children today spent an average of 6.5 hours per day in front of a screen – be it a television, tablet, computer, or even smartphone.
With the reliance on screen time, parents are looking for headphones for their kids that are not only safe, but also stylish. Complicating the matter is your school supply list that is provided by your child’s elementary school now contains “headphones”.
It’s obvious that an adults head size is larger than that of a toddler, or even a child or teenager. For this reason, younger children (ages 2-9) should really look to smaller sized headphones that will fit their heads. But with size, comes a considerable compromise in quality workmanship and sound quality.
Comparing a set of adult headphones to that of a child’s set is like comparing apples to oranges. Headsets designed for adults will come with various features, such as an adjustable headband, fabric ear pads, top-quality speakers, and when you get into headsets they’ll come with various macro and control buttons.
Headphones designed for children are almost always made from a cheap plastic that has no ability to adjust in size to your child’s head and ship in a variety of colors. Those that do ship with the ability to adjust to varying head sizes, usually ship with the cheapest and most brittle plastics, so don’t expect much in the way of life expectancy with them. My personal recommendation is if you find a pair that are adjustable, look for ones that have the least amount of brittle plastics.
Popular smartphones and tablets ship with ear buds and potential to raise music and sound levels to a high enough level that can cause hearing damage over time. Kids of all ages, right up to young adults will look to crank the volume up more and more to drown out ambient sounds in the room around them.
The World Health Organization (WHO) cited the largest cause of hearing loss is listening to loud music and sounds exceeding 85dBa for extended durations. Even exposure to sounds above 85-100dBa for just 15 minutes is enough to begin to cause hearing loss in both children and adults.
As such, before you give your little one your tablet to play with an app that’s designed to stimulate their brain, think first about grabbing a pair of headphones that has a built-in volume limiter. A volume limiter is nothing more than a small electronic resister that restricts the volume level being outputted by the device (tablet, MP3 player, etc.) by 20-30%. This is a feature that is critical for younger children to ensure they don’t end up with early-onset hearing loss as they enter their teen years. Unfortunately, you’ll never find devices like this in your standard big box store or speciality audio store – they’re pretty much only available online.
You can purchase a volume limiter adapter which is nothing more than a cord that plugs into your device and then the headphones plug into the cord. Older kids will “know what’s up” and have a tendency to just unplug the cord and plug their phones directly into the device.
While headphones for children won’t usually come with the same features as adult headphones (such as open-back), they still come in a variety of types, such as over the ear and in-ear (earbuds). I don’t recommend earbuds for young children (ages 2-9) as their ear canals are very narrow and most earbuds on the market today ship with one size fits all. Skullcandy and Phillips tend to ship ear buds with 2 different sizes of silicon rubber adapters – one for adults and one for children, so these are really the only two brands I’d recommend for children.
Over the ear style is better and if you can find a pair that offers the noise cancellation or noise reduction feature, then it’s a gold mine. In my post about Noise Reduction Headphones – How they work, I mentioned that because of the ability to filter out background noise, volume levels can be reduced significantly, thereby assisting in limiting the potential hearing loss.
Additionally, children with autism tend to have a difficult time with loud noises and find that noises (even ambient background noise) can be a distraction to learning and staying focused, so a pair that reduce or cancel out background noise can be an added benefit to these children.
I don’t recommend the cheap $5 or less pairs that mimic the old Sony Walkman style of the 80’s with foam earpads. These are just not made to last and produce some of the worst sound quality and workmanship.
Accessories for Multiple Children
One of the best things you can do if you’re travelling with young children and you want them to share a device to watch a movie or listen to music with, is a headphone splitter. A headphone splitter operates the same way as your standard cablevision splitter, where it takes the single and splits it into two or more outputs. Headphone splitters plug directly into your tablet or device and then your child’s headphones plug directly into the splitter.
What are your thoughts regarding headphones for children? Leave your comments below…