What Are the Best Listening Levels For Toddlers, Kindergartners, and Elementary School Students?

Parents, we’re not going to beat around the bush. Sometimes you just need a break from hearing “Baby Shark” on repeat…and that’s OK! 

Or maybe you’re looking forward to a nice quiet dinner with your spouse, thanks to a little help from your friend the iPad keeping your little one occupied with a nice episode of Peppa Pig while you engage in the first adult conversation you’ve had all day. 

Even parents of older kids know that having to overhear your child’s Fortnite battles can wear a little thin, especially if you live in a small space!

What we’re saying is, if you are the parent of a toddler, kindergartner, or elementary school student, we’re not telling you anything you don’t already know when we say that a set of good headphones for your child can sometimes be worth its weight in gold, if that’s what’s keeping them happy, occupied and engaged while you take a little time to focus on other tasks.

School Headphones: The MVPs of 2020

Beyond their amazing capabilities of providing you with a little peace and quiet while your kids enjoy a little screen time, headphones were a surprise lifesaver for parents and students everywhere when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to pivot to remote learning. Suddenly, school headphones weren’t just a nice-to-have accessory for kids’ leisure time; they were an integral part of a student’s school day- and a means to preserve the sanity of parents trying to keep multiple kids on-task, focused, and free of distractions during class time.

But…How Loud is Too Loud?

However, the sudden necessity for school headphones had a bit of a downside for some parents who feared that the volume levels could harm their little ones’ delicate ears. After all, what’s to stop a toddler or preschooler from cranking the sound up to 11 the second Mom or Dad aren’t watching, unintentionally blasting their ears and potentially damaging their hearing? Even older kids need to exercise caution when it comes to listening to music, TV shows, or video games through a set of headphones. For those of us who can’t help but worry a bit about our kids’ hearing getting permanently damaged through prolonged or repeated use of headphones, here’s a guide to the preferred listening levels for toddlers, kindergartners, and elementary school students, as agreed upon by pediatric health professionals.

Toddlers

Since toddlers are defined as a child between the ages of 1 and 4, a big part of the danger from headphones is that they can’t always tell you if noise is too loud. Because of this, it’s essential that parents take safety precautions to ensure their kids’ hearing is protected when using headphones. One of the best ways to do this is to purchase volume-limiting headphones. Since many models of school headphones are equipped with a built-in volume-limiting control, these are a good bet for parents looking for maximum protection for their young children. One word of caution, however: volume-limiting headphones are designed to go no higher than 85 A-weighted decibels (dbA), while the recommended “safe zone” for toddlers is no higher than 60 dbA, so you should still monitor your child to make sure they aren’t turning it up to full blast.

Preschoolers and Kindergartners

For kids ages 4 to 6, volume-limiting headphones can be a huge help to ensure that they are still within the recommended levels for safety. Because the inner ear of a child is more sensitive to noise than that of an adult, younger children are more susceptible to sustaining noise-related damage that could potentially have a permanent effect on their hearing. Doctors recommend keeping the volume to about 82 decibels for a preschooler or kindergartner’s 8-hour school day. Just to put this number into perspective, the top volume on an iPhone is about 102 decibels, which means a safe level for a small child is approximately 70 percent of a device’s full volume.

Elementary School Students

Older kids’ inner ears are not nearly as sensitive as those of a toddler or preschooler, but the potential for damage and hearing loss are still a concern. A study of 8-to-12-year-old children in 2015 revealed that over 50% of kids listen to music daily, as do over 67% of teens. Since older kids are more likely to use headphones or earbuds on a more regular basis, it is important to make sure they are not listening at levels that can lead to hearing loss. One good way to test this is to ask them something while they’re listening to their music, game, or show, says James F. Battey, Jr. M.D., Ph.D., former director of the NIDCD. “If a parent is an arm’s length away, a child wearing headphones should still be able to hear when asked a question,” he said in a December 2016 article in the New York Times. Sure, this test may get you a few eye-rolls, but at least you’ll know their hearing is not at risk!

What Else Can I Do?

  • Aside from purchasing volume-limiting school headphones, here are some steps you can take to ensure your children’s hearing is being protected.
  • Schedule Listening Breaks- Insist on short 10-15 minute breaks between listening periods so your kid’s inner ear can have a rest. 
  • Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones- Rather than let your kids use earbuds, which puts the sound that much closer to the inner ear, purchase a set of noise-canceling headphones, which can lessen the need for higher volumes by blocking out background noise for a quieter listening experience.
  • Keep an Eye on Them- This sounds ridiculously simple, but the best way to make sure your kids aren’t turning the volume up too loud is to supervise them while they’re using their headphones. If you can hear what they’re listening to through their headphones, you know it’s too loud! Of course, it’s not always feasible to watch them every time, so headphones with a set volume limit provide an extra layer of protection.

 

By following these tips you can make sure your kids protect their hearing and avoid issues down the road. Listen responsibly!