November 08, 2019
By Simon Jary
Choosing the best headphones for your children is important because using the wrong ones could cause life-long damage to their hearing.
Headphones for kids are essential tech kit for parents as (1) none of us want to hear Spongebob for more than ten minutes or be subjected to either blam-blam action gaming or the high-pitched whine of Alvin the Chipmunk, and (2) maybe we can listen to something else while the kids are amused on the computer, tablet, phone or TV.
Another good reason for investing in child-specific headphones is for use on long-haul flights. Getting your child to watch a couple of movies during a boring flight is a big bonus for parents. The trouble is that airline-supplied headphones aren’t designed for small heads and so often slip off. These kids' headphones shouldn’t do that.
But putting adult headphones on to your children’s head could endanger their hearing. See more on child headphone use below.
You should also consider fit, comfort and design, but also limit the amount of time a child uses headphones whatever the volume - our favourites now are:
• JLabs JBuddies
• Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet
• Griffin KaZoo MyPhones
• Puro Sound BT2200
• Snuggly Rascals
• KitSound Mini Movers
Read our fuller kids headphones reviews below.
The maximum noise level recommended by many auditory health organizations is 85 decibels (dB), and to get our recommendation a child’s set of headphones shouldn’t, we believe, go any louder than that – Maxell and Sony sell kids sets at 90dB. Adult headphones usually peak at 115 decibels (equivalent to a loud train), and experts warn that you could experience severe hearing loss after just 15 minutes of listening at that level every day.
There's a pair of headphones reviewed below that are made specifically for gamers - and this is vitally important as players can be listening to loud explosions and other ear killers for hours on end.
Experts also suggest that the time spent listening to headphones should be limited to two hours a day (for children and adults), even if the volume is limited at 85dB.
Limiting the volume on headphones you give to your kids is obviously a wise decision if you want to help protect their hearing, but some experts warn against children using any type of headphones.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU state that 85dB is an effective safety limit, the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends 70dB as the average daily noise exposure level. That 85dB level is derived from occupational studies of noise exposure and hearing loss for adults, not children.
The trouble is that 70dB is very quiet and will likely not drown out ambient noise, so 85dB becomes the norm despite it being potentially damaging to a young person’s hearing.
Children’s ears are more sensitive to noise damage, due to growth and development of nerve fibers and other cells. Also because of their smaller external auditory canals, the eardrum is closer to the sound source.
Daniel Fink MD, who serves on the Board of the American Tinnitus Association, warns: “An industrial-strength occupational noise exposure level (85dB) meant for truck drivers, factory workers and miners is far too loud for a child’s delicate ears, which have to last her or him a lifetime."
A sensible compromise would be to invest in a decent set of headphones that limits volume, but also limit the length of time children wear them.
With those warnings taken on board, we’ve rounded up the best kids headphones (and some that don’t make the grade but are listed on Amazon and other retailers as suitable for kids) and tested them on a bunch of children and some discerning parents.
What we are looking for in a great set of kids headphones is an effective volume limiter to protect those sensitive ears, a good, comfortable fit for smaller heads, minimum noise leakage (the sound that others can hear outside of the headphones), and some kid-friendly fun in the design.
Don’t buy earbuds or any in-ear model for children – as the closer the sound source is to the delicate working of the inner ear, the more damage loud sound can do.
And just because your chosen headphones are volume limited, don't let children wear them for hours on end. Even at 85dB prolonged headphone usage is not recommended.
Always remember that corded headphones pose a strangulation risk to young children, and as such most warn against under-threes wearing them unsupervised. One solution is wireless headphones, although these cost more and require regular battery charging. If you can afford it, Bluetooth kids headphones are well worth consideration.