Protect Your Child’s Ears

There’s no escaping the fact that we live in a noisy world. All around us are loud engines, music, appliances, and construction equipment. On top of that, many common leisure activities are also loud: concerts, shooting, boating, motorsports, and the like. As a parent, you may not be thinking about hearing loss in relation to your child; after all, they’re young and healthy, and hearing loss tends to show up later in life. But noise exposure is cumulative over a lifetime, and damage being done to young ears now can accelerate problems decades into the future. Furthermore, it may not even take decades for problems to show up. In 2001, the National Academy of Pediatrics released data showing that 12.5% of children ages 6-19 already had some degree of noise-induced hearing loss.

It’s essential to protect your child’s ears as much as you can. Noise-induced hearing loss is mostly preventable if you use strategies including avoidance and protection. This article will discuss examples of both strategies that you can use with your child. Teaching children the importance of these healthy habits can help protect their hearing for a lifetime!

The best strategy: avoid noise exposure in the first place

The more time a person spends being exposed to loud noise, the more damage it causes. None of us can avoid noise entirely, but it’s important to minimize the amount of time spent in very noisy environments. This means there are probably healthier things to do with your kids than to take them to a monster truck rally! You can also teach them healthy habits by modeling them yourself. Don’t turn the music up in your car when the kids are with you, and keep the TV at a reasonable level at home.

One simple way to reduce the amount of dangerously loud sound your child is exposed to is to check the volume of their headphones. Many wireless headphones that are made for younger children have built-in volume limiters which are meant to prevent the sound from reaching a damaging level. (Wirecutter maintains a detailed list of kids’ headphones and their volume levels, which is a great resource if you’re shopping.) Wired headphones do not, but phones, tablets, and other devices often have a volume-limiting feature as well.

To enable volume limiting on an Apple product, go to Settings, then Sounds & Haptics, then click on Headphone Safety. You can enable Headphone Notifications, which will notify listeners when their exposure reaches limits, and once a seven-day limit is reached the phone will automatically reduce its volume. This feature also tracks how many times the volume has exceeded limits, which can be a good feature for parents wishing to check in on their child’s listening habits. Below that, you’ll see Reduce Loud Sounds as an option, as well as a slider

that allows you to set the volume limit. It defaults to 85 dB but this can be raised or lowered. If your child is using headphones for many hours a day and prefers a louder volume, we would recommend lowering that limit to 80 or even 75 dB. However, if you’re also using a pair of wireless headphones with their own volume limiter, you’ll want to test out the combination to ensure that you’re not setting limits too low and making the headphones unusable.

If you’re worried about your child simply changing the settings back, you can password-protect the settings. Go to Settings, then Screen Time, then Content & Privacy Restrictions. You’ll need to enable Content & Privacy Restrictions. Then locate Reduce Loud Sounds in this menu, and change it to Don’t Allow Changes. Finally, go back to the Screen Time menu and choose Use Screen Time Passcode. Set a passcode that’s different from your lock screen passcode.

For most Android devices, you’ll do it this way: go to Settings, then Sounds and Vibration. Set the Media Volume slider to about 60%. (Again, if you’re using separate volume-limited headphones, you’ll want to test this out to make sure the combination of two limiters isn’t reducing the volume excessively.)

Password-protecting the settings for Android devices is a little more complicated. To pull this off, you’ll have to install Google Family Link on both the child’s device and on your own. Once the app is installed on both devices, open it on your phone and set it so that you’re the Parent. Follow the on-screen instructions to log into your child’s device using their (not your) Google account. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to use your own device to set restrictions on your child’s phone. Keep the two devices next to each other while you do this.

If you can’t avoid loud sounds, wear hearing protection!

It isn’t realistic to expect that your child will never be exposed to any dangerously loud sound. Besides transient exposure such as walking past a construction site or having a fire truck drive by, loud sounds are an integral part of a lot of fun family activities. Making the use of hearing protection a part of normal life is a healthy habit, and teaching your kids healthy habits is great parenting!

Some tips for making sure your kids are using hearing protection when appropriate:

  • For small kids, keep a pair of child-sized earmuffs with you at all times, in the stroller or diaper bag. If they’re always on hand, it’s easy to deploy them any time you find yourself at a sporting event, amusement park, movie theater, fireworks show, or other loud situation. Air shows in particular require hearing protection – not just for the kiddos, but for all of you!
  • For bigger kids, be aware of their activities and when they might require hearing protection. Riding dirt bikes and snowmobiles, participating in shooting sports, attending school dances and concerts, and playing in a band are all activities that can bring hazardous sound levels to your child’s ears. As their ears grow, children can begin to use earplugs instead of earmuffs, and it’s easy to carry a pair of discreet concert earplugs on a keychain, making them always accessible.
  • Set firm rules early in life. Kids will be more likely to adopt the habit of using hearing protection if they learn early on that it’s expected every single time they’re around loud noise. Be sure they understand that you expect them to wear their hearing protection even if you aren’t around.
  • Choose hearing protection that’s appropriate for your child’s needs. If they’ve gotten into target shooting, they need earmuffs that will block out as much sound as possible. If they’re playing in a band, however, a pair of filtered concert plugs that reduce the overall sound level while allowing your child to hear all the details of the music would be more appropriate. Make sure, too, that the hearing protection you choose is something your child is willing to wear; if you’re concerned about a loud school dance, you probably don’t want to send them with huge blaze-orange earplugs that they’ll certainly take out of their ears as soon as they arrive!
  • Be a good role model! This means that any time you’re around loud noise, you wear your hearing protection, too. Don’t give them the idea that hearing protection is just for kids; teach them that it’s a lifelong habit that’s important for everyone in the family.

Protecting your hearing is an important habit that should be learned as early in life as possible. With the tips we’ve given you here, you can both protect your child’s hearing and teach them healthy habits for a lifetime!