Are Headphones Safe for Your Baby?

baby headphones

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These days, raising babies and young children means being inundated with technology. This can be a good thing—from high-tech baby monitors to educational apps, there are many benefits to be gained from technology. But sometimes it can feel that there is too much technology available and that perhaps some of it may be harmful to our little ones.

Take headphones, for example. Headphones have their place, for sure, and they can be very helpful when your child is listening to an audiobook, their favorite piece of music, or plugging into some white noise to block out loud noises in their environment.

But with headphones being marketed to even the youngest children out there, one has to wonder about the true benefits here, as well as the safety of babies and young children using headphones on a regular basis.

Let’s take a look at the issues at hand so that you can make the best choice for your child.

Headphone Safety

While there aren’t published reports about the safety of headphone usage for the youngest children out there, we do know that excessive noise pollution can be harmful to older kids and that headphone and technology usage is at least partly to blame.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to noise puts 1.1 billion teens and young adults at risk of hearing loss. Along with loud sounds from gatherings and events, unsafe use of technology, including “personal audio devices,” is a main culprit here.

As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) explains, headphones and earbuds can “present a significant danger to a child's hearing,” especially when not used according to safety guidelines.

In addition to headphones, the AAP warns that loud toys and loud gatherings such as parties and concerts are also concerns when it comes to the safety of young children’s hearing.

Safe Headphone Sound Levels

As outlined by WHO and the International Telecommunication Union, devices with more than 75 decibels (a unit that measures sound) can be harmful for children. You can download a smartphone app to allow you to check decibel levels in your child's environment.

Even at volumes under 75 decibels, children should not listen to devices with headphones for more than 40 hours per week. Taking breaks is good for the ears too.

However, as the AAP points out, many headphones marketed to children that are even listed as “kid safe” have decibels higher than what the WHO recommends. For example, some headphones can emit sound in the range of 85 and 90 decibels—sometimes even higher.

“[U]pon testing, many are even louder than what they claim,” writes the AAP. “So, while these products may be a good start, parents should still give it a listen themselves and teach kids to dial the volume down. Remember, headphone manufacturers aren't interested in your child's hearing; they are interested in selling products.”

As an example, The Wirecutter, a product review site affiliated with The New York Times, reviewed headphones manufactured for children and found that half of products allowed volume controls to go up to 85 decibels or more. Many of these devices contained design flaws that allowed users to bypass volume reducing features the devices claimed to have.

As the AAP notes, there is no set standard restricting the decibel output for headphones in the United States and none for headphones manufactured in particular for babies and young children. 

Keeping Your Child Safe

You may be wondering if all of this means that headphones of any kind are not a good idea for your baby or young child. This isn’t necessarily the case. It’s all a matter of choosing devices carefully and then using them smartly.

The AAP has some tips on smart headphone usage for children:

  • Advise your children to keep the volume low on their devices.
  • Keep volume controls at half levels. If you are using an Apple device, use guided access mode to prevent your child from adjusting the volume.
  • Give your kids frequent headphone breaks.
  • Model safe headphone usage yourself.
  • Make sure your child’s headphones fit properly (i.e., a good fit means that sound doesn’t “leak” out of headphones, prompting your child to raise the volume).
  • Your child should still be able to hear you when you speak to them if you are near (at an arm's length). If they can’t, their volume may be too high.

Are Noise Canceling Headphones Safe?

The AAP agrees that active noise canceling headphones (which eliminate outside sound, while allowing your child to listen to audio through the headphones) can be good for your child. With these headphones, “kids won't need to turn the volume up to drown out outside noise.”

In general, the AAP recommends limiting your child’s exposure to loud sounds from their environment, such as sounds from parties, concerts, and sporting events.

In addition to active noise canceling headphones, they recommend using earmuffs and ear plugs to block out sounds. These provide what's known as "passive noise canceling."

Earbuds or other earphones can also provide some passive noise canceling if they are tight-fitting. If your child is using headphones in a quiet environment, such as at home doing schoolwork, then active noise cancelation is probably not necessary.

Signs of Hearing Problems in Children

Using audio devices wisely is the best way to prevent hearing loss in your children. Often, by the time you notice a potential hearing problem in your child, the damage has already been done. That being said, there are some key signs to look for that might indicate that your baby or small child is suffering from hearing loss.

If you notice any of these signs, you can talk to your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible—they may refer you to a children's audiologist.

Signs of hearing loss vary considerably from child to child. Here are some of the most common signs, as described by the Center For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC):

Signs of Hearing Loss in Babies

  • Not startling at loud sounds
  • Not turning to the source of a sound (if your child is 6 months or older)
  • After one year, not making common baby sounds like “mama” or “dada” or “baba”
  • Appearing to hear some sounds better than others
  • Not responding to their name

Signs of Hearing Loss in Children

  • Showing signs of speech delay
  • Having unclear speech
  • Cannot follow spoken directions
  • Asking you to repeat yourself frequently
  • Increasing TV or audio volume to unreasonable levels

A Word From Verywell

Trying to make the best decisions for our children can be overwhelming, especially when it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. This is especially true when it comes to products that are marketed toward our children.

While headphones may certainly have their place—especially when it comes to white noise and noise canceling headphones—you may feel unsure if using them for your young child is the best idea.

Besides educating yourself on the safety of headphones, and making sure that the product you are considering meets safety guidelines, you should also not hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician. They can advise you about what to look out for when purchasing and using headphones for your little one, as well as what to be aware of when it comes to young children and hearing loss.

Most of all, just the fact that you have taken the time to research and consider these questions means that you are a good parent, and that you will be able to make a smart and thoughtful choice for your child.

4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. 1.1 billion people at risk of hearing loss.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Tips to preserve your child’s hearing during the holidays.

  3. Butterworth B, Dragan L. The Best Kids Headphones. Wirecutter: Reviews for the Real World.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What is hearing loss in children?.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.