Choosing the best headphones for children is a more important decision than selecting the best headphones for your own audio needs. While an adult’s hearing is probably already damaged by loud music via iPod and Walkman, a child’s sensitive ears are hurt only by his or her own screaming.
Adult headphones aren’t suitable for children – or at least young children – for a number of reasons.
The most obvious one is that kids’ heads are a lot smaller than an adult’s, and so most headphones simply don’t fit properly. They either keep falling off or are uncomfortable for children.
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More importantly, children’s ears are easily damaged by loud noise, and headphones aren’t easy to supervise. Leave a kid in charge of an iPod, games console or DVD player, and it’s likely the volume will be turned up to maximum either by accident or choice. Either way those little ears might never get over the damage.
So parents should seriously consider headphones that are specially engineered for use by children, and they should consider fit and volume control.
Griffin, maker of many a fine iPod accessory, offers its kid-friendly MyPhones, and they’re terrific on both fronts (or should I say sides).
First, they’re smaller so will better fit a child’s head, and are adjustable so they’ll grown with the little person as they get bigger.
MyPhones sit on the ear with padding for comfort and to stop sounds leaking out and in.
They even look the part, too. Unlike the MyPhones sold last year, a new partnership with Crayola means the updated headphones come in a choice of pink or blue, and kids can design their own stickers for the earcaps. It's a similar concept to the inserts from the previous model, but three Crayola felt-tip pens are bundled for colouring in the stickers. You also get a set of 40 colour stickers to stick around the headband.
That’s brilliant thinking by Griffin - Crayola is a trusted brand - but what will reassure parents is the built-in, always-on sound-control circuit that caps the peak volume at 85 decibels – which is the maximum level recommended by many auditory health organisations.
60 decibels is the volume of a normal conversation – OK, maybe not the normal conversation in a nursery or playground…
105dB is the maximum allowed volume of a standard MP3 player (or what you’d hear from a throaty lawnmower) – much too loud for a child’s sensitive ears, as it’s not that far off the 120dB you’d hide from when an ambulance races past you with its sirens blazing. Griffin supplies more details here.
To an adult ears 85dB does sound quiet, but that’s because we’re all used to turning our iPods up to maximum. Ask yourself: would you like your child to have that level of sound attached to his or her ears?
My five-year-old daughter was pleased enough with the volume. Of course she asked if it could “go louder” but that’s why an always-on sound limiter is a parent’s friend. The child can’t override the limiter, and it’s not battery controlled. Some kids’ headphones – such as JVC's Tiny Phones – have battery-run limiters that mean that they won’t work at all when the batteries run out – inevitably just when you need them.
The included stickers could do with better adhesive, though. Most of the colour stickers provided had fallen off by the end of the first day.
The 127cm cable is long enough to mean the audio device can be stored safely in a backpack, or allow video gaming without sitting right next to the TV. It also feels tough enough to withstand the abuse it will get from it's young owners.
While the MyPhones are an excellent defence against volume-induced hearing damage it should be remembered that children shouldn’t have headphones strapped to their heads for more than an hour or so at a time.
All us parents need now are specially designed headsets to protect our hearing from the children themselves!