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Headphones and Earbuds for Kids: Safety and Functionality Considerations

Last updated: 3 months ago
12 min read

This study shows every fifth teenager has hearing loss due to overly loud headphones. Protecting your kid’s hearing from the beginning is important.

In this article, you’ll learn what headphones are the best for kids and what features they should have.

Don’t worry; great kids’ headphones are pretty affordable.

Kids headphones

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Headphones are better than earbuds for kids as they don’t block the ear canal, which can lead to ear infections.
  • Many headphones have volume limiters and don’t present a potential choking hazard (such as small true wireless earbuds).
  • Kids’ headphones should be made from softer yet flexible plastic and preferably have a sweat-resistant rating.
  • On-ear headphones are the best (or the safest) for kids due to inadequate comfort. Consequently, kids use them less, which protects kids hearing and forces them to do other things, like playing with friends.
  • Maximum headphones’ volume for kids should be around 75dB (according to Children’s Mercy), preferably less.
  • Kids’ headphones should have a built-in microphone for remote schooling and gaming.
CONTENTS (show more)

    Earbuds vs. Headphones for Kids: Which is Better?

    When buying headphones for kids, you must consider that children have more sensitive ears and lack self-regulation (maintaining low loudness and ear hygiene).

    Consequently, you must apply a different logic than when buying adult headphones.

    Here are all the pros and cons of earbuds and headphones for kids.

    Advantages and disadvantages of earbuds for kids

    Earbuds are small and seem like a no-brainer for kids. However, considering all the facts, the picture can quickly change against them. Let us look at why you should or shouldn’t buy earbuds for kids.

    • Earbuds are comfier than headphones, so your kids can wear them longer.
    • Earbuds have a more stable fit, especially if they have ear hooks or ear wings.
    • Most true wireless earbuds for kids have an IP rating.
    • Many earbuds targeting kids lack a volume limiter.
    • Due to better comfort, kids might use them longer (which isn’t good if they lack a volume limiter).
    • Increased chance of ear infection due to ear canal insertion (in combination with poor ear hygiene).
    • True wireless earbuds get lost more easily.
    • True wireless buds can be a potential choking hazard.

    Advantages and disadvantages of headphones for kids

    Headphones appear big and fragile for playful children. But headphones specifically made for kids have features that make them the best for the job.

    • Most dedicated headphones for kids have volume limits.
    • Most have less comfy on-ear earpads, which prevents kids from using the headphones for too long.
    • Many kids headphones are made of durable plastic and a flexible frame.
    • Most headphones use hypoallergenic materials.
    • Most headphones lack an IP rating.
    • Some headphones lack an internal volume limiter, so you can bypass the limit by using a third-party cable.
    BuddyPhones Play review
    Kids are unpredictable, so their headphones need to be prepared for anything.

    Which is safer for kids: Earbuds or headphones?

    Based on logic and experience, headphones are the safest way for kids to listen to music, watch videos, or play games.

    Most headphones for kids have a limited volume of up to 85dB, are relatively durable, and become uncomfortable over time, forcing your kid to take a break (further preventing hearing damage).

    On the other hand, earbuds mostly lack volume limitation and use ear tips, which push earwax back into the ear canal, increasing the risk of ear infection.

    As mentioned before, you must treat kids differently than adults. Most importantly, you must consider their safety and how the headphones’ features and design contribute to that.

    BuddyPhones Explore+ earcups inside
    Many kids’ headphones have at least an 85dB limit.

    How do headphones enhance the learning experience for children?

    Teachers in the US have learned that handling headphones to children helps them concentrate on studying. 

    Kids are naturally curious about everything that’s happening around them. While that helps them learn about the world, they can also get easily distracted by the chatter in the classroom.

    Since many unimportant things like smartphone notifications want to grab their attention, headphones help create a personal, distraction-free bubble.

    Headphones for Kids Who Break Their All the Time

    Accidents happen, but kids “accidentally” break many more things than adults. So, when buying headphones, you should consider they will be carelessly tossed around—a lot.

    The common issue with kids breaking headphones

    Based on forums, parents have many issues with headphones’ longevity. Most say that headphones they bought for kids don’t last more than a few months.

    The most common issues are:

    • One side isn’t working.
    • The plastic housing of the boom mic is falling apart.
    • Pierced cable with exposed wires.
    Damaged headphones
    Kids’ headphones have the same warranty coverage as other headphones, so they don’t cover accidents.

    According to parents, buying more expensive headphones didn’t solve the issue. On the other hand, one stated that their older kid, age 16, managed to use its pair for more than a year.

    While all of these things could link to poor build quality, continuously experiencing the same issues has the likeliest source in rougher handling by kids.

    Durability features to look for in kids’ headphones

    If regular headphones last just a few months, opt for a pair with a much tougher build quality.

    Metal, as the most obvious material, is excluded since such headphones become heavy, can hurt your kid, or damage other things (dents in furniture, etc.).

    The best thing is to pick headphones with softer plastic, high flexibility, and wireless design (or with a detachable cable).

    • Softer plastic is more likely to scratch and dent upon impact but far less likely to crack. It’s better to have cosmetic than physical damage.
    • High flexibility comes in handy when headphones are constantly stretched or tossed in a backpack full of other stuff.
    • Wireless design ensures no cable can get damaged by accidental tucking, pulling, or being run over by a chair.
    • If you still want to stay wired (have issues with connection or concerns about Bluetooth radiation (which is perfectly safe, by the way)), go for headphones with a detachable cable. That way, you can replace it if damaged.
    BuddyPhones POP Fun flexible design
    Testing the flexibility of BuddyPhones POP Fun headphones during our review.

    One thing that is highly welcome in headphones for kids is sweat and water resistance. However, few have an IP rating, except for true wireless earbuds aimed at kids.

    Tips for teaching kids to care for their headphones

    Parents say their usual lecture after children break headphones is to remind them about their financial status and inability to constantly afford new headphones.

    However, kids don’t have a good visualization of how much something costs. They expect new headphones to appear magically.

    Also, you should avoid reacting positively when your kid drops something, like laughing when something falls on the floor. Your kid might start dropping things intentionally.

    Dropping headphones kids
    If you kids is regularly dropping their headphones, it is also good to invest in a more durable pair.

    Note that I’m in no position to teach you how to raise kids. These are simple pieces of advice gathered from the internet or personal life.

    Budget-friendly options for replacement headphones

    Many parents decide to buy the cheapest headphones possible in hopes they would save some money. However, cheaper materials usually break the quickest.

    The best budget advice we can give is to buy headphones designed for kids. They cost around $30 to $50 but are more durable, so your wallet will thank you in the long run.

    What Type of Headphones is Best for Kids: Over-Ear, On-Ear, or In-Ear?

    We already discussed the general differences between headphones and earbuds and why the latter are the least suitable for kids. Now, let’s dive even deeper.

    • In-ear headphones are the least suitable for kids as they pose the biggest risk for ear infections, with many lacking volume-limiting support.
    • On-ear headphones are the most suitable for kids as many have volume-limiting support and can also actively limit your kids’ usage by providing less optimal comfort.
    • Over-ear headphones are also great since they limit the loudness, but because they’re comfier than on-ears, kids will most likely use them for longer.
    Puro BT2200 Plus ear pads sizes
    You want your kids to use their headphones for a limited time, so they shouldn’t be the comfiest.

    What headphone type is the comfiest for kids?

    In-ear headphones are generally a bit too big for kids, at least very young ones. Their housing can push against the earlobe, causing a serious ache after some time. In contrast, in-ears can be very comfy for older kids.

    Over-ear headphones come in second, avoiding squishing earlobes, thus ensuring good comfort.

    On-ear headphones are the least comfy as they sit on top of the earlobes. Most kids’ headphones have a gentler clamping force, so headphones should remain comfortable to use for at least 30 minutes to an hour.

    How headphone types affect noise isolation and sound quality

    In-ear headphones offer one of the highest levels of passive noise isolation and the clearest sound quality. However, high isolation shouldn’t be a priority for headphones for kids, as it takes away awareness. You still want you kid to hear what’s going on around.

    On-ear headphones have the least effective background noise isolation due to an inadequate seal. They offer good sound quality but are less impactful than over-ear types.

    BuddyPhones Play kids headphones side
    Noise isolation isn’t that important in kids’ headphones, especially if they plan to use them outdoors.

    Over-ear headphones have pretty good noise isolation and can offer excellent sound quality. They aren’t as clear as in-ears but have a more impactful (realistic) performance.

    What headphone type is the safest for kids?

    On-ear and over-ear headphones are the safest for kids, with the on-ear type ranking the highest due to its functionality.

    On-ear headphones are slightly less comfortable, so your kids will be forced to take breaks from listening, which rests their ears and helps prevent hearing loss.

    Recommended kids’ headphones based on age and preferences

    • Younger kids should absolutely use on-ear headphones with a volume limiter (up to 75dB limit). Decreased comfort will force them to take breaks, whereas their on-ear fit ensures the earwax doesn’t stay inside the ear canal.
    • Slightly older kids (around ten years) should still stick to on-ear headphones but with a limit of around 85dB, preferably 75dB. For gaming or online schooling, you can opt for kids’ headphones with a boom mic, like BuddyPhones School+.
    • Kids older than 12 can start using over-ear and in-ear headphones with a volume limiter set at 85dB or without it (if they know the importance of keeping the loudness down to prevent hearing loss).
    Puro Sound Labs PuroPro in a case
    Older teenagers can already switch to something like Puro PuroPro, active noise cancellation headphones with 85dB and 94dB volume limits.

    Kids’ Headphones: Maximum Volume Explained

    When talking about loudness, we describe it in decibels. The latter is a simple way of explaining much bigger numbers since it measures loudness logarithmically. Every 10dB means a 10 times louder sound.

    SituationExpected
    loudness
    in decibels
    Quiet room20-30dB
    Normal conversation50-60dB
    Standing next to
    a busy traffic
    80dB
    Rock concert110-115dB

    Safe listening levels for children

    The higher the decibels, the quicker you experience noise-induced hearing loss. That’s why it’s vital to pick headphones with a volume limit, so your kids can’t blast music all day long, every day.

    According to the CDC, hearing damage can occur:

    • After 2 hours of listening to music at 85dBA.
    • After 8 hours of listening to music at 75dBA.

    Most headphones have a volume limit set at 85dB. Some offer to extend the limit to 94dB, whereas others also have a 75dB limit. However, the latter is rare.

    BuddyPhones Play+ volume limiters
    BuddyPhones Play+ are the one kids’ headphones we’ve tested to also have the 75dB limit.

    It’s worth mentioning that there are no specific regulations of when headphones need to reach that limit (whether when playing music, white noise, pink noise, etc.).

    Consequently, we’re getting widely different loudness measurements when testing limiters inside headphones for kids.

    Different loudness measurements
    Different measurements of headphones claim they have an 85dB limit.

    Features and technologies in headphones that limit volume

    Headphones use 2 different approaches to limit the maximum volume.

    • By using DSP, which digitally modifies the audio signal to prevent it from going above a specific loudness (keeps the amplitudes low). DSP is found in wireless Bluetooth headphones and is typically the most consistent for the job.
    • By using physical resistors, which cut down the electrical current going through, which affects the output power. You find resistors in wired headphones or wireless ones with an option for a wired connection. It is less effective, especially when sending a signal through a more powerful source, like an amplifier.

    How to check and adjust the maximum dB on kids’ headphones

    It would be difficult to check the maximum dB of your kid’s headphones without proper measuring equipment. However, what you can do is push them to the max and listen.

    • Headphones should be fine if the maximum loudness barely sounds loud enough to you.
    • If your kid mentions ringing in his ears after listening to headphones, they’re definitely too loud.
    Measuring kids headphones
    We use noise-calibrated ears and head simulator to measure the loudness of the kids’ headphones we test.

    You can set the limit yourself on iOS and Android if your headphones don’t have a volume limiter. Here’s how you do that on various operating systems.

    iOS

    1. Go into Settings and open Sounds & Haptics.
    2. Find Headphone Safety and enable “Reduce Loud Sounds.”
    3. Now, you can select the decibel level you don’t want to cross.
    iOS iPad volume limiter menu settings

    Android

    1. Go into Settings and select Sound and vibrations.
    Volume limiter steps Android
    1. Go into Volume and tap the 3 dots in the upper right corner—open Media volume limit.
    1. Enable the feature and select the custom volume limit. You can even set a PIN code so your kid can’t bypass this setting.

    Tips about monitoring and educating kids about safe listening

    Young people increasingly suffer from hearing issues because of heavy headphone usage. Therefore, educating kids from a young age about safe headphones use is important.

    One way of showing kids what hearing loss looks like is to:

    1. Place earplugs (or something like cotton balls) in their ears to seal off the canal.
    2. Start talking to them in a normal voice and ask if they can hear you.
    3. Then, place the earplugs out of their ears and continue speaking normally.

    Hopefully, they’ll understand hearing damage more easily and act more responsibly next time they blast their headphones.

    Tips for managing screen time with headphones

    Set a time limit when using headphones. After the time is up, encourage kids to do other things, like homework or play with friends.

    BuddyPhones School+ on a laptop
    Headphones are a tool that helps your kid concentrate and learn.

    While you might achieve breaks by providing less comfortable headphones (on-ear design), you can’t always count on that. Like anyone, kids need motivation, and it’s up to you as a parent to figure it out.

    Here’s what you can try to encourage headphone breaks:

    • Set a time limit.
    • Organize afternoon activities, like sports, playing instruments, etc.
    • Invite their friends over to play. Make it a regular occasion.

    Additional Considerations for Kids’ Headphones and Earbuds

    Now, let’s discuss subjects we haven’t entirely covered above.

    Comfort and adjustable sizing for growing children

    The human skull develops to about 90% of its size by age 6-7 years. But, it continues to grow right up to age 25

    That means that kids can’t wear adult-sized headphones up to a certain age. So, it is best to get them the ones specifically made for children.

    You can buy on-ear headphones meant for adults, but they might have an overly tight clamping force or be too fragile to survive the rough handling of children.

    BuddyPhones Explore+ size comparison
    Kid-sized on-ears are even slightly smaller than adult ones.

    Note that headphones will probably stop working before your kids’ head grows too big. You have to be prepared to buy a new pair at some point.

    Another solution is buying headphones like Puro Sound Labs BT2200 Plus, which come with on-ear and over-ear ear pads. However, they are expensive, especially for parents with multiple kids.

    Kid-friendly controls and buttons

    It’s best for kids to have headphones with big physical buttons and clear indications of what they do. For example, a big “+” button raises the volume.

    BuddyPhones Play+ controls
    When it comes to controls for kids’ headphones, it’s all about intuitive design.

    Utilizing touch controls is less practical due to accidental presses. Even most adult headphones have physical controls.

    Headphones with built-in microphones for online learning and gaming

    If you choose wireless headphones for kids, you’ll be pleased to know that most have a built-in microphone. The call quality varies but is generally good enough for online classes.

    On the other hand, if your kid is into gaming, it is better to opt for a headset with a boom mic. It adds bulk, but his online friends will appreciate the improved voice quality.

    Wired vs. wireless headphones: Pros and cons

    Advantages & disadvantages of using wireless Bluetooth kids headphones:

    • No cables mean freedom of movement and a lesser chance of damaging headphones or the computer by violently pulling the cable.
    • More volume-limiting options (if headphones support them).
    • Built-in microphones for phone calls, online school, and gaming.
    • Needs regular charging (frustrating when you forget to charge).
    • Questionable connection stability (some parents complain about laptop audio drop-offs).

    Advantages & disadvantages of using wired headphones for kids:

    • Plug & play without needing to charge.
    • A more reliable connection that’s also compatible with stationary computers.
    • Fragile cables are usually the first to break.
    • Physical volume limiters can be bypassed.

    Warranty and customer support for kids’ audio devices

    Kids aren’t treated differently than adults when it comes to warranty. Most kids’ headphones we’ve checked have a standard 1-year warranty that doesn’t cover accidental damage, which is the likeliest cause of malfunctioning.

    If possible, you can purchase a separate coverage from a retailer, which also covers accidental damage. They will replace damaged headphones with a new product.

    Damaged connector
    Accidental cable pulls can quickly result in unrepairable damage.

    Kid-friendly and customization features

    BuddyPhones Play+ stickers
    Some kids’ headphones can be customized.

    Depending on your kids’ age, they might still be playful and creative. The good news is that some headphones allow them to unleash their creativity and personalize them with included accessories.

    Kids can tape various stickers on the ear cups or use blank stickers to make their own designs. Some headphones even have shining LED lights or cat ears to make them look cuter.

    Notable Brands and Models for Kids’ Headphones

    While numerous brands offer headphones for kids, especially in shops like Amazon or Walmart, we can safely recommend the best we’ve tested personally.

    • BuddyPhones make excellent kids’ headphones at different prices, from $30 to $100. In most cases, they are the safest regarding volume limits and the most durable, thanks to highly flexible construction.
    BuddyPhones School+ folded
    • Puro Sound Labs make more premium headphones for kids, costing around $70 and above. They’re typically made of aluminum but have a little wonky construction, so they’re better suited for kids who can treat them better. Puro’s BT2200 model is our benchmark for the most accurate volume-limiting headphones for kids.
    Puro BT2200 Plus on a table
    • LilGadgets are also highly rated on Amazon, with many satisfying parents. However, many headphones from this brand have a volume limit set at 93dB, which we consider too high for kids. Also, we haven’t tested any headphones from this brand.

    If we have to pick a model to highly recommend to parents, it would be BuddyPhones POP Fun, as it’s durable, sounds good, and offers the safest listening experience out of all kids’ headphones.

    We also tested many other headphones for kids and toddlers. Check out how they performed.

    FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Kids’ Headphones & Earbuds

    Should kids use earbuds or headphones?

    Kids should use headphones, not earbuds, since they pose a higher risk of ear infections. Also, many earbuds for kids lack a volume limiter. Plus, true wireless earbuds are a potential choking hazard.

    What decibel levels is safe for kids’ headphones?

    According to Children’s Mercy, a loudness of 75 dBA is safe for kids’ headphones, but 85 dBA is still acceptable. Note that at 85dB loudness, hearing damage occurs after 2 hours, whereas it takes 8 hours at 75 dB.

    Are headphones OK for a 3-year-old?

    Headphones are OK for a 3-year-old if they have a volume limited to 75dB and a gentle clamping force. Earbuds are unsuitable as they might be a choking hazard.

    Do kids need noise cancelling headphones?

    Kids don’t need noise-cancelling headphones, as blocking the outside world can be dangerous. Except when traveling, it protects their hearing, and when studying, it helps them avoid distractions and concentrate on work.

    Conclusion

    When choosing headphones for kids, the idea is to give them a tool that helps them learn, not just to keep them entertained and distracted.

    That’s why you should look for durable headphones (to minimize future expenses) that are moderately comfortable and can cover both play and serious work, like online schooling.

    Here are the best kids headphones we tested and measured for volume limiter accuracy:

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