While it’s not surprising to spot teens wearing headphones and earbuds, it’s also becoming a widespread trend among younger children, a national poll suggests.

Two in three parents say their child ages 5-12 uses personal audio devices such as headphones, with half of parents of children ages 5-8 reporting elementary-aged kids use a device.

Among parents whose children use headphones and earbuds, half say kids spend at least an hour a day using them while one in six say a typical day for their child includes at least two hours of use, according to the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

“Over recent years we’ve mostly been concerned about teens overusing audio devices. But earbuds have become increasingly popular and prevalent among younger kids, exposing them to more intense noise on a regular basis,” says Susan Woolford, MD, MPH, Mott pediatrician and co-director of the Mott poll.

“Noise exposure risks to young children have historically involved loud singular events like concerts or fireworks, but parents may underestimate the potential harm from excessive use of listening devices. It may be difficult to know whether their child’s exposure to noise is healthy.”

infographic showing parent strategies to protect kids' hearing
Only half of parents polled have tried to limit their child’s audio device usage, according to a national poll. Infographic: University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health

Children are most likely to use these devices at home, school, and in the car, report findings show. About a fourth of parents also say children occasionally use audio devices on airplanes while less than 10% say kids use them on the bus, outside or in bed.

Half of parents agree that headphones or earbuds help keep their child entertained.

The nationally representative report is based on responses from 1,152 parents with at least one child age 5-12 surveyed in August 2023.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement in 2023 on the need to reduce noise risks to children, with increasing evidence that children and teens may be more exposed through personal listening devices.

Prolonged or extreme exposure to high volumes of noise can result in longterm health issues, including hearing loss or tinnitus, Woolford says.

“Young children are more vulnerable to potential harm from noise exposure because their auditory systems are still developing. Their ear canals are also smaller than adults’, intensifying perceived sound levels,” Woolford said.

“Tiny hair cells inside the inner ear pick up sound waves to help you hear. When these get damaged or die, hearing loss is irreversible.”

Noise exposure among children can also affect their sleep, academic learning, language, stress levels, and even blood pressure, she adds.

More parents of children aged 9-12 years than 5-8 years report their child uses headphones or earbuds and daily use was also more likely to be higher among the older age group, the poll suggests. 

But only half of parents share they’ve tried to limit their child’s audio device usage, citing strategies such as asking the child to take a break, having set hours for use, and using a timer.