Kids and MP3 Players: A Dangerous Mix

Before you buy an MP3 player for your child, evaluate the risks and make sure your child can use it responsibly. Being able to take music anywhere is a lot of fun, but there are some real dangers associated with using MP3 players.

Hearing Loss
Headphone use is a leading cause of hearing loss in adults. Chances are your kids won't take this threat too seriously, but it's very real.

Headphones, especially earbud headphones, send sound waves bouncing around inside the ear canal. These sound waves overwhelm the cilia in our ears, tiny hairs that enable us to hear. Volume is the main culprit. MP3 players pump 100 decibels directly into the ear, which can cause permanent damage in as little as 15 minutes. Even at lower volumes, listening for hours each day can have a measurable impact on hearing.

To minimize the risks to hearing, follow these rules:

  1. Never listen to an MP3 player at top volume. Kids should limit the volume to 60% of the maximum. Some new MP3 players for kids have volume limits that are lower than those for iPods and other adult models. Kids can crank these models up without damaging their hearing.
  2. Limit MP3 player use. After an hour of listening, it's time for a break.
  3. Use different headphones. Over the ear headphones are a better choice than earbuds, because they're not emitting sound inside the ear canal. If you can afford them, consider getting noise-canceling headphones that don't need to be turned up as loud to be effective.

Distraction Dangers
If you give your child noise canceling headphones, or if your child insists on high-decibel listening, you've got to limit the places where the MP3 player is used. The risk of serious accidents rises greatly when kids are distracted. They may not hear car horns as they're crossing the street or verbal warnings from adults when they're entering a dangerous area.

Kids should only wear headphones while they're walking if they keep the volume down. MP3 players should never be used while running, bicycling or skateboarding, or in any other situation where awareness of what's happening is a must.

Computer Viruses
An MP3 player could easily undo the security system on your home computer. MP3 players are tiny hard drives. When they're plugged into a home computer, viruses can jump from the player to your computer, sometimes bypassing firewalls and antivirus programs.

To keep viruses out of your system, set rules with your child for downloading and sharing music. Only allow kids to download music from reputable, paid sites, such as Amazon.com or the iTunes Store. Don't let kids connect their MP3 players to other people's computers or share songs directly from one MP3 player to another.

MP3 players can be a kid's best friend, but only if they're handled with safety in mind.

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