Why Does Back to School Mean New Headphones?

It’s that time of year—when kids cringe and parents rejoice. The school bus armadas have begun. Little ones are heading back to school, but the whole family is heading back to the malls and online to load up on school supplies for the year. What tops the shopping list? Technology. What is the third most popular back-to-school technology purchase? Headphones. Bizarre, right?

This year in the US, students heading back to those hallowed halls of learning will spend about $18.3 billion on technology purchases alone. The top three items that students are purchasing are portable memory devices, basic calculators, followed by headphones, with 52% of students adding new cans to their shopping carts. The rest of the list includes laptops, software, and tablets. Also interesting to note is that 95% of families plan to do their shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, and almost half will also shop online. These numbers were compiled from a study by the Consumer Technology Association.

Apple isn’t waiting to see if kids buy their Beats headphones. As part of their 2016 back-to-school campaign, eligible purchases of a Mac, iPad or iPhone come with a free pair of Beats wireless headphone when purchased with an education discount. Lucky kids; it almost makes me wish I was a kid heading back to school. Not.

It’s interesting and exciting that so many students are buying or bundling headphones. However, it’s even more intriguing that headphones are even on a back-to-school list. Just because they’re being purchased, why are they considered a school item? Are they required by teachers? Has anyone ever seen a school shopping list with headphones on it? Pencils, notebooks, crayons, and backpacks—sure. When I was a kid, a new lunchbox was about all I could expect. But headphones? Why not add a subscription to Pandora to the required shopping list sent home with little Johnny and Jane? Or are the teachers hoping enough kids zone out in the back of their classes with their headphones on that the teachers can check Instagram without anyone noticing? Or have headphones become a mandatory part of the school uniform?

In reality, what could the students be using the headphones for? Classes are still taught by real teachers, although you could argue a few are online. In music classes, loudspeakers are still used for lessons and demonstrations, but maybe a better appreciation for the classics would be achieved if the students used high-quality headphones for learning about the Three Bs. The dreaded film-strips might have been replaced with videos (they have, haven’t they?) but they’re still played over a TV monitor with speakers. I don't get it. I was a music engineering major in college and I didn't have headphones. Help me out—why did your kids get new headphones this year?

One can only guess that music playback via headphones has become so mainstream that everyone is required to use headphones whenever they’re listening to music or videos, even in the classroom. Maybe it keeps the peace on the schoolbus. That gives us hope that while the quality of playback might be diminished these days (how many kids are downloading hi-res audio files?) at least the kids are listening to a lot of music. Just hopefully not in class.

Oreo's picture

I have kids in elementary school, and they have days where they go to the computer lab or use the computers in the classroom, which is where they use their headphones. This is a pair that stays at school, in a plastic zipper bag, I presume for hygienic purposes.

I participate in the WatchD.O.G.S program, so I've seen them in use personally.