The effect of sound and noise in children

Have you ever been irritated by someone else’s loud music? Children, and teenagers in particular, have a reputation for enjoying turning up the volume. But what is the real effect of excessive noise and sound on our kids?

People are affected by noise, according to research and in the case of children, studies show that noise pollution is linked with gradual hearing loss, which in turn can affect their speech, language and children’s cognitive, social and emotional development.

Excessive noise is also linked with sleep disorders, increased blood pressure, poor digestion, slower learning, increased irritability and aggression.

Regular noise and hearing impairment

Would one loud party ruin a child’s ears and cause this list of problems? Almost definitely not, but there are some interesting facts and perspectives to keep in mind if your teen likes to pump up the volume. Hearing loss due to noise is something that usually builds over time, but then becomes permanent. You may think that no harm is being done by loud sounds, since your hearing seems to return to normal once you leave the noise of, for example, a concert.

In reality, however, each exposure causes a little damage; and the louder a noise is, the less time it takes for damage to occur. By leaving your children to believe that noise is an essential part of fun, you increase the chances that they will choose to turn up the volume whenever they listen to devices.

After all, ‘kids just wanna have fun’, huh?! It is important to distinguish between sound – which is one extremely important way children learn about their world – and noise, which becomes a threat to health and wellbeing.

Test noisy toys yourself

Babies are naturally startled and frightened by loud noises – the vacuum cleaner, or a blender, for example. Parents are able to define for very young children what sound is and what noise is, which can include the kind of toys you buy, the volume of music and television you listen to, and the loudness of other sounds to which you expose your children.

But did you know that some toys are loud enough to harm your children’s hearing – even some rattles and learning devices – especially if a baby is young enough to hold these things to their ears. Therefore, before you allow your baby or child to play with a toy, test it yourself. If the toy is the least bit annoying when played right next to your ear, it is too loud for your baby, whose arms are much shorter and whose hearing is probably more sensitive than yours.

Many infants and young children hold their ears, wince, or step back when exposed to noise (or what you might consider sound) – reactions that indicate the noise is too loud or overwhelming. Eventually they may get used to it, but this does not mean it is safe. Being able to mentally tune out noise does not mean that physiologically their hearing is not being affected.

Avoid or minimise what excess noise you can, and rescue your baby when he/she reacts negatively to noise. As they get older, some children may insist they study better or sleep better or do whatever better using an earbud or having the TV on, but there is no evidence that their school grades or quality of sleep habits backs that up. It’s better to set limits on the amount of time and volume of sound.

Set the example you want your children to follow

If you blast your own phone videos, TV, or music loudly, your children will think this is normal and do the same. Conversely, if you keep your own sound levels moderate (including your voice!), your children are more likely to keep their sound levels moderate also.

Talk to your children quietly about noise!

Discuss the damage noise does with your children and the importance of hearing in their future jobs and social interactions. Calmly help your children to understand that exposure to noise over a long period of time causes permanent damage and that the louder the noise, the more damage occurs.

You can do this over family dinner and present it as a conversational fact, starting with ‘Did you know…’ However, do ask your children how they feel about it if they like listening to loud music, as children will usually come up with their reasons for preferring to turn up the volume. Then brainstorm safer alternatives together. Calmly!

Make ‘peace and quiet’ an enjoyable time at home

Family dinner and a regular family games night are a great time to enjoy each other and share stories of the day without the distraction of TV or phones. Among the many benefits of spending ‘noise-free’ time together are better and more enjoyable communication together, children will usually improve their vocabulary, develop in confidence and the face-to-face social interaction builds a strong family bond.

Find other ways to enjoy quiet family time, such as regular baking or cooking together, which will give you the chance to chit-chat and interact as humans! By turning off the outside electronic noises, you can tune in to each other better.

Don’t make a big deal of switching all the devices off – instead, you could get some paints and canvases (or a giant canvas!) and get the kids to join in to all create an artistic masterpiece for the house! Encourage your children to come up with other ideas for quiet activities or games nights/weekend days.

Monitor noise levels carefully

Is the noise from the iPad, TV, computer, or musical instrument too loud? A good rule of thumb: if you need to shout from one metre away to be heard, it is way too loud. Report to your children’s doctor if your child tells you about any ringing or buzzing sensations in their ears, or if their speech or hearing feels muffled to them, take them to your doctor to get checked out.

Avoiding ‘noise pollution’

Does the TV really need to be on in the background while you are going about your daily household jobs, or while the family are eating together? Are there TV shows, YouTube videos and TikToks all competing for attention from various devices from one room of the house to the next? What about one person’s music, another’s TV show, and aYouTube video simultaneously streaming on the computer?

Sometimes just getting rid of one source of sound (even if it is not loud) can reduce the ‘noise pollution’ in your family’s atmosphere. In the US, where a large amount of studies have been undertaken, it was found that over 5 million children suffer from some degree of noise-induced hearing loss.

Not only this, more noise-induced hearing loss (and effects resulting from this) are predicted to show up in young adulthood. Do everything you can to protect your children from getting into such a preventable situation. Start when your children are young, with the toys they have and the situations you allow them to be in, and continue to be vigilant throughout their childhood and teenage years by offering education and guidance about noise levels.

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