Can you hear your child’s music even though they are wearing headphones? Do they need to remove their earbuds to hear what you are saying to them? Are they listening to loud music for several hours a day? If one or more of these are true, your children could be damaging their hearing.
Enjoying music is part of growing up. Michael Jackson and Chicago formed the soundtrack for my teenage years as their music helped me express my emotions and put words to my self-discovery. I listened to music in the car, while I did homework, and wherever else I could. But listening to music on a Walkman or boombox is very different from listening to music today.
Earbuds put the sound much closer to the delicate structures of the inner ear and the compact size of today’s music makers (iPods, etc.) makes it easier to listen to music at any and all times. In fact, according to a 2015 Common Sense media study, teens consume an average of 9 hours of media daily, with listening to music as the most popular activity. That is a lot of Beyonce!
Why does this matter? Because it is damaging their hearing.
According to a 2010 study, one in five teens has hearing loss, and this number is likely higher today. Once hearing is damaged, the loss is permanent, and the impact on one’s life is great. I know, because I have hearing loss that started in my mid-20s. Mine is genetic, not noise-induced, but the impact is the same — missing the punch line of the joke when everyone else is laughing and having trouble communicating at work or at play. Feelings of isolation and depression are also commonly associated with hearing loss.
So what can we do? We need to educate children about the dangers of hearing loss, and we need to start teaching them well before the teenage years. Elementary school is perfect since this is when children are first developing the self-care habits they will use throughout life. Plus, they are a lot more open to adult advice about staying safe and healthy at that age than they will be in the teen years.
A few years ago I talked to my son’s 1st grade class about hearing — how it worked and how to protect it. I showed the children sound waves in water and helped them measure how loud different sounds were using a decibel reader. They were fascinated to see that the farther away you were from a sound, the quieter it became. I taught them the three steps to protecting their hearing — Move Away, Turn It Down and Block The Noise. At the end, I showed them how to use earplugs to protect their ears from loud noise. Each child got a pair to take home. Some of them still wear them.
The good news is that when hearing protection is used properly and music is consumed safely, noise-induced hearing loss is 100% preventable. We just need to get the word out. The materials are readily available through It’s A Noisy Planet, a program of the National Institutes of Health.
Readers, do you think schools should incorporate hearing loss prevention into the health curriculum?
A version of this post first appeared on Healthy Hearing.