He had on his new suit and shiny shoes. The card and gift were packed, and so were the earplugs. He was heading out the door to his first fancy school party. For weeks we had discussed the appropriate outfit to wear and the fact that he would need to use earplugs when the band played. Given my genetic hearing loss, I won’t take any chances with my children damaging their hearing. They need to have as much of their own hearing left in case problems arise later through no fault of their own.
We didn’t have too many battles over the outfit, but the earplugs were another story. He remembered his sister’s earplugs from two years ago when she went through this same round of parties. They were the kind from the drugstore — big, bulky and bright pink. He wanted none of that! We searched for something less noticeable.
His need for the earplugs to be unobtrusive bothered me at first. He should be proud to protect his hearing, like he was a few years ago at camp. Was he ashamed of his mom with hearing loss? Was I passing down the stigma of hearing loss to my children despite my efforts to avoid it? Eventually I chalked it up to teenage angst and its accompanying peer pressure.
We found a pair of small, clear and high quality earplugs on the Internet, and practiced inserting them a few times after they arrived. They were expensive, but they seemed to work very well. And they were discreet. He promised to wear them, which was the most important part. I was proud of his courage to do the right thing, even when it was hard.
Off he went to the party and when things got loud, he did as he had promised and used his earplugs. He said a few kids asked him if they were hearing aids, to which he replied, “No, earplugs.” Then the kids asked if he had others to share. The music was painfully loud — at 106 decibels according to my son’s decibel reader app on his Smartphone. This is a damaging level of sound.
The rule of thumb is that prolonged exposure to any sound at or above 85 decibels can cause gradual hearing loss. This is the level of heavy city traffic or a school cafeteria. At 100 decibels, the level of a rock concert or loud sporting event, damage can occur after one minute! Check out this “noise navigator” chart for safe listening duration times at various volumes.
This raises the question of why the music was so loud in the first place. I find weddings, bar mitzvahs and other large parties unpleasant given the noise level. I don’t remember the music being as loud years ago, but maybe I am just getting more sensitive because of my hearing loss. I don’t think so, though. Unfortunately, today’s society seems to equate loud with fun. Maybe it is time to turn the volume down so we can all enjoy safely.
In the end, I was proud of my son. He had his reservations about wearing the earplugs and setting himself apart from his peers, but we worked together to find a mutually acceptable option. And when I was not there to enforce the behavior, he wore them, even when people began to notice them.
After all the worry, wearing earplugs had even turned out to be cool! He is planning to bring extras for his friends next time.
Readers, do you wear earplugs at loud parties?
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