Can You Hear Me Now?

Dear Mr. Dad: Our teenage son has an iPod constantly hanging from his ear and as far as I can tell, he listens to the music much too loud. When I ask him to lower the volume because I’m worried that the noise is damaging his hearing, he just laughs. However, I am really worried. What should I do?

A: You’re absolutely right to be concerned about your son’s listening habits—as you suspected, there’s no question that he’s jeopardizing his long-term ability to hear. As far as his shrugging off your pleas to turn down the volume on his iPod, it’s all part of his irrational belief (one he shares with most kids) that he’s indestructible and that nothing bad can happen to him because he is young and strong. Or maybe he thinks that hearing loss only affects old people.

He’s wrong on both counts. There is plenty of scientific data out there that demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that noise-induced hearing loss impacts an increasing number of young people. The American Academy of Audiology estimates that about one child in eight already has permanent hearing damage caused by prolonged exposure to loud noise. In many – if not all – of these cases, this entirely preventable impairment was caused by iPods, MP3 players, and all sorts of other personal audio devices turned on high volume for extended periods of time.

The consequences of this early-onset hearing loss are numerous and serious, such as impaired language development, diminished ability to learn (which goes hand in hand with slower academic progress and fewer possibilities of good career opportunities later in life), and impaired social interactions, to list just a few. That ought to be enough to make any concerned parent sit up and listen – no pun intended.

I’m betting that your son isn’t completely aware of the risks he is taking with his much-too-loud iPod, but he may lend an ear if you show him some reputable, kid-friendly resources about hearing loss and prevention among young people. Noisy Planet (noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov) or the National Hearing Conservation Association (hearingconservation.org/rs_forKids.html) are worth a look. He may also be surprised to learn that quite a few of the musicians he’s listening to have suffered hearing loss. Have him visit hardofhearinghalloffame.com/Rock.html.

Now is probably also a good time to have your son’s hearing tested to make sure there’s no damage. Hearing health specialists recommend annual check-ups for people of all ages.
The good news is that your son doesn’t have to give up his beloved iPod altogether. The answer is moderation, that is, lowering the volume to a comfortable, non-invasive, non-blaring level and giving his ears a rest by taking frequent listening breaks. You may also want to invest into top-of-the line headphones that block out background noise by providing a good seal in the ear canal. Nevertheless, if he’s wearing headphones or ear buds and you can hear what he’s listening to, it’s too loud. If you recognize a song or can identify the lyrics, it’s way, way too loud.

Your son – and you – will be relieved to know that he can still enjoy the sound of music and protect his hearing at the same time. Just don’t let him turn a deaf ear to this message.

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