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Out of the mouths of babes: what children say about noise

By Nancy B. Nadler, M.E.D., M.A. (Director of the Noise Center at CHC), Yael Bat-Chava, Ph.D. and Susan Shockett, B.A. | Hearing rehabilitation Quarterly – Volume 23, Number (1998)

“Loud is cool.” “The louder the better.” “Turn it up!” Right? Wrong! Although advertisers who bombard our children with noisy toys, noisy video games, loud music and raucous entertainment seem to think that children will benefit from the increased volume, children, as early as third grade, know otherwise.

Last year, as part of International Noise Awareness Day, “The Weekly Reader,” ran a cover story about noisy toys which was distributed to one million third graders. As a follow-up to this article, the Center for the Hard of Hearing, in cooperation with the Task Force on Education of the National Hearing Conservation Association, developed and posted a “Fun Quiz” on the Internet for students. The purpose of the “Fun Quiz” was to assess third graders’ knowledge about noise damage and hearing protection and to obtain information about their personal experiences with noise. The alarming results of this survey are described below.

Subject and method

“The Weekly Reader” was distributed to one million third graders in schools across the United States. 114 students responded to the “Fun Quiz” in a complete manner. Many more responses were received at the Noise Center, however they had to be thrown away because they were either incomplete or filled out in a silly manner.

“The Weekly Reader” article listed a voluntary quiz by stating: “Take a fun noise quiz at the CHC website.” The quiz was located at the Noise Center web site and included ten right/wrong quiz items and five informational questions. Students could read and respond to the questions and submit their responses on the Internet. Correct answers with an explanation with each item was available to students after submitting their responses. A small group of third grade students reviewed the questions and took the quiz prior to it being posted on the Noise Center’s web site to ensure that the questions were meaningful and easily understood. (See below for the “Fun Quiz”.)

Results

Of the ten right/wrong questions, the students scored highest on items 1 (“loud music is…[cool/not cool],” 8 (“The kids in the school band don’t have to worry that the music is too loud for their ears…”), and 9 (“When I play music or with my toys, the louder the better”). Ninety percent of the children responded correctly to questions one and nine, and 86.71 responded correctly to question eight. The majority of the students who responded to the questionnaire thus believed that loud music is “not cool” and that when they play music or with their toys, louder is not better. Most of the respondents also agreed that school band members do need to worry about whether the music they play is too loud for their ears.

The three items that the third-graders scored lowest on were questions 3 (“Rock & Roll is worse for your hearing than symphony music”, 4 (“Cotton is a good way to protect your ears”), and 6 (“It is better to wear ear plugs than winter ear muffs”). The majority of students incorrectly responded to question 3 that Rock & Roll is worse for your hearing than symphony music (79.8% incorrect), and to question 4 that cotton is a good way to protect your ears (53.6%). One-third of the participants also answered question 6 incorrectly, saying that it is not better to wear ear plugs than winter ear muffs (33.6%).

Discussion

Quiz questions
To further analyze the responses, the ten quiz questions were divided into the following three categories: I.) Loudness, II.) Noise Damage, III.) Hearing Protection.

“Loudness,” the first category, encompasses the two questions (1 and 9) which relate to subjective opinions about loudness. Not only do these two items pose a similar question, but they have the highest correct response rate of the then questions, which was the same for both items (90.3%). The students’ high correct response rate suggests that they have the right idea that loud noise is “not cool.”

“Noise Damage,” the second category, combines questions 2,3,5, 7 and 8, which all pertain to the consequences of noise exposure on hearing. The mean rate of correct response for this category was 67.0%. Except for question 3, all of the items within this category have a relatively high rate of correct responses, between 70% and 87%. Although the students did not perform as well on the “Noise Damage” questions as they did on “Loudness” questions, they still responded to more than two-thirds of the “Noise damage” questions correctly on average (67.0%).

The students had their lowest mean rate of correct response for the “Hearing Protection” category, which was slightly lower than their mean score for the “Noise damage” category (65.6%). “Hearing Protection” incorporates the three items which relate to the protection of hearing from noise damage (items 4, 6, 10). This category is distinguished by the inclusion of two of the items which have the lowest rates of correct response (questions 4 and 6).

Informational questions
In addition to the ten quiz items, the “Fun Quiz” included five informational questions designed to determine the types of noise to which the third-graders are exposed and the impact of that noise. (See box for informational questions).

The first two informational questions (A and B) asked the students whether they own a Walkman, and if yes, how much time they spend listening to their Walkmen per day. Eighty-one percent (n = 92) of the students who responded to question A indicated that they own a Walkman. On average, the students listen to their Walkmen 30 minutes per day, ranging from 0 to 300 minutes.

In question C, students were first asked to respond “yes” or “no” to the statement, “Sometimes my ears ring.” Forty-six percent of the respondents (n = 53) reported that their ears ring sometimes. Students were then asked to indicate when their ears ring. The most common answer to this question was music (12 responses). The students’ ears ring mostly during or after listening to rock concerts, stereo equipment, and other forms of music. The second most common category of noises is more general, including such responses as “when it is too loud” and “after hearing loud noises” (7). The third most common category of answers to this question is people, or more specifically, people yelling (2).

In response to question D, “Do you have noisy toys in the house?”, the majority of the students, 63.2% (n = 72), replied “yes.” The three most common categories of noisy toys reported were electronic audio equipment (18 responses), musical instruments (16 responses), and toy vehicles (15 responses).

The final item of the “Fun Quiz,” question E, asked students to list “the noises that bother [them] the most.” Most of the responses to this question fit into the category of music, which includes items such as stereo, orchestra, guitar, and rock music (26 responses), followed by people, a category which contains almost as many responses as does the category of music (23 responses), and finally vehicles, such as motorcycles, cars and airplanes (12 responses).

Conclusion

The 114 third graders who responded to “The Weekly Reader” Fun Quiz responded correctly to an average of 72.7% of the ten true/false – type questions. The students had the highest rates of correct response for the two items related to their subjective opinions about loudness, and the lowest rates of correct response for two items related to hearing protection. Responses to the open-ended questions revealed that 81% of the students own a Walkman, 46% reported that their ears ring sometimes, and 63% have noisy toys in their homes. Third graders who own a Walkman listen to their Walkmen for an average of 30 minutes a day. Loud music was the most frequent reason for ears ringing. Toys that produce music were also the most frequently cited type of noisy toys mentioned, and electronic audio equipment was the most common type of noise that bothers the students.

Overall, the results of the Fun Quiz reveal that the third graders who participated have a good understanding of the dangers of noise to hearing, but could benefit from additional information about hearing protection. Since all students who took the Fun Quiz were first given the article about noise in “The Weekly Reader,” which focused on the damage of excessive noise to hearing, it is apparent that the students were able to recall and interpret the information in the article. Additional articles and/or educational materials are recommended to provide information about steps to protect hearing.

The results of this survey indicate that a large portion of students as early as third grade experience ringing in their ears sometimes, a warning sign that exposure to noise may be damaging hearing. Additionally, a majority of young children report exposure to noisy toys, loud music and other sources of high levels of noise. Although these students understand that loud is not cool today, the pressure in this advertising-driven age to buy and use these noise makers may threaten the health and well-being of our children tomorrow. With such a high percentage of young children already reporting ringing in their ears and exposure to noise in the homes, parents, teachers and manufacturers must take heed and pay attention to the alarming results of this survey. Noise-induced hearing loss, although preventable, is permanent. We must provide children with safe listening environments — not only in the home, but in school, daycare, and other daily situations — so that their hearing is protected for the future.