A recent study of the listening habits of the modern teen produced some surprising results. One thing is certain. It's a problem. A hearing problem.
According to the study, conducted on teens at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Children's Hospital in Boston, showed that when youngsters were pressured into turning down their iPods or MP3 players, they tended to crank the volume up even louder.
Now, that might be understandable when "totally-out-of-it-mom" gives the order to shut down the sound. But testers saw the same reaction even when peer pressure was applied, i.e. when friends told others to turn down the iPod, the wearer still increased the volume.
Tests also showed that teen boys liked to pump up the funk louder than their female counterparts.
Head of the study, audiologist and doctoral candidate, Cory Portnuff put it this way.
"We really don't have a good explanation for why teens concerned about the hearing loss risk actually play their music louder than others," he said. "But we do know that teens who knew what the benefits were of listening at lower levels had less hearing loss risk, which is why we believe targeted education is the key."
The results of the study, conducted by Portnuff, Associate Professor Kathryn Arehart from CU Boulder's Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and Brian Fligor, Director of Diagnostic Audiology at Children's Hospital, were presented at the annual Hearing Conservation Conference held in Atlanta in February, 2009.
Study leader Portnuff also stated, "The good news is that teens in the study who understand the benefits of listening at a lower volume have less risk of hearing loss."
Still, the study showed that as many as 24% of teens pump too much sound - enough to cause current and future hearing loss - down the ear canal. However, Portnuff pointed out that this figure hasn't changed much since the Walkman days.
The hearing mechanism is delicate and complex, made up of numerous parts, all of which are required to function at optimum levels for optimum hearing. Loud noise exposure damages a part of the inner ear called the cochlea. This tiny, fluid-filled organ is lined with millions of hear-like structures that convert sound energy (waves) into electrical signals that are sent to the hearing centers of the brain for processing.
When these hair-like structures are exposed to loud noise over a long period of time they cease to function, or at least function to full capacity. "Over time, the hair cells can become permanently damaged and no longer work, producing hearing loss," study author Portnuff explained.
So What's Safe for You and Your Kids?
Obviously, lower volume is better, along with limiting the amount of time you or your child use an iPod or other similar listening device.
A 2006 study, also authored by Portnuff and Fligor, indicated that an individual could listen to an iPod at 70% volume (that's very loud) for up to 4.6 hours a day using the standard ear buds that come with the music player without doing permanent damage.
BUT, that same study showed that listening at full volume for as little as five minutes a day can cause permanent hearing loss way too early in life.
Bottom line from that '06 study? If you listen to an MP3 player or iPod at 80% volume for 90 minutes a day, giving your ears plenty of time to recover, you'll avoid permanent damage.
But remember, it's not about nagging your kid. It's about pro-active education. The study did show that those test subjects who were educated about the dangers of noise exposure tended to be more careful in their listening habits - listening at lower volume and for fewer hours each day.
Nagging seems to have the opposite effect, causing teens to crank up the sound. Remember, they think they're invincible. They believe they're hearing is invincible, too. So skip the nagging and go right to a little education.
They may groan today, but they'll thank you tomorrow.
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