It finally happened. The most significant, life-changing, tear-duct emptying, hallelujah-raising event in the life of parents finally arrived for the Hearing Husband and me.
Yesterday, we delivered our baby boy, Joel, all 6 feet 5 inches of him, to university for the first time.
On top of being both exciting (for the child) and emotional (for his parents), it was also the noisiest few hours I’ve experienced in a long time. Surrounded by half-crazed
Frosh students, my hearing aids went into compression and I felt terror for the potential hearing loss in all these gorgeous young adults.
‘Frosh’ is boringly described by Wikipedia as ‘a period of time at the beginning of the academic year at a university during which a variety of events are held to orient and welcome new students.’ A mother would more accurately describe it as a seven-day binge of painted faces and bad hair, parties and crazy stuff – all punctuated with enthusiastic but non-stop whoop-whooping, hooting and hollering. If you have never been involved in a first year student’s move-in to university, either personally or as a parent, allow me to describe the acoustical pain.
It starts when your car – stuffed with bins of books and clothes, a guitar, new bedding and the cleaning supplies which you know may never be used – finally makes it to the front of the two-mile long lineup. You pull up to the curb outside the dormitory.
“POP THAT TRUNK! POP THAT TRUNK!” yells a crowd of colorful youth. Joel steps out of the car and the girls start whoop-whooping! Somebody grabs him and a thousand other hands grab everything that’s not soldered to the car, including a pail of my husband’s car-care stuff and my purse, which I managed to wrestle from the armpit of an overly-enthusiastic guy. The chanting never stopped because every couple of minutes another car drove up, sparking a new roaring round of POP THAT TRUNK!
As my son worked out some registration and Frosh details, I stood aside and soaked up the high spirits of the campus – which was crawling with people of different noise levels.
The parents were the second-quietest people and they were divided into two distinct groups. The first were those parents on their way in to the child’s dorm, with Dad carrying a suitcase and Mom clutching her baby’s pillow to her stomach and both with apprehensive smiles. The second group were parents coming out of the dorm, hands now empty and with smiles that included a quivering lip, because they were just moments away from saying goodbye to their son or daughter and the end of an era.
The loudest people were the previously-mentioned students involved in the move-ins and the activity sign-ups. The quietest were the students wandering about listening to music with earbuds in their ears. Why they even bothered with their MP3s in this crowd was beyond me. I knew that in order to hear their music over the surrounding din, they would have to turn their music up-up, probably to an unsafe level. Anything louder than 85 decibels (dB) poses a potential risk to the crucial and sensitive cochlear hair cells that allow us to hear and understand the sounds of life.
The louder you go over 85 dB, the less time you can listen safely. I saw dozens of kids who were going to get the shock of their life in a few years’ time. “What?! I’ve got hearing loss? And you’re saying that I’m still paying for that loud music back in the day?”
Yup, young man, that’s right. A 2006 study called Acceleration of Age-Related Hearing Loss by Early Noise Exposure (Kujawa, Liberman 2006) has the subtitle Evidence of a Misspent Youth, and shows that early noise exposure makes the inner ears significantly more vulnerable to aging. And that can’t be good.
There is a growing body of research that studies the effects of overexposure to noise, some of it contradictory (but that’s science for you). While not every teenager who ingests 100 dB on a regular basis is going to develop a permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), the odds are against them. We throw our hands up in the air and ask, why would they risk it?
Because they don’t believe that bad things could ever happen to them?
Because they don’t understand that noise hurts? (Although there is usually no pain as hair cells shrivel and perish under the onslaught of a Frosh rave, but the music is so loud, how can you tell?)
Because they don’t know that in this case, the old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” means wearing hearing aids – because there is NO cure for noise damage?
Because no one ever told them?
We can change that. The parents of today’s young adults did not have the information that parents of today’s babies and young children now do. A reader sent me a post about protecting your child’s hearing from an early age. There are elementary school programs that teach safe listening skills to young children – Dangerous Decibels in the US and Sound Sense in Canada. And youth can download free sound meter apps for their smart phones and tablets that measure the loudness of their music. A little knowledge can save a lot of hearing.
Today is my son’s first day in university and he is already having the time of his life – and our lips are still quivering. Like many newly-bereft parents, we will send up nightly cries to heaven. Please let him eat enough, study enough, wash his underwear.
And to all parents of children in university – and grade school and high school and doctoral programs and first jobs – there’s one more prayer to add:
Please let them take care of their hearing as they whoop-whoop through life.