Caution: your noise may be hazardous to your health

Photo credit: Daniel Fink

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

While I was cleaning my house recently, I came across these three no-smoking buttons from the early 1970s. I was a militant no-smoking advocate, and I wore the button on the right on my doctor’s coat for many years. I have previously written about the similarity between unwanted noise and secondhand smoke.

I think adults have the right to smoke as much as they want, just not where others have to smell or inhale it. Similarly, I think adults have the right to make as much noise as they want, just not where others can hear it. And adults also have the right to damage their hearing with loud music from personal listening devices, just as they can smoke and drink to excess. We learned almost a century ago during Prohibition that certain types of social restriction don’t work.

Children and teens haven’t developed enough knowledge and judgment to know what’s healthy and what’s not, so I don’t think they have the same rights. Just as young people aren’t allowed to consume alcohol or smoke until they reach certain ages, I don’t think they should be allowed to use personal listening devices until the same age they can get a learner’s permit for driving. In many states, that’s age 15 or 16.

I know it’s too late to stop children from using personal listening devices or headphones, because they use those devices for entertainment — as early as age 3 — and in school for learning. Perhaps parents can control the amount of time their kids spend with these devices at home. And, maybe we should start wearing buttons that say: “Your noise may be hazardous to your health.”

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