If you don’t have an 8-year-old daughter – or granddaughter – you may be forgiven for not knowing that Barbie now comes with an iPod. Check out the web and you’ll find the Barbie iPod docking station as well as the Barbie MP3 player, Mattel’s attempt to lure girls away from the Apple iPod.
Harmless, you say? Not according to Susanna Meyer (Communication Sciences and Disorders). Meyer deplores the marketing of iPods and MP3 players to such a young audience. She’s concerned that the iPod generation will suffer irreparable hearing loss.
“The thing about noise-induced hearing loss is that it is totally preventable,” said Meyer, who is an audiologist. “We think we’re aging children’s ears much more rapidly with all these sounds,” she said.
Meyer points out that much of the hearing conversation research has been done among adults in industrial occupations. Her professional association recently turned its attention to hearing conservation in the iPod generation. Her 2007-2008 mini-grant, “Hearing Conservation in Preteens,” focuses on even younger
children, those 8 to 12 years old.
She, Aime St. Hilaire and Lorraine Arnold, the graduate students working with her, have developed a 45-minute presentation aimed at these youngsters that is “fun, informational and interactive.”
Their project has involved 135 Worcester parochial school children in grades 3 to 6. “Eighty percent of the kids in this study are using iPods,” St. Hilaire said.
The three administer a pre-test to learn how much children know about their ears and hearing. They then play a game to break down the parts of the ear, with children role-playing parts of the ear anatomy, and show a short PowerPoint presentation that explains how ears react to sound. Children also see how their whispers and shouts appear on a sound level meter.
The team also tested the hearing of the children in their study. None had hearing loss. “We didn’t really expect to find hearing loss in this sample, Meyer said. The aim of the study is to teach children to learn to conserve their hearing.
“We wanted them to learn that if they move out of the noisy environment, the hair cells in their ears can recover,” Meyer said. “No exposure to noise allows this recovery.”
Six weeks later Meyer and her team return with a post-test to see what children have retained. They get it. They’ve learned that they can protect their hearing by turning the volume down, taking breaks, using earplugs and moving away from noise,” St. Hilaire said.
Meyer and her team will submit abstracts of their research to two professional organizations, the American Academy of Audiology and the American Speech Language Hearing Association next year.
Written by Barbara Zang, Ph.D.
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