Message to teens comes through loud and clear

For most teens, listening to music for hours through ear buds or headphones has almost become a rite of passage.

As just about any parent of a teenager knows, kids love their music, and they love it loud.

Jared Turley, owner of Zounds Hearing Center in south Tempe, understands this situation. Turley, who is also a hearing-instrument specialist, recalls spending countless hours in his youth listening to favorite tunes cranked up to ear-shattering levels.

What Turley didn’t understand back then—and what he said he has since learned the hard way—is that while listening to loud music can be fun for teens, it can also be harmful and have a definite negative impact on their hearing, even though the symptoms won’t typically show up until they are older.

The challenge parents face, Turley said, is to try to convince their teenagers—who are at an age where they already feel invincible and are not that amenable to advice from mom or dad—that what they are doing now will affect their hearing in years to come.

“I really wish I could go back and tell myself ‘just turn it down,” Turley said.

“I love music, and when I was a teenager I had a really loud stereo; I also worked in loud sound as a DJ for awhile. And now, as a result, I have started to develop a hearing issue.”

Although Turley said teenagers can definitely have hearing problems, the problems are typically the result of childhood illnesses like chronic ear infections or high fevers. While the kids with the headphones on at all hours of the day and night undoubtedly are doing damage, it will probably take until they are in their early 20s or so to really notice a difference.

“Inside the cochlea there are thousands and thousands of hair cells, and they can be damaged to the point where they break off. We only have a certain number of these hair cells and they do not grow back,” he said.

Music is not the only thing that can damage a teen’s hearing, Turley noted. Attending NASCAR races or drag races, monster truck competitions, playing in a marching band or hunting can also cause irreversible damage to the ear.

“Normal human speech is 65 decibels, and anything 85 and over will start affecting hearing,” Turley said.

“There are lots of things in day-to-day life that can cause hearing damage—even hair dryers and screaming babies are in the 100 or so decibel range that can be a problem.”

So what can parents do to try to help their teens from harming their hearing? The proactive approach is a good place to start, Turley said.

“They need to say things to their teens like ‘I like that song too, but I shouldn’t be able to hear it when you have ear buds on, so please turn it down,’” he said.

“It’s also better to encourage them listen to music over speakers than through headphones or ear buds, where the sound is being forced directly toward the ear canal. If you do have a child who listens to music over a stereo, you should still be able to engage in normal conversational speech without the music being distracting.”

Zounds’ Tempe location is in the Safeway Shopping Center, 7650 S. McClintock Drive, Suite 101 (McClintock and Elliot). Information: 480-751-4232.