d01b.jpg (4384 bytes)Although our family has always tried to minimize the “I’m-a-frenzied-consumer” aspect of the holiday season, it is inevitably a time when the kids get showered with gifts. Here’s a free holiday tip: One of the best “stealth paybacks” for friends and family is to buy their child a 1,000-piece Christmas toy, thus guaranteeing that their parents will spend the rest of the decade stepping on, picking up, and storing its components in a dizzying array of locations. Years after they thought they finally got rid of that toy, they’ll keep uncovering its scattered remnants and think of you. Try it; it feels good.

And toys keep getting louder. My 2-year-old son, Johann, has a battery-powered organ that, when turned on, initiates a piercing happy tune at its highest volume level (and stays there). Johann flicks the switch on his electric organ and people scramble for the toy as if it’s a box that contains the Ebola virus: head flung back from the sound source, arms fully extended, and hands fumbling wildly for the VC. In fact, I think he enjoys that aspect of the toy more than actually playing it.

All kidding aside, some toys are far too loud for safety, and loud toys subconsciously send the message to kids that hearing health care and hearing conservation are not important. You don’t see many toys with halogen lights and packaging that reads, “Hey, kids, it’s fun to shine this blinding light in your eye!” Each year, the Sight and Hearing Association (www.sightandhearing.org), St. Paul, Minn, publishes its list of “Noisy Toys”. The list is compiled by testing the toys’ noise levels at distances of 0 inches and 12 inches. This year’s dubious-achievement award winners: Kid Connection Electronic Guitar (117 dB at 0 inches, 88 dB at 12 inches); Elite Operations Quantum Blast Set (114 dB and 87 dB), Barbie™ “Jam With Me” Electric Guitar (113 dB and 82 dB); Play-a-Song® Dora the Explorer™ Adventure Songs (110 dB and 81 dB); Power Gear Pirate Adventure Set (107 dB and 81 dB); Play-a-Song® Disney Princess Magic Songs (105 dB and 75 dB); The Home Depot Light and Sound Grinder (101 dB and 84 dB).

Three others, all intended for kids as young as 18 months, warrant honorable mention: Play-a-Song® Baby Einstein Animal Melodies (98 dB and 74 dB), Sesame Street 2-in-1 Giggle Guitar (98 dB and 68 dB), and Electronic Robo Tenor (96 dB and 85 dB). Bear in mind that OSHA—an agency that was originally established to develop standards for miners (not minors!)—limits worker noise levels to 85 dB in an 8 hour day. The Sight and Hearing Association points out that sounds above 90 dB can cause hearing loss in a fairly short period of time, and sounds of 117 dB create the risk of hearing loss in about 10 minutes. It also notes that a short arm span places children at higher levels of risk than adults. “While none of the toys we tested pose an immediate risk for hearing damage,” says Sight and Sound Spokesperson Julee Sylvester, “some could definitely pose a risk in a matter of minutes. We want consumers to know what sound levels the toys are capable of producing so they can make their own decisions.”

In fairness, the toy industry in March 2004 adopted its first acoustic standards (ASTM F963). It states that a toy cannot exceed 90 dB at 25 cm (about 10 inches). Unfortunately, compliance is voluntary. If a revolution in hearing health care and hearing conservation is ever going to occur, then toy-makers beware: you may be among the first against the wall when it comes!

The entire staff of The Hearing Review would like to thank our readers, advertisers, and contributors for their fantastic support and feedback we received during 2005. We wish you the very best of the holiday season.


Karl Strom