Children Exposed to Noise Experience a Multitude of Challenges
Parents who hope to help their children adjust to the stress of everyday life may want to turn down the noise at home.
A Purdue University psychologist says children who come from highly noisy or chaotic households can experience delayed language skills and increased anxiety.
Theodore Wachs has studied environmental influences on early childhood development and helped create a questionnaire to help parents measure the level of "noise confusion" in their homes. Wachs says children need some quiet space at home and some sense of order. Otherwise they're more likely to have trouble adjusting to changing environments outside the home, including school, socialization opportunities, and even ordinary outings to restaurants or religious services.
The effects of ongoing exposure to loud noise can vary with the temperament and sex of a child, according to Wachs.
"Those who have the most trouble are boys who are intense, fussy, or negative."
Wachs recommends parents stop using the TV as a source of background noise and help their children establish a quiet place where the children can retreat, even if it's a small room, a study, or a bedroom that is used only for quiet time.
The location of the family home can also have an effect; studies show that children who live in noisy areas, such as on on highly trafficked roadways, or close to busy airports have poorer reading skills than those in quieter areas, according to findings reported in the New Scientist.
Researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, suggest this is because children raised in noisy environments find it harder to recognize and understand human speech. A study compared 58 children who lived under a New York City airport flight path with 50 children from quiet neighborhoods void of chronic noise levels. Those children raised in noisy environments were found to have more trouble reading, and recognizing and understanding spoken words.
Like adults, children exposed to long periods of loud noise can also suffer higher anxiety levels than their peers raised in quieter surroundings, which can eventually lead to long term health issues, including hearing loss, high blood pressure, inability to concentrate, and other challenges.
There are options for creating quiet spaces in homes exposed to internal and external noise. For instance, despite their architectural appeal, ceiling heights are critical in determining acoustical integrity in homes, schools, daycare centers, and other spaces in which children spend time. Ceiling heights over 14 feet are the most problematic in terms of noise levels, as they offer no acoustical balance unless they are treated with high quality noise deadening material attached to the studs under the drywall during the construction process. Other products available that can be applied on top of the drywall have shown promising soundprofing resuts, although the best noise barrier material goes in during construction or renovations, under the drywall.
Chronic exposure to noise has been shown to be harmful to children of all ages. It can have especially detrimental effects on younger children when language and discrimination skills are forming. Often, major noise sources are not considered when it comes to designing the spaces used by children. Designers need to be more aware of noise issues when planning spaces that will be used by children. In child care centers, spaces must allow for the fact that children need to make noise, but the subsequent noise levels should not be harmful to them or others in the center.