I will always remember the terrified face of a two-year old boy who received a very special toy for his birthday: an airplane big enough for him to sit in. Punching the buttons on the dashboard produced realistic, howling engine noise. The child screamed, held his ears and scrambled to get away. If the sound intensity was intolerable for adults who stood off to the side, towering 5 feet and more above the plane, one can only imagine what this must have been like for the child who was just about at ear-level with the ruckus. (Dad finally disabled the sound effects!)
With the Holidays around the corner, the search is on once more for just the right presents for children and grand-children – presents that will be make an impression, that are popular, interactive or that are considered educational. Unfortunately, many toys on the market can be dangerously loud. Maybe this is the year for adults to pay close attention to the noise factor when it comes to gifts for children, especially small children.
Up until 2009 manufacturers were not held to any specific sound-pressure guidelines for toys. Nowadays they must adhere to standards set by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM), which call for a maximum of 85 dB – the cut-off for ear safety– at 1.5 feet (50 centimeters) from the surface of the toy. For small kids this is actually quite a distance as they tend to get a lot closer to the noise source. They play on the floor among their toys and right next to them. With short little arms, they like to bring them up close to their face and ears, which as far as sound is concerned, is an immediate danger zone.
It is known that prolonged and repeated exposures to excessively loud sounds lead to hearing loss, and in children hearing loss of any degree and of any type takes a toll on speech/language development and learning ability. Because nobody intentionally wants to contribute to a child’s hearing loss, it is important to get toy-smart:
If a toy produces sound, listen to it in the store. If it is too loud for you, it will be too loud for the kids. Check if the package label mentions sound levels at all. Inquire if the store has more extended information or if a sound level reading can be taken? Toy stores should start thinking about offering this increasingly necessary service.
Extreme caution is advised if a toy’s noise potential is advertised as fun or if it is the major feature of the product. Expressions such as blasting, screaming or “realistic sound effects” should raise immediate red flag. If the toy turns out to be a danger to pristine, young ears, return it; disconnect the speaker or do not put batteries in the toy.
So, how noisy are some of the playthings on the shelves? For the last 14 years the Sight & Hearing Association has published its annual “Noisy Toys” list. The products are tested in a sound-proof chamber in order to obtain accurate measurements at ear-level, or at 0 inches, and at 10 inches, which is considered arm’s length. Noisy toys can also be reported to the Association.
Click below for the 2012 Sight & Hearing Association Statement
The 2012 Noisy Toys List can be found here
Sight & Hearing Association statement and Noisy Toys List for 2011