The World Health Organization defines noise as “unwanted sound” and it’s everywhere — from road traffic to air conditioning units to iPads, toys, and other devices.
Noise pollution refers to excessive community noise, which has been shown to have negative effects on children’s brains. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of U.S. children between the ages of 6 and 19 showed that 14.9% had impaired hearing in at least one ear. Toys, music players, tablets, and other devices played at high volumes all may contribute to noise pollution and hearing loss.
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Cognitive Effects of Noise Pollution on Kids
Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of loud, constant noise. Children exposed to consistent noise — whether from devices, school, or living near an airport or busy highway — have more trouble with tasks at school. A study found that reading attention, problem-solving, and memory are most affected.
Exposure also affects speech perception and listening. Kids with language or attention disorders struggle even more with these effects. Environmental noise, such as living near an airport, and hearing loss can impair a child’s speech development as well.
Even quieter sounds can hinder children’s focus when the noise isn’t related to the task at hand. These softer sounds, such as hallway noise or side conversations in classrooms, can reduce children’s short-term memory. Overall, research has found that children need quieter environments for learning than adults.
Ways to Improve Focus and Reduce Noise
Continuous environmental noise can also affect the emotional and physical well-being of children. The good news is that kids recover from short-term exposures. You may not have much control over what’s outside, but you can take some quiet trips or make changes at home to help improve your child’s focus.
Changes at home
Take a quick audit of your home. Think about noisy appliances. Is your washing machine or dishwasher loud? Avoid running these during homework times, or close the door to the rooms if possible to mute the sounds.
If you live in a noisy area — near an airport or on a busy road — try ways to soundproof your home. Add rugs to the floor or an extra layer of curtains over the windows. Replace your windows if possible.
Watch the volume on electronics. Turn the TV off when not in use. Keep the volume as low as possible on TVs, computers, tablets, and music players. Keep headphone volumes low, too. These will all help protect your child’s ears. Keep all electronics off when completing homework or studying.
Leave the house
Sometimes it may help just to get away. Head to the library after school to help your child study for a big test or complete a project. Go to the park or a quiet outdoor area to give both your brain and your child’s a chance to recover from the noisy work or school day.
If you find your child is struggling to pay attention in school, talk with his or her teacher or school counselor about options to create a quieter learning environment.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on . Updated CDC statistic for most recent available
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