Noise is a problem in our society. If we live near the airport we hear the jets scream. If we live on a busy street the traffic noises are a constant irritant even when we have learned to tune them out. Many workplaces are so noisy that the employees must wear ear protectors. Music is played so loud that it is a real and severe threat to the human hearing apparatus.
A houseful of children is usually a noisy one, especially when accompanied by dogs. Parents usually revel in the quiet after their children go to bed. Children’s voices are higher pitched than ours so they seem strident, hard to bear. Babies cry, toddlers scream, school-age children argue, teenagers play loud music. Should we assume that they like it this way, that they hate silence just because they don’t make much of it? Should we try to keep it down? It is certainly in our interest-is it also in theirs?
The human ear has been studied carefully. It is certainly delicate, designed to meet the needs of a hunter intent on tracking very quiet animals. It meets the needs of musicians on many varieties of instruments. It can discriminate between the myriad sounds of human language. We can shut our eyes, but not our ears. Dogs, bats, and other animals have better hearing, but only in some ways. Much study needs to be done on the special qualities of the ears of the very young.
The ears of children surely are extremely sensitive. Even a newborn baby will react strongly to loud noises. It used to be thought that this was an innate fear, but now we see it as a negative reaction. This occurs even when the children are older if it is sudden or unexpected. Since we cannot close our ears we have no choice but to hear and try to make sense out of it all. Children have very a good thinking apparatus but not much experience. They make sense of things as fast as they can, faster than adults realize.
We see this sensitivity in small children when we play music for them. They react in very subtle ways, but they do not like it too loud. They remember pieces of music, and if you tell them its name or the name of the composer they will remember that too, even if they are too young to talk. If you speak to them they will instinctively look at your mouth to see what each muscle is doing. They react with special delight at the sound of the human voice, this at any age. They listen intently even when you murmur softly. It seems almost miraculous that such small children so early in the world can tune in to the sounds they want to hear, the sounds they need to hear for their development.
It requires much effort to pay attention to one part of the many stimuli that are bombarding the ears all the time. The more noise, the more effort required. Such effort seems to be pulled out of young children by Nature itself. We see children as easily distractible, as indeed they are, but when they pay attention their whole being seems to be concentrated. They are capable of tuning in so rapidly that it appears to adults that there is no real attention involved. They need only to hear a sound or a word once and the memory of it is there forever. If you do not believe this, try saying a “bad word.”
This marvellous ability to “tune out” extraneous noises is largely taken for granted by parents, teachers and writers of articles on parenting. If we wish to be of help we will try to recognize and appreciate, or at least think about it. We will also try to keep down the excess bombardment. A rule of thumb is to realize that if the noise is bothering you it is bothering the children more. Watch their reactions to it. Their bodies become tense, the eyes dart about, behavior becomes random, composure is gone. They squeal, they leap about. When you tell them to stop, they can’t. Trouble ensues.
Children under six years old are so sensitive that they can attain absolute pitch, so much more difficult for those who are older and wiser. You can help this by playing one sound at a time and naming it. There is great satisfaction in knowing the name of the thing you hear. If you can play an instrument, let your child hear you. Even if he is rolling about on the floor he will remember. Adults nowadays have better perception of music because they have usually grown up with high fidelity stereos not available previously. They are less patient with music that is out of tune.
Silence is golden, we all know that. It is good to have a special place for it in your home where anyone can go when you really want it. This place should have a calm picture or flowers and a place to sit. Tell the children what it is for and see what happens. Speak of silence as something to be honored, something to enjoy, most of all, something you can find inside yourself if you look closely.
When the noise level is high, no one is in control, and control is needed. At these times accidents occur. Try to anticipate the situation and change the activity before this happens. The adult can control the environment far better than the child, who is forced by nature to react to it.
Our society is a noisy one. The home should be a sanctuary from this, not its reflection. We absorb the society, we live with and in it, but our basic needs should come first.
Noise is used to intimidate, a fact well known to the military. When arguments, occur the noise level rises. People do not scold each other with soft voices.
Children come in from school noisily, reacting to the forced inactivity there. They come in from going fishing quietly, eyes shining, even though fishing is also forced inactivity. The big difference, it is easy to see, is control. When you go fishing you decide for yourself to be quiet, you exercise complete control of your body, you concentrate all your attention on how you are holding the pole, casting the line, what lure you are using. This type of concentration is satisfying to people of any age. When we are satisfied we are serene, not noisy.
Children are extremely imitative. It is the way they learn to fit into the family, but they don’t seem to know when to stop. Nature doesn’t tell them that. They imitate the neighbors, the television characters, the mailman, not only the parents. Noise creeps in inspite of all your efforts.
Many of us have the television or radio on constantly, making it necessary to tune it out when we are busy. Children can do this, but it is much more of a strain on them to do so.
They are quiet when they watch television because they are paying attention so very closely. When they get up the attention is gone and immediately seeks another outlet. They have been sitting quietly and desperately need activity. At these times noise sets in if you are not quick to see it.
Noise is associated with random sound, not music, which is so very controlled but can be quite loud. Our ears much prefer it. Our inner rhythms can react with pleasure, whereas with noise comes stress. It is the order we all seek, especially the children whose very lives seem to depend on it.
by Marietta Rawson