You’re not just getting old. Today’s toys are too damn loud. This isn’t simply an annoyance that drives many parents to break out the hammer — prolonged exposure to high decibel levels can be dangerous for kids, and may even cause long-term hearing loss.
In the US, all toys are required to meet the American Society of Testing and Materials’ “acoustic standard”, which states that the sound-pressure level of a toy must not exceed 85 decibels at a distance of 50cm. Go above 85 decibels and you’re entering a danger zone. (A vacuum is about 80 decibels.) This 85 decibel threshold has been agreed upon internationally.
The thing is, kids get much closer than 50cm to their toys. Arm’s length is about 25cm, and any parent who’s watched their kid fall in love with a plastic Spider-Man knows they will often cuddle it, sleep with it, and maybe even lick the thing once in a while.
The Sight & Hearing Association has been making this point for years, and puts out an annual Noisy Toy List, which I appreciate a lot. It includes toys that are louder than 85 decibels at testing distances that make more real-world sense — 0cm and 25cm.
Browsing through the latest list from 2017, I noticed several popular toys that my kid oooohs at every time she sees them on store shelves. You may have seen them, too. Here are the top 10 offenders:
Disney Elena of Avalor: Magical Scepter of Light with Sounds (Jakks HK, Ltd.)
0cm: 96.3 dB
25cm: 85.6 dB
See the full list here.
Hearing loss develops over time, so don’t panic if your kid has played with one of these toys before. But do know how important it is to protect young ears.
If you think a toy is too loud, you can test it with a sound level meter app such as Sound Meter or, as the Sight & Hearing Association points out, you can just trust your own ears. If it’s too loud for you, it’s too loud for your kid.
Get rid of the toy, or if you really don’t want to part with it, muffle the sound by putting waterproof tape or super glue over the speaker. Or, you know, just take the batteries out.