I recently found out that a 13 year old girl, Nora Keegan from Calgary, Canada, had conducted a piece of research to test whether the volume of electric hand dryers were detrimental to children’s hearing.
She’d noticed that her own ears would start ringing after using certain dryers, and decided to test her hypothesis. She visited over 40 public washrooms and used a professional decibel meter to measure sound levels of hand dryers from various heights and distances.
Now I don't know about you, but there are occasions when I find the noise from those things almost unbearable, but what I hadn’t taken into account was that I’m a grown woman, not hugely tall I’ll grant you, but my ears are a lot further away from the source of discomfort than children’s are.
I’d never thought of it. I spend a great deal of my life trying to put myself in the child’s position, physically and emotionally, to try and better understand how we can improve inter-generational communication and relations, and there are still day to day things I miss. I know I’m not alone, it’s difficult to keep remembering that our children are experiencing things in a completely different way to us.
Nora found that Xlerator and two types of Dyson Airblade dryers both exceed 100 decibels. Health Canada does not allow toys for children to be sold over 100 decibels, but the loudest dryer she recorded was 121 decibels.
Nora’s findings have been published in the Journal of Paediatrics & Child Health, so hopefully they will spur on companies to do something about this.
As for us, we should be ever vigilant. Sadly not every child is as resourceful, capable and confident in their abilities as Nora, so it falls to us to get down and see, hear, feel, experience things from the child’s perspective - both actually and metaphorically - rather than guessing or just not bothering.
In this case Nora’s work may have an impact on whether or not children will be able to hear us in the future - and that’s a very strong metaphor indeed.
How often do your children get to spend time alone without any outside stimulus? When was the last time they had to draw on their own resources to entertain and motivate themselves?
Timetables for children these days can be hectic; after-school clubs, the pressures of school work, social media and other screen-based activities all vie for their attention and focus. It’s not so often that they are left alone to their own devices free from these distractions. And the same is true of us.
When was the last time you asked a child a truly profound question?
Last year, the comedian Joe Lycett wrote a Guardian column in which he mentioned asking a ten year old girl, to whom he is close, “What do you think art is?” She replied, “It’s trust. If you trust something’s good, then it is.” Brilliant. As Joe says, that is exactly what art is.