When is a Toy Too Loud?

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Some toys are so loud they can cause hearing damage. All toys have to undergo acoustic testing and meet requirements (set by the American Society of Testing and Materials, or ASTM). But, the way that kids play with toys (especially how close a toy is to their ears) doesn’t always match how adults test these toys.

Children under the age of 5 (including babies) can have hearing damage more quickly than adults. So, t’s especially important for parents of young children to check toys for loudness.

Four Step Test for Toys

There’s a four-step test recommended by Dr. Hamid Djalilian of UCI Health:

  • Ear test. Is the toy too loud when you hold it as close to your ear as your child would?
  • Arm test. If you approximate the length of your child’s arm and hold the toy that distance away, is it too noisy?
  • Talk test. If you can’t carry on a conversation without raising your voice to be heard over the toy, that’s a sign it’s too loud.
  • Try-me buttons. These are buttons on the toy to try it in the store. “Toy manufacturers state that the toy will be quieter at home because the try-me sound level is adjusted to overcome background noise in the store,” says Djalilian. “But our tests on a limited sample of toys showed there is little difference between the sound level in the store and at home.”

Tips for picking out toys (that aren’t too loud)

  • If it seems too loud to you, it’s probably too loud.
  • If it’s too loud in the store, it’s still going to be too loud at home (even if it claims otherwise).
  • For children under 5, err on the side of caution. A toy is going to be louder to their ears than an adult (and cause damage to their ears more quickly than an adult).
  • If you want to get a technical measurement, use a sound decibel meter or dB meter app to take a measurement. (More on measuring loudness)
  • If it’s a must-have toy, put masking tape or glue over the speaker (research has shown both are effective). You can also tape over the volume control. Take a measurement to make sure it’s in a safe zone.

The Sight and Hearing Association does their own testing of toys and puts out a yearly list of worst offenders. Here’s some information on toys from the past couple years:

2018 list of popular toys that can damage your child’s hearing

2017 list of popular toys that can damage your child’s hearing