Have you ever noticed that when you ask your adolescent to clean their room, do their homework, or help you in with the groceries, they experience a temporary deafness?

It’s normal for adolescents to not “hear” you when you’re requesting they perform onerous tasks- but if you notice this more often, your adolescent may actually not be able to hear you. Adolescent hearing loss is on the rise; currently, about 1 in 5 adolescents has measurable hearing loss, as opposed to 1 in 20 in the 1990s.

We usually attribute adolescent hearing loss to loud music, so why a change now? Ridiculously loud concerts have been around since at least the late 60s. When the Walkman was introduced in the 1980s, teens with headphones played their favorite tapes so loud that everyone in the house could sing along. In the 90s, I turned my father’s stereo up to the max when playing Alice in Chains, and enjoyed feeling the floor vibrate.

Some posit that “ear buds” cause more hearing damage than headphones.  It’s also possible that the “normal” level of volume when listening to music has steadily increased since the 1980s. Many teens automatically set their mp3 player at the maximum volume (studies show this is especially true for males.)

In addition, ever since the iPod was introduced, teens can carry their music with them in a credit-card sized package- or smaller- and listen to it whenever possible. Teens may be plugged into their mp3 players for a majority of their waking hours, and sometimes 24/7 on weekends. That’s a lot more noise exposure than a teen with a stereo system.

Many adolescents are completely unaware of their risk. Consider sharing this article on hearing impairment, written for teens, with your son or daughter.

Or if you don’t think they’d read a whole article,  just let them know that if their ears feel full or ringing after listening to something, it was too loud. It’s also possible to put “parental control” blocks on volume in an iPod. Check with your local store or online for details.

Hearing loss in response to a high noise level is usually irreversible. Living with hearing loss can be difficult; it’s not just a matter of having to turn up the volume on the TV. In adolescents, hearing loss can lead to academic and social difficulties- and obviously, the worse the hearing loss, the worse the problems.

For those adolescents who seem to have a permanent set of earbuds sprouting from their heads, there are ways to prevent hearing damage while enjoying music. They should take a 10-minute break every hour and try sleeping with a CD player or radio on if they need music, as opposed to keeping their earbuds in. They should keep the volume reasonable (80 decibels or below) when listening to an mp3 player, a stereo, or the TV. When going to concerts, there are discreet ear plugs they can wear.

If your teen gets annoyed because everybody talks too softly, needs to ask others about the details of a class or a joke, or turns the TV up to the maximum volume, you might ask your doctor for a hearing screening. While most hearing loss can’t be reversed, further damage can be prevented, and your adolescent can be taught skills for coping with mild to moderate hearing loss.