Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Nope, can't hear that either.

Atticus, my 14-year-old son, stood near the computer speakers and clapped his hands over his ears. “It sounds like pop-rocks exploding in my ears while you have a tin can over my head and are banging it with a spoon!” I strained to hear the noise he was referring to but I couldn’t hear anything. I turned the volume up causing him to flee from the room and leaned in closer to the speakers. Still nothing. Lilly and Grace could both hear it. It was a strange feeling knowing there is something my children can hear that I cannot, no matter how loud I make the sound.

What I was trying to hear is the latest weapon in teen crowd control, the mosquito, created by a British inventor. The mosquito is a sound audible only to teens and those in their 20’s. It works because apparently we all suffer from hearing loss as we age—something called presbycusis, even if we didn’t subject ourselves to loud rock concerts or work with jack-hammers. Who knew? You can check it out at
which conveniently plays sounds for different ages. I can hear the "50 and under" but not the 49 and under which means I do have a little hearing loss.

This noise is being used to clear shopping centers and other areas where teens tend to congregate and annoy adults. Isn’t that a clever invention?

But it’s not as clever as the teens this tone is targeting because they are using the mosquito as a ring-tone for their cell phones which means teachers and parents cannot hear it. This is particularly handy in the classroom as teens alert each other to new text-messages without the teacher knowing.

At first I found this knowledge terrifying for some reason. I mean, sure, there are all kinds of teen communication systems that I don't understand including MySpace and texting but in theory, I could post my profile in hopes of attracting 1,237 “friends” or I could learn to type U R my BFF with my thumbs --but this sound is different, I cannot, even in theory use it.

And how about that image of our kids wasting their precious class-time by sending each other secret text messages that adults can’t even hear? I was lamenting this new development with a friend who wisely pointed out that perhaps some of us had wasted about the same amount of time writing and passing notes that teachers, for the most part, were unable to detect. Oh yeah. That’s right. In fact, in the seventh grade, my best friend and I taught ourselves the alphabet in sign language just so we could pass valuable intel to each other across the room in algebra which is why to this day I still know how to sign "Joe Doga is a fox".

Maybe the mosquito is just proof that today’s kids have had to ratchet up the stealth factor to elude ever-increasingly interfering parents. Our parents wouldn’t have dreamed of intercepting, let alone reading, our notes passed in class, but my peers think nothing of spying electronically on their children’s emails and text messages. Boundaries, people, boundaries!

My son mentioned that his choir teacher, who is a tender 27-years-old can still hear the mosquito but only faintly and I was reminded of the magic sleigh bell in Polar Express that only children can hear. The final passage of that book reads, “"At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as the years passed, it fell silent for all of them.”

So you see, the mosquito isn’t a terrifying new weapon in the arsenal of the teen world, it’s simply a real-life manifestation of the Polar Express sleigh bell.

Still, I don't like knowing I can no longer hear either one.

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