Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Turn it down, please!

Have you ever noticed the joy on a baby's face when he's making a loud noise (other than screaming while crying)?  I've wondered if a baby under one year of age is self-aware enough to comprehend that the noise comes from him.  Surely, the baby also must learn what "shshshshush" means as well as where it's appropriate to make loud noises and where it isn't.  At least, that's what I've always thought. 

Now, I'm not against loud talking, loud music, loud laughter or other loud vocalizations per se.  I think there are appropriate times for all of them.  Some examples: screaming at the top of your voice from your seat in a stadium at a football game, trying to carry on a conversation in a crowded bar, or having a party (as long as it ends before 10 p.m. on weeknights and midnight Friday and Saturday nights).

But what about the neighbor who parties with friends on a weekday night well past midnight without any sign of stopping?  That happened to me several years ago, and I've been hearing more and more stories of it happening more and more frequently in large urban areas.  The first time, I called the cops.  The second time, I began working with the building management to address the problem.  The neighbor had to receive two warnings before she finally got the message.  Even then, she continued to turn up her TV to top volume, play music at 3 a.m., and generally appear to be unable to judge when she was too loud.  Eventually I met her and learned that she was 18 years old.  Hmmmmm....

Who are the most likely loud noise offenders in public spaces?  I don't believe it's babies, actually, or pre-pubescent kids or adults.  I believe it's teens.

God love 'em.  Teens have all the exuberance and energy of a life just starting, testing boundaries, seeking attention, wanting to be heard.  One teen in a public space tends to be quiet...unless talking on a cell phone.  As a writer, I love to eavesdrop on them just to glimpse their lives, the way they talk, the way they think.  It can be scary.  I don't know how many times while riding public transportation, I've been the unwilling witness to one side of a teen's cell phone conversation; indeed the entire bus or train car heard it.  But I cannot fault teens alone in this.  Adults are as likely to forget they are in a public space while on a cell phone (one of my top pet peeves).

But what about teens in a group?  Yesterday, while riding public transportation, all the people on the bus were subjected to a group of teens sitting in the back, talking at top volume, laughing, screaming, shouting, and generally making it impossible to concentrate on anything else.  The driver did nothing.  None of the other adults did anything.  I also did nothing because I would be one vs. half a dozen. 

The girls were the worst of the lot.  Or maybe it's just that their voices have a higher frequency.  Piercing doesn't adequately describe their voices.  Why couldn't they lower their voices?  Why did they need to be so loud?  Were they totally unaware of just how loud they were?  As I listened, I imagined how they'd react to an adult telling them to shut up.  I doubted it'd be pretty.  I've witnessed similar confrontations in the past.  A group of teens unites when confronted by an adult.  But, I thought that's what they needed.  They needed to be told that their behavior was unacceptable in a public space.

To be fair, I've ridden public transportation with other groups of teens who have talked quietly among themselves in pairs or small groups.  The difference was they were chaperoned by a teacher or two.  So I wonder, if teens crave attention, do they understand the difference between positive and negative attention from adults?  Or even their peers?

It's too easy to say, "when I was a teen."  Society has changed in amazing ways in the last thirty years.  But I wonder if that means we can leave courteous and respectful treatment of each other in the past.  If we lose courteous and respectful behavior in public spaces, what else do we lose as a result?

The bottom line for me is this: being loud and disruptive in public spaces is not acceptable behavior.  But I would like to understand why teens like being loud.....  

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