Child-Repellent Sounds

I’ve already written about merchants using classical music to discourage loitering. Young people don’t like the music, so they don’t stick around.

Here’s a new twist: high-frequency noise that children and teenagers can hear but adults can’t:

The results were almost instantaneous. It was as if someone had used anti-teenager spray around the entrance, the way you might spray your sofas to keep pets off. Where disaffected youths used to congregate, now there is no one.

At first, members of the usual crowd tried to gather as normal, repeatedly going inside the store with their fingers in their ears and “begging me to turn it off,” Gough said. But he held firm and neatly avoided possible aggressive confrontations: “I told them it was to keep birds away because of the bird flu epidemic.”

At least he didn’t claim it was an anti-terrorism security measure.

Posted on December 6, 2005 at 7:46 AM54 Comments


mexijuan December 6, 2005 8:17 AM

nice. as long as he’s not getting rid of his regular customers (i can’t read the original subscription-only article).

i found the same thing when i was a teenager also… that my parents had trouble hearing sounds anywhere near 20kHz, while i could still distinguish pitches up to 22kHz or 25kHz. ultrasonic bird and bug repellers are still annoying to me though, so like i was saying–as long as his regular customers have enough natural hearing attenuation i think that’s a great idea.

AG December 6, 2005 9:04 AM

I was a punk kid not so long ago…
High pitch sound –>Very good idea.
Classical music…not so much… we liked good music…
put on some Country or 70’s easy listening and we would start howling and run away with our tails between our legs

BUT why do you want to scare teens away? Today teens have money in their pockets and they will buy anything! Why are you trying to scare away the richest impulse buyers you have?

Joseph December 6, 2005 9:05 AM

This will prevent loitering, but not malicious acts. In fact, it would probably encourage them. I suspect he will find a lot more graffiti on his shop than on neighboring ones.

cen December 6, 2005 9:14 AM

i think it’s a really stupid idea. first of all there are still some 20-30 year olds that can still hear the sounds (i know i can) that wont buy anything there and also he can expect a lot of vandalism if some punk finds out its not a bird but a teenager-repellant

Ed T. December 6, 2005 9:30 AM

I guess if he wants to drive away potential customers, that’s OK – so long as he doesn’t drive them away from other merchants.

I can see this type of device planted in a shopping center to drive folks to a competitor’s place of business. Sneaky, but is it illegal?

And yes, I am sure glad he didn’t call it an anti-terror measure – though he wasn’t that far off.

Lee December 6, 2005 9:32 AM

THe guy who invented this thing was on richard and judy (UK tv program) last week, and from what I saw the adults heard it just as well as the kids did. Pointless and stupid in my opinion, especially for shopping centres and the like, where you will probably lose half of your customers, including the legitimate little boys and girls who want to buy things and not cause trouble.

Kieran December 6, 2005 9:55 AM

Obviously it would be foolish to leave this on all the time and risk scaring off both adults with good hearing and teenagers with deep pockets, but if used sparingly it might well provide a useful way to get rid of loiterers.

Whether or not retaliation is likely is a question for the store owner.

RvnPhnx December 6, 2005 9:57 AM

First off, you can read about this thing in other places. Yahoo news linked to something about it a couple of weeks ago (don’t have time to fish for the link).
That said, I find the very idea annoying (I can hear a poorly tuned CRT across the room; last I knew my maximum frequency of perception was in the 28-29KHz category–so dog whistles actually hurt), not to mention that such things are being made illegal in some places for environmental reasons (driving out all of the rodents in a 1 sq. mi. area, as such things can very well do, is not as good an idea as it may sound). This discussion here does not even get into bird migration flyways and such.
Onto other issues, I pitty the poor parent whom stops at a “convenience store” with this kind of thing running and can’t figure out what their kids are screaming about.

Anonymous December 6, 2005 10:38 AM

The under 20 crowd makes up a huge portion of the service industry — whatever pisses off ‘teens’ will probably piss off the majority of the clerks at most stores.

Nuttycat December 6, 2005 10:46 AM

This is ridiculous. Only in the US can this happen.

When the children are young, you treat them like princes (or princesses) and then just before they become real adults, when they need the support and guidance from adults, you turn on them and drive them out, brand them as arrogant, rude , etc etc… then you complain that they go on shooting sprees and so forth.

Has anyone considered, that what he’s doing is kinda offensive to the general population? he’s driving away his (either potential or current) customers…not too long before “the people” he’s trying to keep away, nickname him something rude (“old grouchy or something was a fav in the old days”), then, he’ll go on to say that teenagers are rude and offensive ?
Also, with the coverage its been getting recently (slashdot, digg,yahoo etc covered over the past weeks), its not going to be long before his targets find out that he’s not using a bird repellant , rather he’s trying to keep them out…and then? well, lets wait and see I guess

Paul Crowley December 6, 2005 11:37 AM

“This is ridiculous. Only in the US can this happen.”

Er, it happened in south Wales, in the UK…

Though I’d like to hear from someone who actually lives in Barry to see what came of it all. I’m half-tempted to post something to loads of addresses near that Spar to ask if the device is still there, if it still works etc.

Jon December 6, 2005 11:42 AM

Nuttycat – perhaps you missed the byline that the man lives in Wales, NOT the US. Perhaps you’d be so kind as to not turn any arbitrary discussion into a “the US is a horrible country because…” rant? Or maybe we should all start commenting on the perceived faults of the UK any time that country is mentioned?

3Dent December 6, 2005 11:43 AM

Uhm… What about dogs? Not Big Mean Pitbulls but absolutely normal and harmless ones? What about insects? Not to mention people…

What next? Nuking cities to get rid of mafia?

Kevin December 6, 2005 11:58 AM

The idea that the media seems to be in love with the idea of selective annoyance of the population disgusts me. I hate to play the hypothetical race card, but if someone sold a device with the purpose of “keeping those pesky black people away from the front of the store” people would be up in arms by the prospect. Instead, people think this is some kind of great idea. How is age discrimination any different? If he wanted to discourage loitering, he should play an annoying sound that everyone can hear, because clearly he’s okay with loitering, except when young people do it.

I know the Canadian charter of rights has protection again discrimination based on gender, race, age, etc. so I’d be curious of what the result would be here. And yes, it might be private property, but by the earlier analogy if a shop hung a “whites only” sign in their window now I wonder what the reaction would be.

Regardless, I suspect a number of well-aimed bricks will put an end to these devices.

x December 6, 2005 12:00 PM

I think this is an interesting and slightly entertaining approach, but I also think it’s ill-advised and just wrong.

I’m 35, but have extremely good upper-range hearing, for whatever reason. (The high-pitched whining of TV sets drives me nuts.) Whatever reasoning used by this jackass, I don’t think it’s right.

Roy Owens December 6, 2005 1:23 PM

As ‘selective annoyance’, it is only crudely selective. There are teenagers who can no longer hear much over 10 kHz, and there are adults who can hear quite clearly 20 kHz and above.

If the shopkeeper’s neighbor has perfectly good hearing, the assault on his ears would be what, aggravated battery? Wearing earplugs is not an option because we all need to use our ears to keep ourselves and others safe.

jammit December 6, 2005 1:38 PM

My knee jerk response to this was to label him a bastard, but when I look at something like this I pretty much have to agree with the guy. When I was young I wasn’t a hellion. I hated getting car insurance because my rates were higher, most likely because of the other stupid kids my age driving like they were in a Mad Max movie. I hope this guy has the intelligence to only turn it on when he sees a rowdy group gathering and doesn’t break up when asked politely (key word, there will be a test on it) to break it up.

As has been said here, it’s not only the young that still have their hearing. At 37 even I can hear bats and dolphins chirping.

“Oops” will suffice. Forgive and forget. Replace USA with any country/state and the statement still holds.

Jim Hyslop December 6, 2005 3:15 PM

At only 75dB, it’s extremely unlikely to harm anyone’s hearing. For comparison, a quiet conversation is 60 dB and standing at the side of a busy road is 80 dB.

At that level it is unlikely to cause any pain or even any kind of physical discomfort, it’s just really annoying, like listening to nails being constantly dragged across a chalkboard.

piglet December 6, 2005 3:35 PM

Not that I like the idea of national stereotyping 😉 but actually this is not at all surprising to happen in the UK. Ever heard of ASBOS and of bylaws to specifically ban youngsters wearing hoodies? That’s the UK! Asbos are “antisocial behavior orders”, which are imposed against individuals (mainly youngsters, of course, and children from the age of 10) banning certain activities. Needless to say, there is not the slightest pretense of due process, and “antisocial” is anything “that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress”.
That’s where they have made of the Bill of Rights. And don’t be surprised to hear Blair praising his beloved Asbos in the same breath with his “antiterrorism” measures.

Nick Lancaster December 6, 2005 4:00 PM

Why do people have to hear it to be affected by it? Might the sound trigger a panic attack in someone with that ailment? Could it interfere with other technology or public safety in a significant fashion?

Really, there has to be a better way of relating to teenagers than treating them like rodents.

Stefan Wagner December 6, 2005 4:18 PM

@3dent: Will it really work against dogs? I thought, dog-whistles are used to call a dog? There is a “setterm –SOMETHING”-command on linux, to make artificial noises. I will have to try this out…

Y.L. December 6, 2005 4:21 PM

“LOL. This is a joke right? How could this be biologically possible?”

Sorry about my earlier comment. I should have read the article before I posted. I still believe, however, that teenagers should be treated diffrently from wild animals.

Moz December 6, 2005 8:52 PM

I’m still a child! Hooray!

I am quite glad about this, because it establishes that childhood doesn’t end until at least 60 (my mother can still hear the 17kHz TV scan and she’s 60). She’ll be thrilled!

Woo December 6, 2005 9:36 PM

This is one of the more ridiculous actions against potential customers I’ve read in the last few days.. congratulations for that idiocy.
I’d be more than just annoyed if I had to shop there or stay anywhere near that noise generator. (I’m almost 30 years of age, no problem with hearing TV sets through several walls, no problem finding cars with rodent repellors even in tightly filled parking lots..)

Gru'ups unltd. December 6, 2005 10:49 PM

Classical music not so much. I’ve found that Spike Jones is more effective at encouraging the under-20’s to disperse. It’s hard to act cool when you are being serenaded by slide whistles and sound effects… Lawrence Welk comes a close second.

Longwalker December 7, 2005 1:48 AM

” I still believe, however, that teenagers should be treated diffrently from wild animals.”

Well, perhaps more of them should stop acting like wild animals, then. Some of this is a parental problem and some of it is a teenager problem, of course, but driving away loitering yobs wouldn’t be an issue if teenagers made a habit of behaving themselves.

Moz December 7, 2005 2:02 AM

Longwalker said:

if teenagers made a habit of behaving themselves.

The majority of them do.

It’s so easy to cast anyone different as part of an undifferentiated mass typified by something that annoys you. Examples abound… In this case the stereotype is almost laughable, except that some idiot is planning to harrass random strangers because of it.

Something like this would definitely get rid of me were I exposed to it.

Felix_the_Mac December 7, 2005 5:47 AM


Any ideas where I can go to here people slagging-off England?
(except Scots, Welsh or French comments)

I would be interested to hear their gripes.

But, I am sure that I would get pretty fed up with the level of criticism that the US faces.
(warranted or not)

franktjm December 7, 2005 9:33 AM

Am I the only one to notice that the link to Nature obviously points to a wrong article? In fact, it links to the same chaos-based communications paper mentioned in a later post titled “Snake-Oil Research in Nature”.

Kees Huyser December 8, 2005 4:43 AM

In the Netherlands a city council placed a streetorgan playing christmas music near a metro entrace where groups of kids used to hang out. The kids found another place to hang out to the delight of the metro passengers.

The streetorgan was put there especially for this purpose.

Nothing like a little oompah-pah to drive kids away 🙂

John Davies December 8, 2005 6:53 AM

To quote from the article:

” …Surly teenagers used to plant themselves just outside the door, smoking, drinking, swearing at customers and making disruptive forays inside.

Robert Gough, who owns the store with his parents, said the youths would sometimes fight, steal and assault staff…”

If it just removes disruptive kids, who probably should be at school anyway, then the “normal” clientele would be much happier.

It could also be used when the store is closed to discourage loitering in front of the store, oh hang on that’s “Security” – no forget that.

( I just love the way that articles like this bring out the geeks who claim to be able to communicate with bats or see well into the ultra violet and how their world will become even more intolerable if we use these devices! )

Tank December 9, 2005 8:12 AM

What a fantastic idea.
Perhaps he can followup with a device that scares away people with credit cards.
Maybe he can convince every company on the planet currently spending kazillions on advertising to teens to quit that and fund the research.

mininUS February 12, 2006 11:37 AM

I want one for my back yard, where I have a pool, granted the neighbors aren’t offended by the sound. The device probably isn’t TOTALLY evil, surely it can be usefull.

kieran September 3, 2006 8:27 AM

well this is a bad idea up north is that machean comes enywhere near where we live it wont last a week the chavs will tare it down its a waste of money nand the shops round here reli on our money

mo4 August 8, 2007 3:19 PM

i think it’s a great idea, for us we have pot smoking partiers around us (the pot is more appropriately called “skunk”) maybe it will send them indoors at a reasonable hour rather than 4:30 a.m.

I think if you look at the article carefully, it’s not likely to get rid of all his customers and if he uses it to get rid of the loiterers the more power to him. You can shut it on and off via remote.

To the person who mentioned “security” at least this thing will send ’em packing rather than the security guard risking his own life asking them all to leave! We have had instances of swarming here…i think i’d want it just to protect myself! Smile

banana February 27, 2008 11:58 PM

Its not fair to kids. They lose their freedom at night and not all of them graffiti anyone can by paint from the local shopping centre and spray it any where they like. August 13, 2008 8:30 PM

I live next to a 6-plex on a 50×100 lot that houses approximately 45 persons, 80% of whom are under 15. The noise (mostly high pitched screaming) when the children are outside is deafening… this I mean the noise I hear when I’m IN my house. I don’t dare venture out. Today I’ve tried classical music hoping that it will serve to sooth and quieten. If the music doesn’t work the only hope is to move or the Mosquito.

annie August 13, 2008 11:42 PM

I think that civility has lost it’s way somewhere down the line. That and perhaps we need to find employment for our children so that they have less free time to find trouble. One can’t blame shopkeepers for wanting to keep away crowds of teens. Be assured that this would not be an issue if the teens were well behaved.

james August 13, 2008 11:45 PM

Shopkeepers and property owners DO have the right to protect their investments as well as their peace of mind. I do not believe that anyone would spend the hefty fee for one of these devices if there were not a severe problem. Not everyone can afford to change locations or insulate themselves from the noise in other ways. The mosquito is a solution that does not harm the teens only deters.

sudershan kumar October 26, 2011 3:59 AM

hi all, i am from india. I live in delhi. I am so much fed up with dogs and children of my locality that i hardly now differentiate between dogs and children. I am sorry if someone minds it. My own children don’t make any noise outside and i don’t have a dog , may be it is also a reason for such intolerence. Can someone tell me how effective it is and that can it be supplied in india too? Thanks

noa shiruba December 11, 2019 10:00 AM

Well I can’t see ultraviolet or communicate with bats (I assume, I’ve never tried), but I am far past my teenage years and I find rodent repulsion devices, old TV, and many parking garages and automatic doors to be extremely annoying. I won’t even go to some stores near these parking garages because it gives me a headache. Maybe statically more teenagers can hear these tones, but certainly some other people can also hear them, including myself. I know at least two other people from my company that avoid the same locations – and none of us are teenagers, so I know I’m not crazy. The places I mentioned are mostly for sonar instead of repellant (I think), but these should seriously be banned. My guess is that technically they already are, since you are not typically allowed to play lots sounds in public areas

ROCKY GALATI May 20, 2021 9:52 AM

imma looking for a child repellant by sound device?

i have one that works well with dogs, and i need one that works with children

+ May 20, 2021 12:27 PM


I know that I am a total failure in life, thanks you for pointing that out and for remembering me, I really hope to rot away soon, as long as it is painless it will be alright eventually…

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