top of page


How Screen-time Robs Children of Important Developmental Choices

The emotional health of children has been in sharp decline since 2010. Studies in health metrics now have enough data to draw conclusions that most of us already sensed. Due to the replacement of human interaction with digital stimuli and social media, young people lack emotional and social interaction to develop as humans have been for thousands of years.

Screen-time robs young people of the opportunity to develop 5 core domains of cognition that are fundamental to our species: Focus, Listening Skills, Resilience, Teamwork and Self-Confidence. These domains all have 1 thing in common: Choices. As a music educator, and event producer for 40 years and now working in the field of addiction medicine, I have come to recognize the significance of making a choice in our development.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a leading modality for understanding how psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking. CBT involves helping someone to recognize distortions in their thinking and make new choices based upon a better understanding of one’s behavior and motivation. CBT helps us re-map our brain through awareness and choices. Essentially the quality of the choices we make, in large part, determines our emotional health.

In this article I will discuss 2 areas of human development and how they relate to the effects of screen-time in childhood development.

Focus: A choice based upon a goal

When a young person is challenged to “focus” they must 1) understand the goal, 2) recognize what resources they have and what resources they need, 3) they must make a series of choices to achieve the goal. Those choices create a matrix of successes and failures that become part of them. Those focus choices are building blocks of emotional health.

Active Listening: A choice based upon deciphering relevance from auditory stimuli

Listening is the superhighway of neurological activity. Our brain is a hearing brain. We learn to speak because we can hear. What we hear matters. That which we listen too, matters more. Listening is the act of giving your attention AND making choices based upon what you are hearing. When we make an effort in our listening, we are developing a personal sense of relevance. The choices being made are “What about this matters?”, “Why am I, or am I not interested?” “What should I do now?” I define personal relevance as how we link our needs, goals, and values to our individual choices. The quality of our choices in active listening are contingent upon the quality of things we are listening too. Those listening choices are building blocks of personal relevance.

Young people who spend the majority of their time in passive screen entertainment are not setting goals and they are not making goal related choices. Young people who text, post, and doom scroll for hours are not deciphering complex auditory cues necessary for crucial brain development. Without the experience of making choices, young people can fail to thrive. This failure to thrive causes anxiety, fear, loneliness and depression.

The quality and complexity of what children hear and do directly impacts the quality of the choices they make. Once we master tapping a simple drum beat, it's time to add complexity. If we never listen to anything but "tap, tap, tap, tap", we can rarely be expected to make a choice to "ratta, tap tap". Too much passive screen-time simplifies the process by which the child learns to engages with the wold: Watch, click, tap, swipe. The child simply doesn't learn to engage the world with other more complex choices.

Screen-time has addictive qualities that replicate those of drug and alcohol addiction. The feeling of pleasure from a release of Dopamine is short lived and requires more Dopamine. Teens who scroll and post all night instead of sleeping or doing homework are experiencing the same outcomes of an addict who can’t control his drug use. Children lost in a tantrum when having their device removed are experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Addicts will always choose the hit of Dopamine over facing more complex life experiences. But it is those complex experiences that have within them the opportunity for complex choices and positive human development.

In this 8 minute NPR interview with author and researching Jean Twenge. Twenge explains the new data of social media effect on teens.

Formal music training at YACM gives students opportunities to focus and patriciate in active listening. Parents can help their children succeed at music and life by supporting positive experiences with daily practice, ensuring each lesson and class is attended and participating in performances. Each musical experience offers assignments, goals and complex processes that require your child to make many choices made through focus and active listening skills.

22 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Young Artists Conservatory of Music
bottom of page