A terrible epidemic is sweeping across the United States, wreaking havoc on developing adolescent minds and killing off creativity, concentration, and self-expression. This horribly infectious disease is the shift away from the creation of music in the academic and (increasingly) electronic world of children and teenagers.

As preparations for the ever more selective college admissions start earlier and earlier in teens’ academic lives, the culture of playing a musical instrument is dying. Only the most talented musicians continue their craft, leaving the mediocre instrumentalists to drop out as their more gifted peers receive all of the appreciation and recognition. This is particularly disheartening because all individuals can reap the mental benefits of playing an instrument, regardless of skill level, and often the students who stop playing earliest are those that need the benefits the most. Whether it’s boosting self-esteem, patience, discipline, or even mathematical ability, playing a musical instrument is undoubtedly rewarding to a developing brain. These characteristics are exactly what a student applying to colleges would want to exhibit, yet they’re what students are missing out on when they quit band or orchestra.

While fault may lie partially in the student, the disregard for music results from the increasing focus on college admissions and away from true personal growth. Unfortunately, parents and schools perpetuate this culture of obsession with colleges, further pushing students from playing music. They undervalue the idea that any student can – and should – play music, no matter how well. If their child cannot be the best, why bother playing at all? This sentiment is incredibly detrimental to the budding musician, not to mention the impressionable teenager vying for parental approval; music should be about individual enjoyment, not ability. Students gain the most from playing an instrument when they are relaxed and focused, rather than worrying about a concert or musical award that they can add to their college application.

As college admissions and parents pressure students to focus solely on academics, the development of addicting technology also dissuades youth from playing a musical instrument. The tantalizing world of social media and online communication trumps the dull idea of playing an instrument on any day. Any free time teens have after homework is consumed by smartphones, where they often engage in the same, repetitive activities of scrolling through news feeds and random articles online. This only leads to attention span issues, which, of course, can be remedied by playing music.

Many studies have shown that constant use of smartphones and social media shortens attention spans of children and teens. In fact, British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield asserts that, since our malleable brains are “shaped substantially by what we do to them and by the experience of daily life,” there is a significant “link between shorter attention spans and technology.” As students lose the ability to focus for long periods of time, their classroom function declines and their grades drop. But, wait – dropping grades? Colleges won’t accept that! The obvious solution to parents would be to take away their child’s smartphone or limit their time online, but this only creates tension and rarely helps the child actually do better in their classes. Instead, having students play an instrument purely for individual benefit is the best remedy. Not only do they get to keep their precious phone, they also train their brain to focus longer as they practice songs and scales. Just think – if the student had been playing an instrument in the first place, all of this would have been prevented.

With colleges, parents, and electronics pushing musical instruments aside, students are losing an extremely beneficial opportunity for cognitive development and mental well-being. Increased memory capacity, improved social and mathematical skills, enhanced coordination and concentration, lowered risk of depression, decreased stress levels – the list of advantages is endless. Let’s encourage our younger generation to play music – no matter how talented they are – for their benefit and for our society’s benefit at large.