Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Traps of Instant Gratification

Why The Waiting Game Is Good For Kids

Instant gratification is all around us. If my kids want to learn how to perform a yo-yo trick, within minutes they can watch an expert on YouTube. If they need to do research for a report, they have access to college libraries from their seat in our living room courtesy of their laptop. And if they want to share a silly joke with a friend who is 2 hours away, they grab the phone and send the text. Instant gratification surrounds our children and changes how they perceive the world. It permeates their education, their social circles, and directs their futures. However, learning to rely on instant gratification can have negative effects on their childhood and their lives for years to come.

More Than Marshmallows

Decades ago psychologist Walter Mischel designed an experiment wherein hundreds of preschoolers were tempted with marshmallows. The children were directed that they could either eat 1 marshmallow right away, or if they were able to wait 15 minutes, they could have 2 marshmallows. The children were then left alone to decide their stomachs’ fates. Some children went for the immediate gratification and ate the lone marshmallow, while other squirmed in their seats, fidgeting and calculating, and eventually were rewarded with 2 marshmallows after they outlasted the time clocks. The final numbers revealed that 70% of the children could not resist the temptation for the 15 minutes, while 30% could. This experiment has been modeled in other cultures with similar results over the years.

In order to quantify this experiment, participants from the late 1960s experiment were brought back and certain characteristics were assessed during the end of their high school years. Those preschoolers who were able to delay their marshmallow gratification for 15 minutes years ago grew to be young adults who were significantly less likely to have drug addictions, behavior problems, or be obese. They also scored on average 210 points higher on their SAT exams.

Why is Delayed Gratification Important?

Our children live in a world of instantaneous results. Delaying gratification:

  • Helps kids to think things through more thoroughly (like whether or not they should really make that Facebook post)
  • Reinforces the value and importance of self-control
  • Gives them the opportunity to enjoy anticipation
  • Helps prioritize activities in busy lives
  • Teaches children an important foundation for money management (credit cards are dangerous tools for instant gratification)
  • Gives them opportunities to deal with complex sets of choices and challenges and determine the best courses for action
  • Teaches them how to make and set goals
  • Gives children the opportunity to deal with disappointments and frustrations
  • Decreases instances of dangerous impulsive behaviors

How Can We Teach Delayed Gratification to Our Kids?

While we might be tempted to remove their technology gadgets and gizmos, put a halt on cell phones, and an end to endless activities, these aren’t very realistic on a long-term basis. Instead we can use small, tangible, and real opportunities for encouraging delayed gratification.

  • Give preschoolers their own calendars and help them anticipate time.
  • Demonstrate good behaviors. If you’re shopping with your kids you might say “I really would like that new coat, but I am going home to think about it before I buy it.”
  • Read chapter books or series of books together where you can talk about what might happen next, but give them time between readings to think about it
  • Allow your child to plan for a friend coming over. One day it might be the invitation, another it might be planning the activity, while you gradually build to the special day.
  • Establish family rules for purchases. Our kids have to wait 24 hours before spending their money on an item, and in that time, they usually decide they didn’t want it as much as they thought.
  • Talk about goals and find age appropriate ways to record them with your kids.
    • Pictures on a calendar that represent each day
    • A good old fashioned paper chain link countdown
    • Written goals by older kids – help them define long and short term goals
  • Play games that need “to be continued” such as a marathon run of Monopoly or putting a puzzle together as a family and only spending 15 minutes each evening working on it.
  • Plant a garden with your kids – nothing stretches their patience like waiting for seeds to emerge.

Delayed (sometimes called deferred) gratification is not easy, for kids or for adults. In a world where we can watch movies on demand, buy games with the click of a button, and update the world with the fact that our toddler took his first step, we need to take time to just wait. Good things do come.

Related posts:

  1. 9 Important Things Our Children are Missing
  2. Make Good Manners Start at Home
  3. How to Help History Come Alive for Kids

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids |

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