Delayed Gratification in an Age of Overindulgence
Do your children have the “I Wants!” and “The Gimme Gimmies”?
Posted Oct 28, 2019
I Want It Now seems to be today’s mantra! “And if I don’t get the things I want……… I'm Going To Scream!”
"I want it all
I want it all
I want it all and I want it now…" Queen
There’s even a FaceBook page devoted to “I Want It Now”! Instead, I think we should listen to our mothers. The message that says: “Patience is a virtue.”
It is difficult for today's parents to teach delayed gratification especially because we live in an instant gratification world where children are bombarded by marketers as early as age one.
- 36 percent have touched or scrolled a screen
- 24 percent have called someone
- 52 percent have watched TV
- 1 in 7 toddlers are on mobile media for at least one hour a day
- According to a recent survey of 2,290 parents, 53 percent of all 6-year-olds have their own mobile phone
- Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media.
What Is Delayed Gratification?
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Marketing delayed gratification, or deferred gratification is: "The psychological condition which enables the individual to wait patiently for future benefits instead of demanding something that they desire instantly and acting accordingly."
Try This Experiment With Your 5-Year-Old
Sit your child at a table and put a plate with a treat such as marshmallows in front of him. Tell him that you have to go into the next room for a while, and if when you come back he has not eaten the marshmallow, he will get two. If he eats the one before you get back (in 15 minutes), that’s all he will get. What do you think your child will do?
Research On Delayed Gratification
More than 40 years ago Walter Mischel conducted a simple but effective test on self-control that has become known as The Marshmallow Test. "It is really the story of resistance to temptation, the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that I was interested in. So that’s how the marshmallow test was born."
Follow-ups of children who had self-control and waited for a second marshmallow were far more successful in life than the children who ate the single marshmallow right away. In follow-up tests, the Patient Postponers fared far better than the Instant Gratifiers. Over time the Patient Postponers had:
- Higher SAT scores;
- Lower levels of substance abuse
- lower likelihood of obesity (lower BMI 30 years later)
- Better response to stress
- Better social skills (as reported by parents)
- Less aggressive and better able to control their own reactions
- Different brain structure (the prefrontal cortex was more highly developed in the delayers compared to the instant-gratifiers at age 40)
High Delayers and Childhood Overindulgence
In our eighth study on overindulgence, we found that childhood overindulgence leads to the inability to delay gratification, ungratefulness, an increase in materialistic values, and overall unhappiness in adulthood. Conversely, if individuals are not overindulged as children, they are more likely to delay gratification, feel grateful, have fewer materialistic urges, and be happy.
This is the first of four blog postings on the topic of delayed gratification. My next posting will explore the question: “Is Your Child an Instant Gratifier or a Patient Postponer?” It will be followed by: “Strategies to Teach Your Child Delayed Gratification Part 1 and 2.”
Do all things with Love, Grace, and Gratitude
© 2019 David J. Bredehoft
Mischel, W. (2014). The marshmallow test: Mastering sellf-control, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Oxford dictionary of marketing (4th ed.). (2016). Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press.