Instant Gratification?

I read a blog post recently, written by Victoria Prooday, an occupational therapist working in Toronto, Canada. She outlines her beliefs about why some children today find school boring, have little patience and no friends.

The part that really hit home for me was the following, as a possible reason why some children find school such a challenge.

    “I am Hungry!!” “In a sec I will stop at the drive thru” “I am Thirsty!” “Here is a vending machine.” “I am bored!” “Use my phone!”  The ability to delay gratification is one of the key factors for future success. We have the best intentions — to make our children happy — but unfortunately, we make them happy at the moment but miserable in the long term.  To be able to delay gratification means to be able to function under stress. Our children are gradually becoming less equipped to deal with even minor stressors, which eventually become huge obstacles to their success in life.
    The inability to delay gratification is often seen in classrooms, malls, restaurants, and toy stores the moment the child hears “No” because parents have taught their child’s brain to get what it wants right away.

Her blog post reminded me of another book that I have read that referred to “The Marshmallow Affect”. The Stanford marshmallow affect experiment was a series of studies on delayed gratification in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In these studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards (i.e., a larger later reward) if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other life measures.

It is very interesting to me, as this research concludes that there is a link between very young children who can manage themselves into delaying an activity while waiting for a better reward and success later in life. I have to agree with Victoria in that we are seeing more and more young people who do not know how to manage themselves in this way.Instant gratification is becoming more and more the norm in our young people’s lives.  In classrooms, some children who are told “please wait and take your turn” find this extremely difficult. As educators we need to support everyone in providing boundaries for children. “You will get that ice-cream after you have eaten your vegetables” would have been something our grandparents would have stuck to. In the classroom this translates to “You will need to show me evidence that you have done this learning, before we move on” and most importantly when an adult says “no”, we mean no, not just “no, but then I’ll find another way to get what I want”.

Working with small children is hard work whether you are a parent or a teacher, but the effort put in now has such long term effects. Our future citizens deserve nothing less.

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