Delayed Gratification

Very few things anymore take a long time to happen.  Nearly everything is available in an instant.  Instant messaging.  Movies on demand.  Cell phones with internet access.  Instant winners.  Ultra-fast food.  Five-minute total-body workouts.  You name it, and America can make it faster, so we can fit more into our days.

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays of all kinds. Mature adults learn that many of the best things in life take a long time to develop.  A great education takes twenty years.  A rock-solid, happy marriage takes a good decade to develop.  A garden is made over the course of many months, with daily tending.  Hunting or fishing takes tremendous patience and skill developed over years of practice.  Many of us are awaiting Spring flowers already.  These are some of the greatest joys of living, and some people just flat-out miss out.  They’d prefer a TV dinner to a slow-roasted turkey.

Abigail Van Buren once wrote, “Maturity is: The ability to stick with a job until it’s finished; The ability to do a job without being supervised; The ability to carry money without spending it; and The ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

So in order to prepare our kids for the best things in life, we need to teach them to wait, and reward them for being patient.  Kids need opportunities to practice patience, followed by rewards for sticking with it to the end – whether it’s a 500 piece puzzle or a friendship with a neighbor which is taking a long time to develop.

It’s a real challenge for young adolescents who are impulsive and easily distracted by nature.  Some of this is biological, since the frontal lobe of the teenage brain, which controls impulse, is still developing into the early 20’s.  And some teens are pre-wired with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) which makes it all the more difficult to control impulses and distractions.

And once again, the culture is working against kids in this area.  They are constantly given immediate, customized, positive feedback from their cell phones, iTouch, YouTube, FaceBook, and video games.  These are places where they can hit pause, fast-forward, or reset any time they like with no consequences.  But in real life, there is no fast-forward or reset buttons.  (The movie Click is a good illustration of how distorted life becomes if we try to skip the slow, tedious aspects of life.)

Nevertheless, we can model patience and diligence to the kids in our life, and we can explain and show the benefits of those character traits.  It takes a commitment to showing kids the way, for they won’t likely find it on their own.

Here is a cute video based on an old sociology study…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “The Marshmallow Test on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

Author: Andy Kerckhoff

I'm a husband, father, teacher. I'm doing my best, wishing I could do better, and trying to help others to effectively lead kids through early adolescence.

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