September 29, 2014
My line of work brings me into contact with lots of schools, many of them charter schools or alternative schools. One site visit last week brought me to a charter school in a low-income neighborhood, where the administrator stated a few times that the staff believes in the studies of delayed gratification where they result in better adult outcomes: more success in school, career and life.
I had never heard of the "marshmallow experiment" wherein researchers presented children with a marshmallow, stating that - if they waited - they could have two marshmallows instead. That was in 1972. After following those same marshmallow kids, the ones that delayed their marshmallow desires to wait for the two marshmallow treat were the ones that got better grades. AND: they dealt with stress better and they were less likely to be obese and on and on.
Having never heard of this study and having never really noticed my kids' abilities to delay gratification, I suddenly started to notice. My teenager wolfed down some brownies the other day immediately when she got home from saying "Oh my god, I am so hungry." My five-year old boy spied a new Matchbox car at the store, and when I said: "your birthday is in just a week; let's put this on your wish list!", he burst into a tantrum unable to fathom waiting.
Does this mean they will be less likely to succeed when they grow up? Should I be training them to withhold pleasure and delay gratification?