Kids crave instant gratification but benefit most from delayed gratification.
The average attention span has fallen.
What used to be 12 seconds has fallen to eight seconds.
In fact, over 53% of mobile internet users will abandon a site if the page takes more than three seconds to load.
You have just three seconds to make a good impression on someone else.
All three of these stats highlight something very important about the state of our modern world.
We human beings crave instant gratification. But these stats pertain mainly to adults.
What about children?
Children naturally have shorter attention spans, need more stimulation, and are even bigger sticklers for quick rewards than adults.
Perhaps, in previous eras, kids (and adults) weren’t so big on getting things right away, because the world moved at a slower pace.
Now, there are luxuries and advancements that society didn’t have access to before.
The world has changed, and we can argue that the way we parent our children and nurture them has changed, as well.
Instant and delayed gratification does have an impact on children. So, should we condition our kids to be more receptive to one over the other?
Shades of Gratification
At its core, gratification is “pleasure that comes from something we desire”.
Gratification can come from anything ranging from food to video games, to love, or harmful things such as recreational drugs.
Ultimately, feelings of gratification arise from dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and satisfaction.
Of course, the manner in which we experience that pleasure – whether it’s instant or delayed – makes a world of a difference.
Instant or immediate gratification means ignoring a future benefit to obtain or experience a less rewarding but immediate pleasure.
It’s the desire to “get something” that resolves a craving right away.
For example, your kid who says “I’m hungry” may want to eat a box of Oreos instead of waiting on the more nutritious, balanced dinner.
Vegetable lasagna is healthier, but your kid has to wait for it while it bakes in the oven.
Oreos are pre-packaged, ready-to-go, and tasty, but has little nutritious value. For either choice, there’s a trade-off.
With delayed gratification, a person resists the impulse to accept an immediate reward.
This means choosing to wait for a more valuable reward in the future.
It takes self-control and a greater amount of emotional intelligence to accept a delay in gratification.
For example, a kid who’s saving up to buy a fancy pair of sneakers.
They might be tempted to spend their cash on sugary snacks and movies. However, their understanding of delayed gratification will remind them that they’ll enjoy those sneakers far more than a pack of Skittles or a two-hour action flick.
The World’s Effects on Gratification: Past and Present
Anyone who’s been around long enough will remember a time when life seemed…slower.
Or at the very least, you will remember your parents or grandparents telling you about simpler times.
When food got cold, you had to reheat it on the stove and wait.
Checking the meaning of a word meant you had to physically open the dictionary and look it up.
If you wanted facetime with a family member who lived overseas, you had to visit them or wait for them to visit you.
Now, we have microwaves, voice searches and every video chat app you can think of.
Access Like Never Before
We have lightning-quick mobile networks and access to thousands of songs and music through platforms like Spotify and Netflix.
With so much technology around us that continues to get faster, it comes as no surprise that we crave instant gratification.
Technology has generally increased the pace of life as well.
Since robots and algorithms continue to make it easier to get things faster, we have become spoiled as a society.
We expect results quickly in all facets of life.
Whether it means getting our next-day delivery from Amazon or accomplishing life goals by 30, 35 or some other arbitrary number.
Perhaps much quicker than it took our parents of grandparents.
Unfortunately, instant gratification can have a negative impact on kids.
We live in a time where there is an expectation for children to grow up fast. Young people themselves feel the need to grow up fast, as well.
But on a smaller scale, our culture of instant gratification is changing the fundamental wiring of kids’ brains.
For example, it is now believed that excessive screen time triggers excessive dopamine releases – similar to those caused by recreational drugs.
The flashing and pulsing visuals of a screen can condition kids to seek more immediate gratification.
This results in declined impulse control, making kids impatient and averse to delayed gratification.
Not So Fast: The Importance of Delaying Gratification
Instant gratification itself isn’t all that bad!
However, when it’s the only reward that kids seek, they end up missing out on the benefits of delayed gratification.
It’s unfortunate because learning to accept delayed gratification can help children become more grounded adults.
Benefits of Delaying Gratification for Kids
- Self-control and impulse-control
- Greater discipline and the ability to stick with a goal
- Patience, persistence and perseverance (especially during hardships)
- More intrinsic motivation to complete tasks (less focused on external rewards)
- Increased fulfillment and a sense of purpose in adulthood
How to Create an Appreciation for Delayed Gratification in Kids
Enrol kids in the right hobbies – Putting children into sports, music, arts or drama can help them develop an appreciation for delayed gratification.
- It takes lots of practice and repetition to become skilled in these hobbies. This naturally conditions kids to accept those good things come to those who wait.
Regularly remind kids of what they have accomplished – A powerful way to help kids appreciate delayed gratification is to remind them of things they now enjoy because of waiting.
- When kids accept that what makes them happy now didn’t come right away, they may be more willing to trade temporary spoils for more valuable rewards later.
Offer rewards judiciously – Remember, when a child is fed with constant yet cheap rewards, they will continually seek that instant gratification.
- Learn to reward your kids for accomplishments that matter.
- For example, if you’re using a chore chart, save the reward stickers for challenging tasks that require time and effort from your child.
Instant Gratification – Is it All that Bad?
We will end today’s post with a final thought on seeking immediate rewards.
It would seem that instant gratification is our enemy!
A corrupting force that makes us more impatient each day… well, not exactly.
It’s true that instant gratification can blind us from seeing the bigger picture. However, it can be a good thing to look forward to.
For example, providing kids with quick feedback for a skill they’re learning is a form of instant gratification that can accelerate their learning.
Additionally, the instant gratification that comes from being able to learn a new subject in a matter of minutes gives young people the ability to stay on top of their ever-changing world.
Gratification & Gratitude
These are just a few examples that show feeling instantly gratified isn’t a bad feeling.
Rather, how do we as parents ensure this isn’t the only way our children get gratified?
In a tech-focused world (in which we as parents may even appreciate the ability to order dinner from an app on a hectic day), we can’t deny the positives and negatives of getting rewarded quickly.
But setting goals and reinforcing the importance of waiting for good things matters; especially to our children.
Striking a balance is a core philosophy of positive parenting. Finding ways to do so is part of the bigger journey.