Yes, some good news for parents even if it’s also perhaps a bit embarrassing: turns out your kids are better than you at delaying gratification. This revelation runs counter to what most adults think, particularly in an era of smartphones, 24/7 connectivity, and same-day deliveries.
In a new study by the American Psychological Association, researchers found that beginning in the 2000s, kids proved better able to resist temptation than were their counterparts in earlier generations (aka, ours). This result flies in the face of contemporary thinking, where tweet-sized attention spans and 24/7 digital connections led us to believe kids can’t wait for anything (because they don’t have to).
“Our findings serve as an example of how our intuition can be wrong and how it’s important to do research,” said Yuichi Shoda, a study co-author from the University of Washington. “If we hadn’t been systematically collecting data on how long children wait in this type of experiment, and if we hadn’t analyzed the data, we would not have found these changes.”
By wait, Shoda is referring to the classic Stanford University ‘marshmallow’ experiments conducted in the 1960s by Professor Walter Mischel.
The experiment was simple: a child would be seated at a table upon which a researcher would place a single marshmallow (or similar treat). The child was told the researcher needed to leave the room for a few minutes, and that the child could choose to eat the marshmallow or wait until the researcher returned, at which time a second marshmallow would be added to the bounty if that first was untouched.
The resulting films of the kids were humorous, with some wolfing down the marshmallow the moment the door closed, others squirming in their seats before succumbing to temptation, and a small number holding out for that second treat.
The experiment became famous not so much for what the kids did at the time but, rather, the degree to which those decisions impacted later aspects of their lives.
Over the following 40 years, researchers found that the kids who resisted the temptation – i.e. the kids who waited for that second marshmallow – had higher SAT scores, were less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, suffered lower levels of obesity, handled stress better, and enjoyed better social skills.
All of which is good news for today’s generation of parents who worry that their kids, courtesy omnipresent social media and other pressures, are being lured from one temptation to another. This new study may even help explain why today’s teen rates of sex and drinking are down.
Regardless, we see it as a good sign.