Thursday, July 24, 2008

Teach your children to pass the marshmallow

Two years ago I wrote:

I first heard of the test from Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. (I haven't read the 10th Anniversary Edition) The marshmallow test was conducted by Walter Mischel. He would test four year-old children to see if they could not eat a marshamallow that was one the table before them. The results of the test came out ten and twenty years later when they found that the children who had self control and resisted eating the marshmallow were successful in almost every facet of their lives.

In Instant Gratification Nation: Can We Still Sacrifice for the Future? Charles Wheelan reports the experiment differently:

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, researchers at Stanford University conducted a now-famous experiment using young children enrolled at Stanford's preschool facility. Experimenters sat the students at a table set with assorted objects that children of that age would find desirable (marshmallows, colored plastic poker chips, stick pretzels, and the like). The students were asked which of the objects they preferred.
Once that was determined, each student was offered an explicit choice that tested his or her ability to defer gratification: Get a reward now or a bigger reward later. The experimenter left the room, leaving a bell on the table in front of the student. If the student rang the bell before the experimenter returned, he or she would get a reward, albeit a less preferred one (a single marshmallow instead of two). However, if the student resisted ringing the bell until the experimenter returned (typically after 15 or 20 minutes), he or she would get something even better -- two marshmallows.


Later in the column Charles writes "I find myself asking an even bigger question: Is America as a nation losing its ability to wait for the second marshmallow?"

As a nation the sad answer is yes.

One of the lessons we try to teach our children is delayed gratification. They are learning the lesson! We give them an allowance each week. The money goes into four buckets: church, quick cash, short term savings and long term savings. Our oldest recently started putting a significant amount of her quick cash and short term savings into long term savings. She'll turn 14 soon. The long term savings account is for things like helping with college or buying a house. She won't see this money for years. I am very pleased.

One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is to pass the marshmallow test.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education


Robert M. Lindsey said...

I don't know, if I have to wait 15 or 20 minutes, I want 5 or 6 marshmallows, not just 2.

Chris said...

What a great lesson. I really enjoyed reading this and will think about it as my wife and I are expecting our first child.

Henry Cate said...

Robert - delayed gratification is hard. :-)

Chris - congratulations and best wishes. Children are a handful, and a blessing.

Crimson Wife said...

On the other hand, there can sometimes be a bit too much in the way of delayed gratification. I was reminded of this recently by my mom of all people. I have a very difficult time spending money on myself for non-necessities even if they really won't make much of a difference in our overall budget.

For example, I just couldn't bring myself to buy a digital camera even though I wanted one because I had a film one that worked perfectly well. A few hundred dollars really wouldn't have made a significant dent in our bottom line but I simply couldn't justify the purchase to myself. Finally, I received one as a Christmas gift from my in-laws and I love it!

My mom reminded me of this the other day and she made the very good point that there needs to be a balance between saving for the future and enjoying the present.

Henry Cate said...

"On the other hand, there can sometimes be a bit too much in the way of delayed gratification."

You are right.

My guess is in the United States 70% don't delay gratification enough, 20% are probably about right, and 10% delay gratification too much.

loonyhiker said...

Isn't there a quote (I can't remember who said this) but "Good things come to those who wait"? I think this is a neat concept to teach students. Saving our money instead of instantly spending enabled my husband and me to retire earlier than our peers so we are young enough and healthy enough to do traveling and hiking.

Henry Cate said...

"Good things come to those who wait."

Yes. It is a great saying.

In this context I might add something like:

"Good things come to those who intelligently wait."

Just waiting isn't enough, you have to be wise in where you spend your effort.