In this one-on-one email interview, Mr Howard Choy, a psychologist cum author, talks about the importance of learning to delay gratification, especially in childhood.
What is delay of gratification?
A person who is able to delay gratification is able to WAIT for a better outcome.
How is it important in academic studies and adulthood?
Let me give you an academic example.
In the 1960s, psychologists gave children a marshmallow each at the beginning of the experiment. They were told that if they could wait fifteen minutes they would get another marshmallow.
The children who could not wait and ate the marshmallow belong to the group: unable to delay gratification. Those who were able to wait belong to the group: able to delay gratification.
The two groups of children were followed into adulthood. Children who were classified as unable to delay gratification have been found to be less successful than their counterparts. Many did not go to college, while those that did did not manage to complete college. The experiments were widely replicated and results have found consistently that children who cannot delay gratification were less successful than those who were able to.
In fact, delay of gratification is very critical to an individual’s success in the future. Many successful people have been able to demonstrate the ability to delay gratification. One notable example is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who rejected a 1 million dollars offer to buy over his Facebook enterprise. Now his business is worth a few billions.
Do you observe that the children generally are having issues with delay of gratification?
Delay of gratification is of a huge concern today. Children today do not appear to know how to delay gratification. They cannot delay playing games on devices. I observed children playing games on mobile devices and noticed that almost all would use their ‘powerups’ immediately on their next game. They do not seem to strategize and store power-ups for future use.
What are the symptoms of children that may be lack of delay of gratification?
Children who cannot delay gratification are easy to recognize at home. They do work hastily because they do not like to do homework. They also tend to spend a lot of time on computers and gadgets especially if left unsupervised.
At the shopping mall, you might see children ranting for an ice cream or a toy. When parents refuse to give their child what they desire, they create a scene. This is another typical illustration of a child’s inability to delay gratification.
Is there a window period for children to learn to master the delay of gratification?
There is a window period in which children can learn how to delay gratification, beyond which it will be considerably harder for him to learn so. This window period is 6 years old.
Any other words for the parents relating to delay of gratification?
Typically children who cannot delay gratification become teenagers who do not save, do not perform well in their studies and may even engage in behaviours such as gambling and pre-marital sex.
As adults, they have trouble holding onto jobs, will be unable to afford housing and may likely run into debt.
One point to note about delay of gratification is that once parents feed the wants of the child, not only will the child be lesser able to learn how to develop the ability to delay gratification in the future but will also demand more in the future.
Mr Howard Choy is a psychologist with strong expertise in psychometric assessment (profiling) and is certified to use the STRONG interest inventory which can help chart a person’s career interest. He is also an author of “Helping Your Child To Be Successful” series.