In the 1960’s a psychologist at Stanford University named Walter Mischel performed a simple experiment with profound results. Walter gathered a group of four year old children and took each one into a room one at a time. He placed a marshmallow in front of the child and explained that he or she could choose to eat it at any time.
However if they waited for him to return from an errand, he would give them a second marshmallow and they could have both. If they did not wait to eat the first one until after he returned, they did not get the second marshmallow.
The “errand” took approximately 15-20 minutes and during that time the researchers noted which child was unable to wait (some not even lasting a few seconds after Walter left the room) and which ones could hold out until he returned. The fascinating data from this study however was not what happened in the room that day.
In 1990 three other researchers did a follow-up study on those exact children to compare the children who had been able to wait that day and those that could not. The results were astounding. The children who had the self-discipline to wait were more positive, self-motivating, persistent in the face of difficulties, and more able to delay gratification to achieve their goals. In essence they had developed the important habits found in successful adults.
The children who did not wait were more troubled, stubborn and indecisive, mistrustful and less self confident. Along with that, the marshmallow test became a predictor of academic success as those who waited scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT than those that did not.1
Who would have thought that a marshmallow could actually be an excellent predictor of a child’s college entrance exam – in fact twice as good as an IQ test.2
Teaching our children self-control and self-discipline is one of the most important character traits we can give them to ensure success. In his book “No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It” Dr. David Walsh explores the idea that the current generation of parents are not preparing their children for life because they have forgotten to use the word “NO” from time to time – that we have become a “YES” culture of instant gratification that is setting our children up for many difficulties and troubles and possible failure as adults.
Walsh states that “No is even more important for children and teens than Yes. No builds a foundation for self-discipline, self-respect and respect for others, integrity, perseverance, and a host of other character traits that lead to a happy, productive life.”3
Next week we will take a look at this subject more in relation to our theme DISconnect and the media around us. We will look at why it is becoming so hard for parents to say no in a culture that has made “no” a four letter word.
3 Walsh, D (2007). No: Why Kids of All Ages Need to Hear It. New York: Free Press.