“Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa now!” is the phrase one of the children shouted in the movie, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Instant gratification screams, “I want it and I want it now!”
“Instant gratification” is a term used to describe a situation, condition, or circumstance in which a person does not want to wait for desired results. “I must have it immediately.”
The Marshmallow Experiment is a famous test conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University in the 1960s. A group of 4-year-old children were tested by being given one marshmallow and promised a second marshmallow if they could wait and not eat the first one until they received the second one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers followed the progress of each child into adolescence and found that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. This study was replicated by David Walsh and can be viewed on YouTube.
The following children experienced the instant gratification trap.
Michael demanded candy at the grocery store. “Mommy, I want it right now!” His mother said, “We have candy at home.” Michael stuffed the item into his pocket while his mom wasn’t looking.
Sheena demanded a pair of expensive designer jeans. “I want it now! I must have it!” Her mother gave in and bought the jeans. Unfortunately, the water bill didn’t get paid.
Jose, an honor student wanted good grades in chemistry without studying. “I deserve it and I want it!” He cheated on an exam and got caught.
Kia, a 14-year-old teenager, drove her parent’s car into the swimming pool. She didn’t want to wait for her driver’s license.
Faulty beliefs about immediate gratification:
I must have it now.
I can’t wait any longer.
I deserve it this very minute.
I have to do it.
I have to buy it now.
Everybody else has it and I want it.
I must act on my impulses.
It’s okay to hurt others if I get what I want.
Emotions can fuel faulty beliefs about instant gratification. Help your child to write a list of the emotions he feels when he wants something and believes he must have it now. Discuss the benefits of patience, impulse control, and the consequences of instant gratification.
Learning to wait and manage temptation and instant gratification is a part of human development. Toddlers begin to learn they cannot have everything they want when parents set limits. Children learn the cookie comes after dinner. Teenagers learn that homework comes before video-games.
Parenting involves understanding and discussing instant gratification with your children. Helping them to accept, process, and work through feelings of frustration when they don’t get what they want or don’t get what they want right away is necessary.
Children learn instant gratification from observing adults. What happens when adults shout, “I want it now!”
Instant Gratification and Adults
Paul Roberts, author of the 2015 book, The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification writes, “We are becoming an Impulse Society…How did entire societies that once celebrated their prudence, unity, and concern for the future become so impulsive, self-centered, and short-sighted?”
We live in a techno-world where we expect results now. We want faster internet speeds and cell phone services. We want on-demand movies and games. We want same-day delivery of purchases and packages.
We want—we want—we want and we want it now.
Instant vs. Delayed Gratification
For solutions, we need to go to the human brain. The emotional part of our brain responds to instant gratification. When given the choice of chocolate now or carrots later, the brain wants the yummy item right away. The logical part of the brain tells you that vegetables are healthier. The emotion brain and the logical brain are in a tug-of-war over which options to choose.
Our emotional brain wants to splurge on lottery tickets, overindulgence on food, and max out credit cards. Our logical brain wants to deposit money in the bank, join the gym, and pursue moderation.
Judith Wright proclaimed, “As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.”
Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in southern Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.