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Passing On the Most Important Skill: Delayed Gratification

  • Hal Runkel, LMFT ScreamFree Parenting
  • 2007 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Passing On the Most Important Skill: Delayed Gratification

Remember the movie Minority Report? The Cruise/Spielberg collaboration a few years ago was a haunting picture of the future, a future that included the most personalized advertising possible. Whenever you entered a mall, or shopping venue of any kind, eye-retina scans would identify you. And then every sign, every screen, and every sales placard would call you by name, show you all the products you have purchased or perused in the past, and showcase all the new, similar products for you in your preferred color, shape, and size. Yikes. Thank goodness our world isn’t really like that.

Hang on just a minute before you dismiss this merely as a thing of the future or a vision of a director; log on to amazon.com. On their front page will appear books and music that you have viewed in the past, along with similar products that other people with your viewing history have purchased. Sound familiar? The personalized advertising of our futuristic movies is already at hand.

Without the self-discipline to remain objective, see the advertising for what it is, and only pursue those products you most want, the onslaught of advertising will pale in comparison to the onslaught of personal debt and emptiness it will no doubt bring.

The way out is what Scott Peck called The Road Less Traveled. The road out is the path of most resistance but most reward-it is the road of delayed gratification. If you want to teach your children one skill to help them most in this life, teach them to delay gratification.

Careful here, this does not mean to deny gratification. So often we equate delaying gratification with denying any at all. This is what our kids pick up on when they ask us for something and we respond with, "We'll see." They always read that (usually correctly) as a not-too-honest way of us just saying no. At least that's the way I saw my own dad do it. If we do this often enough, they see delaying gratification as a way of simply denying happiness.

This is not what I want to teach my kids, or my clients and readers, for that matter. I want to teach my kids that the key to life is to absolutely pursue what you want most, as opposed to whatever you want right now. Failure in life is whenever we neglect what we want most in order to get what we want right now. Think of eating extra dessert (what I want right now) instead of pursuing what I want most (a healthy, vibrant, energetic body). Think of buying the newest gadget instead of investing in a wealth-building asset (and then having plenty of extra money for even newer gadgets later). Think of telling your spouse “I told you so!” when they are clearly in the wrong instead of quickly forgiving and loving him/her through their mistake and walking alongside them as they repair the damage.

You want to equip your kids against the onslaught of advertising? Ask them continually about what they want most. Timing is important here. Don't ask them about this in the middle of a commercial (your advice will literally be seen as the enemy to the endorphins encouraged by the ad); instead, ask them about their strongest desires in the park, over a card game, in the car, or at bedtime. Make every effort to listen without manipulating, a difficult task, to be sure. Every once in a while, talk about your frustration with your own lack of discipline and subsequent buyer's remorse, just be careful not to turn it into a "don't make the same mistake, kid" type of moment. In fact, occasionally, let them make that mistake. Experience is a great teacher. Overall, just gently, and calmly, introduce your kids to your own journey of discovery and life education.

And then hope they don't watch and listen and learn as you scarf that extra dessert.  


Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the groundbreaking book ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Waterbrook Press. Visit www.screamfree.com for more information.