Teaching Patience: A Case against the I-Need-It-Now Syndrome
We used to know how to wait. Throughout history people have waited for harvest for food, waited for mom to sew them some new clothes, waited for the pony express announcing news of a new grandchild, and waited for their horse-drawn carriage to take them to their destination.
Now our world is fast-paced and exciting. And we have lost the ability to wait. Without going back to the days before cars and cellphones, I would like to submit that there is still immense value in waiting, even in our current world.
First, I want to mention some ways that instant gratification is dangerous. At the end are some tools for teaching the art of patience.
Finances are the easiest most direct issue to define. Here are some examples of how the inability to delay gratification can cause financial hardship.
Young, newly married couples want to buy a home and have it furnished with the styles they see in magazines or on Pinterest. They want this immediately. Their parents have a fully furnished house and vehicles, so why shouldn’t they have the same? At times, I have seen parents encourage this thought in their newly married children. Parents want the best for their kids, and it seems as if having these material possessions immediately is the best choice. They are choosing instant gratification and along with that they are gaining long term payments on stuff that will likely be outdated or ruined before it is paid for.
College graduates want jobs that pay well immediately. Some refuse to make anything less than their education deserves. As a result they grow deeper in debt and deeper into depression and bitterness waiting for the perfect opportunity. If these young people do end up taking a job that is “beneath” them, they are likely to be disappointed in themselves and ungrateful. But why? There is nothing wrong with an entry-level position. I propose that the ungratefulness and depression come as a result of children being raised with the very best of everything handed to them immediately.
Payday Advances and Title Loans
I will try not to get on my soapbox on this one, but it will be hard. Well, how about just one sentence? I have worked with too many poor people who have been taken advantage of by these companies. I think they are evil. (And I know that turned into two sentences.)
I Need Cash Now. Instantly. I can’t wait. There are bills to be paid. There are things to buy. I owe rent. Please do not be fooled by these companies. You will end up paying back an asinine percentage rate on your loan. This choice will gain you instant money in the short term but will cause your finances to suffer much much much more significantly long term.
Credit Card Purchases
Any purchase we put on a credit card, which we aren’t able to pay off on the very first bill is bought because we do not have patience. We see something we think we need, and we buy it. And we will end up paying for that expensive dinner long after it is forgotten about.
What are your credit card practices?
I hate to write this one. It is my biggest struggle, and after exposing it for the terrible thing that it is, it will probably become even more of a struggle for me.
When I see chocolate, I just want to eat it. I don’t want to wait for dessert. I have trouble even waiting for Easter every year so I can get some Cadbury Eggs! We eat what we want, when we want. It is rare to find people who still cook all of their own meals, and even they love the 30-minute recipes. Long gone and forgotten are the days when one went outside, killed, plucked, cleaned, and cooked a chicken just for a meal. We also have no need to wait for certain fruits to be in season anymore; everything is in season some place on the planet and readily available in our grocery stores.
Widely available weight loss pills
Lose Weight Fast
So we overeat, and we get fat. But we want to be skinny. And we want to be skinny NOW. Enter diet pills, surgery, and other get-skinny-fast schemes. I can’t remember the last time I went through a check out line when there wasn’t a front-page magazine feature story like “Be in a Bikini By Memorial Day” article.
According to Google AdWords there are millions of searches for “lose weight fast” and similar phrases each month. And there are millions of articles catering to this obsession to lose weight immediately.
If a person doesn’t know how to delay gratification, he will inevitably encounter social and relational problems in life. Let’s start with premarital sex:
There is no long-term benefit to premarital sex. Its only purpose to is provide instant pleasure. Long term it destroys marriages and friendships, and breeds distrust and emotional stress. Notice that none of those consequences I just listed have anything to do with potential STDs or babies. Our society has chosen to pass out condoms in schools to deal with the more visible problems connected with premarital sex. However, the real way to solve all of these problems would be to teach abstinence until marriage. In other words, delayed gratification.
See what we’ve done as a culture? We have convinced ourselves that people aren’t capable of waiting. “Kids aren’t going to wait. They are going to have sex anyway, so let’s just makes sure they are ‘safe’.” We have failed to give them tools to deny the flesh and hold out for a greater fulfillment in the future. Brownie batter is good, but it is no substitute for waiting for fresh moist brownies dipped in milk. Not to mention that you aren’t in danger of getting salmonella from the baked version.
Abstinence outside of marriage is not just an outdated teaching from the Bible. Check out the statistics in this paper on the Munich University Library’s website.
So now that I’ve broached the heavy subject of premarital sex, I’ll give a few lighthearted examples of how our lack of patience leads to social and relational problems.
- Kids who take toys from other children because they want to play with them now.
- Drivers who cut off others because they want to get to their destination as fast as possible.
- Kids who throw tantrums in the grocery store and parents who give in. Mom wants instant peace; child doesn’t know how to wait for a toy/candy.
- Adults who stand in line for hours to see a movie premier or camp out by the store the night before a new techno gadget is going to be released. Some may think these actions display patience. In fact, it proves they are unwilling to wait one second more than is absolutely necessary. They are willing to pay the highest price, both in time and monetarily to obtain something as quickly as they can.
- Friends who get annoyed with friends who don’t immediately respond to texts or answer the phone
Doing any of these things shows my selfishness, my belief that my needs are greater than yours. When I act in the ways mentioned above, I am choosing instant gratification at the cost of being a respectful member of society with genuine friendships.
Teaching our kids (and ourselves) the value of delayed gratification is not going to be easy. The word “wait” is barely in my kids’ vocabulary.
- Emphasize the events that we get to wait for. There are plenty of events in life we do get to wait for. It is fun to emphasize these events and anticipate them: Christmas, grandparents’ visits, birthdays, summer, a new baby, etc.
- Be self-aware. We need to carefully review the above list of dangerous impulsive actions our society endorses and make sure we are not being seduced and deceived by the Get-Whatever-You-Want-Now schemes. We do not have to be slaves to our desires.
- Conduct your own marshmallow experiment. My grandpa used to give my sister and me a $2 bill if we could sit quietly for 15 minutes. I don’t think we ever failed to do it. It was such a fun game for us, and he got some peace and quiet. We also learned that it was possible to sit still.
Our Version of the Marshmallow Experiment
During church services my preschooler is allowed to quietly color. She knows that if she is quiet and waits until the end of the service to try to get my attention, she will get my undivided attention for as long as she wants to show me her masterpieces. She does really well at this.
We have a bit of work to do with our son, however. He has trouble merely waiting 30 seconds for the whole family to sit down at the dinner table before he digs in.
Another thought: Children need a stable environment. If a child doesn’t believe his/her authority, he is not going to believe that there is any benefit to waiting. If he doesn’t actually receive the patiently awaited marshmallow, he is less likely to wait the next time. I love this article from the University of Rochester with an updated version of the Marshmallow Experiment.
I am so thankful for technology. Without it, my family would have a very hard time keeping up with relatives in other states. I am not proposing that we do away with time savers. However, I do think that because of them we are going to have to be more intentional about instilling the virtue of patience in our children. I would love to know any techniques that you have found useful.
My Favorite Time Saving Advances
A little less slow
A lot less slow
Horse & buggy