Sardonic Sistah Says

Observations… Ruminations… Ponderances… & Rants from Another Perspective

Can a Sugar Confection Predict Your Child’s Future

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Let’s say you are grocery shopping with your young child who is somewhere between the ages of 4 to 6.  Let’s call the child Isabel.    At checkout Isabel spies a package of Oreos in the cart and wants one.  You make Isabel a deal:  if she keeps whining you will give her one cookie now and that is it but if she stops whining and waits until you get home then she can have two cookies after lunch.

What choice will Isabel make; to take one cookie now or have two cookies later?  What choice would your child make?  And why does it matter, it’s just cookies, right?

Well, yes they are just cookies but these cookies show character.  And not just because they are fraking delicious and try to thwart my will when I say I want just one and end up eating half to ¾ of the package!

(Deep breath, back on track)

In 1972 psychologist Walter Mischel conducted The Marshmallow Test.  An assistant leads a child into an empty room that has only a marshmallow on a plate.  The assistant explained to the child that he/she could eat the marshmallow now but if he/she waited until the assistant returned then the child could have two marshmallows.

The temptation was great and you can see it as you watch the video.  Some kids turned their back to the marshmallow, some hid under the table to keep themselves from eating it.  And of course some gave in, either eating the marshmallow as soon as the door closed or giving into temptations a few minutes later.  Dr. Mischel wrote his paper and thought he was done but years later after running into the children who participated in the experiment her learned of the different fates of the children.  After a while he went home and compared the results to what he now knew about the children (Who was doing great in school?  Who was failing?  Who was on track to college?  Who had spent time in the penal system?)  Mischel discovered that the children who were rewarded with two marshmallows were doing well but those who only had one were struggling.

“It was really just idle dinnertime conversation,” he says. “I’d ask them, ‘How’s Jane? How’s Eric? How are they doing in school?’ ” Mischel began to notice a link between the children’s academic performance as teen-agers and their ability to wait for the second marshmallow. He asked his daughters to assess their friends academically on a scale of zero to five. Comparing these ratings with the original data set, he saw a correlation. “That’s when I realized I had to do this seriously,” he says. Starting in 1981, Mischel sent out a questionnaire to all the reachable parents, teachers, and academic advisers of the six hundred and fifty-three subjects who had participated in the marshmallow task, who were by then in high school. He asked about every trait he could think of, from their capacity to plan and think ahead to their ability to “cope well with problems” and get along with their peers. He also requested their S.A.T. scores.

The New Yorker: The Secret of Self-Control by Jonah Lehrer 18 May 2009

Once Mischel began analyzing the results, he noticed that low delayers, the children who rang the bell quickly, seemed more likely to have behavioral problems, both in school and at home. Low delayers struggled in stressful situations, often had trouble paying attention, and found it difficult to maintain friendships. The child who could wait fifteen minutes  had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.

The test measured children’s ability for self-control.  Children who could decide against instant gratification for a greater pay off later built up a very important character trait:  self-control.  It’s easy to see that a child should choose studying for a test over hanging out with friends but what about finishing up a paper over checking their email or practicing piano instead of watching hours of television?

Angela Lee Duckworth, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania… grew interested in (delayed gratification) after working as a high-school math teacher. “For the most part, it was an incredibly frustrating experience,” she says. “I gradually became convinced that trying to teach a teen-ager algebra when they don’t have self-control is a pretty futile exercise.” And so, at the age of thirty-two, Duckworth decided to become a psychologist. One of her main research projects looked at the relationship between self-control and grade-point average. She found that the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. She said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”

The New Yorker: The Secret of Self-Control by Jonah Lehrer 18 May 2009

When Mischel gave the test to low children from low-income families he noticed that their delay of gratification was below average compared to children from higher income family because poor children might not have the chance to delay gratification as much.  Mischel said with learning mental tricks to help re-direct attention and controlling thoughts a person can change their course.

Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, the founders of Knowledge is Power Program (K.I.P.P.) also believe that self-control is the key to academic success.  Self-control is one of the strengths in their list of 24 characteristics they try to cultivate in their students.  Even when children run into barriers or fail at a task they feel their character building approach to teaching will help their students.

Dominic Randolph, Headmaster of Riverdale Country School agrees with Levin and Feinberg.

“The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure,” Randolph explained. “And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.”

New York Times: “What if the Secret to Success is Failure” by Paul Tough 14 Sept 2011

So your child is smart and has capabilities, but is they able of foregoing what they want now for a greater pay-off later?

And what do you think?  Do you think self-control is an important trait for a strong academic student or do you feel that denying yourself (and your children) anything is un-American?

Next time in the Urban Mama’s Guide we will discuss for profit colleges: are they worth the money?


Written by rentec

2 August, 2012 at 12:20 am

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