The Era of Immediate Gratification in our Youth.
Even as I wrote the title, I realized it was not entirely true. The era of immediate gratification is not only in our youth. We parents are as guilty as our children, and we actually create this behavior in our children. We rack up debt because we want our teens to have the latest gadgets and clothes. We as a society are becoming larger because the food tastes good so we want to eat it all now. It’s even more frightening for our teens in this social media era. There are all kinds of apps teens can use to “hook up”, because they want to have sex now. They don’t want to wait to meet someone and get to know them. Relationships take too much work. Let’s just “hook up” and have fun now and we’ll deal with the consequences later. How can we as parents help our teens overcome the need for immediate gratification which can ultimately harm them?
1. Being honest is always the best policy.
Parents need to take a long honest look at themselves to determine if they themselves are plagued by immediate gratification. How many times do you see your friend with the latest car or dress and we immediately feel the need to buy one? Our teens take their cues from us and want the latest Air Jordan gym shoes etc. not because they need one but everyone else has it. We as parents must learn to recognize the signs in ourselves and ask ourselves why we are buying whatever. I know this is an overused cliché, but an apt one here, “Is it a need or a want?” If it’s a want and especially if we can’t afford it, then we may need to put the brakes on and train ourselves to say no. Only then can we teach our teens to do the same. We model behavior to our teens and it is a good idea to go through this exercise with your teen, if they beg and plead with you for something. Let them think it through. Do they really need that item now? Is it a necessity? They will only take you seriously if they know that you actually believe this yourself.
Goal setting also gives them concrete steps to achieve what they want instead of giving in to what they want now.
2. Learn to say No when you need to say No.
Parents hate to say No to their children. Why do we do this? Is it because we don’t want to hurt their feelings? Or, do we just want to make them happy for our own peace of mind, rather than dealing with the consequences of saying No? Why do parents borrow money to buy their children the latest stuff simply because they want it and sometimes, even when they don’t? Sometimes the best thing you can do is to say No and explain why. Be honest. Perhaps the explanation is simply the family can’t afford it at the time. The next thing to discuss then is “but if you really think you need this, how you can make it happen?” Perhaps your child can do some extra chores around the house to earn money or older teens can work and learn to save for what they want. One friend told me how his son wanted a new very expensive laptop. He could have bought it for him but decided to teach him about working and saving for what he wants rather than the immediate gratification just because his dad could give it to him. He encouraged his son to work and taught him how to save enough money to buy the laptop. The interesting thing was, when he had the money, he decided a less expensive one would work just as well. He gave a portion of the money to charity and put the rest in his savings account for his other needs. Saying no appropriately and explaining why can teach our children valuable lessons that will ultimately help them in their future decisions.
3. Teach self-esteem and goal setting.
Teaching self-esteem and goal setting goes a long way in restraining the need for immediate gratification. Nowhere is this more obvious than in teen relationships. I am saddened how many girls move in to live with their boyfriends within a few weeks of meeting them because they have such low self-esteem they feel if they don’t do so, they will lose the man. A teen who has written down goals and has a plan for his or her future is less likely to do this. Yes, there is the pressure from everyone else to try drugs, or become sexually active. “Why wait?” they say, “You only live once. Do it now.” The teen with a purpose and goals, who has good self-esteem, may be tempted but ultimately will say no. If you know where you’re going, you may make a detour but you ultimately end up on the right road. It is so important for us as parents to talk to our teens and discuss the future they can have if they decide they want it.
A single mom I know of had a very intelligent son. He had done well in school till he got to 10th grade and realized he didn’t dress like the other kids because they just couldn’t afford it. He got a job but then unfortunately fell in with the wrong crowd who taught him “an easier and faster way to make money by dealing drugs.” This young man became a totally different person because of immediate gratification. He ultimately dropped out of school in 12th grade. This was a student with great potential. who may not achieve his purpose in life, if he unfortunately continues down this path. Why? Because he wanted to look good now. We really must take the time to communicate with our teens and help them set goals. We must teach them self-esteem. I’m not saying lie to your teens but help them discover their strengths. Commend them for a job well done. Show them you believe in them and in their ability to create a great future for themselves. Goal setting also gives them concrete steps to achieve what they want instead of giving in to what they want now.
Immediate gratification is a real problem that plagues a lot of families and society as a whole. It can lead to financial ruin and to our teens becoming less than their best. We can teach our teens to overcome by first taking a hard look at ourselves and changing this behavior in ourselves. Self-esteem and goal setting goes a long way in helping teens avoid immediate gratification. If they have a purpose and know what they want to achieve, they are less likely to give in to the temptation of immediate gratification.