And what you can do about it

Last week, my daughter wanted to watch a particular episode of Paw Patrol. It was something to do with Sea Patrol, saving penguins or something. We often tape Paw Patrol episodes using Foxtel, so I scrolled through our collection to find the episode. It wasn’t there. I checked the on-demand section, also not there.

“Sorry sweetie,” I said. “We don’t have it. You’ll have to watch another episode.”

“Please look again,” she replied, “My friend Arlo watched it the other day. It has to be there.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just not there. He must have seen it on DVD or something. You’ll have to choose another episode.”

“But it has to be there,” she said incredulously. And she looked at me like I was crazy, not believing that the episode she wanted to watch wasn’t available.

That’s when it hit me. What is our culture of downloading, streaming and the 24/7 internet doing to us? It has given our kids a belief that anything they might want to listen to or watch is available, all the time.

Our childhoods were so different

Back when we were kids, there were 5 channels on TV. Watching cartoons on a Saturday morning was such a treat. It was one of the few times on the weekend that there was dedicated TV programming for kids. I always looked forward to snuggling up with my siblings to watch Gummi Bears, Smurfs and of course DuckTales.

These days, kids have their own dedicated channels, all day long. There’s ABC Kids, Disney Junior, Nick Jr and many more. Plus all the kids TV available on streaming services.

One of my favourite memories as a kid was going to the movies to see The Little Mermaid. Oh man, I loved Ariel! Afterwards, I saved my pocket money for weeks and eventually had enough to buy my own cassette of the soundtrack. Every afternoon after school, I’d play it at full volume in my bedroom, singing along to ‘Under the Sea’. I’m sure the neighbours loved it..

These days, you could listen to a movie soundtrack on Spotify in the car on the way home from seeing the movie. Even as adults, we’ve lost the art of waiting for things.

What does this mean for our kids?

We all probably all agree that most of this technology is awesome. Who doesn’t love being able to think of a movie they’d like to watch, then 10 minutes later downloading it and sitting on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. Much easier than the drive to Blockbuster Video! But what impact is this on-demand culture having on our kids?

I asked Rachel Hard, Registered Psychologist, about the impact of on-demand culture. She said the problem with the on-demand culture is that children don’t need to learn how to wait.

“This means that children don’t necessarily learn the skills that allow them to delay gratification.”

So why is important for children to learn how delay gratification? According to Rachel: “Learning to delay gratification is all about waiting, which is a reflection of self-control. Strong self-control is linked with many positive outcomes in later life:

  • better financial security (linked with positive savings behaviour, spending habits etc)
  • occupational prestige (delaying initial financial windfall by studying or working towards a position/qualification/skill set),
  • better physical and mental health (including improved emotional coping strategies and resilience)
  • (a lack of) substance abuse and criminal convictions/behaviours.”

Eek, heavy stuff.

So how can we help our kids learn delayed gratification and patience? Here are some suggestions from Rachel:

Avoidance

We can teach them about “out of sight out of mind” from an early age. You might, for example, tell your child they can’t have a biscuit until after dinner and verbalise that you are going to put the biscuits away until after dinner.

Develop positive distraction strategies

Get the child engaged in a new activity to help them forget the item/situation they want. Just make sure the substituted distraction is a positive one. Some examples might be: play a board game or do a puzzle together, sing a song, go outside to play, read them a story etc. Any activity that will keep their minds busy with another activity.

Self-verbalising

Teach children phrases that they can repeat. For example: ‘If I wait I will get ….(insert reward or what they need to wait for)’.

Help teach patience with these activities

Baking – they need to learn to carefully follow a recipe and wait for the food to finish cooking before they get the payoff of a delicious cake to eat.

Planting some seeds together. The plant will not grow immediately and it needs prolonged care and attention before it yields any outcomes/rewards.

 

So like most things in life, it’s all about balance and teaching our kids that many things are worth waiting for. If we ever find that Paw Patrol episode, I’m sure my daughter will agree!