An interesting read I found on the Yahoo finance page. Talks a little about financial prudence, but delves into the importance of teaching delayed gratification to children and backs it up with oft-cited studies. I totally agree that children need to be taught self-control (modeling is key!).
I often tell my families that pre-college school years is mostly about learning how to learn; and mastering self-control is critical to maximizing the return from any level of education (especially once they are on their own in college).
This is further delineated in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, where he distills success and talent down to a critical investment of 10,000 hours into whatever the gift or task may be. Success, it seems, finds those individuals who can put in the hard work now and wait for the reward later.
Why I Canned the Cable
by Laura Rowley author of Money and Happiness
Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2009, 12:00AM
This week I went cold turkey and eliminated our cable television service entirely -- even the basic channels.
Despite our family's participation in the library summer reading program, educational camp activities (including the dissection of a sheep's eyeball), trips to museums, daily swim team practice and the new trampoline in the backyard, my kids still zoomed back to the big screen whenever they had a second of downtime -- a 48-inch, high def, Pied Piper living in the basement.
The breaking point came when my 6-year-old, Holly, got $5 from the tooth fairy and offered some of her stash to my 9-year-old, Charlotte. Charlotte said, "That's okay Holly, you should save your money." Holly literally glazed over and responded: "Save money. Live better. Wal-Mart."
My decision to ditch Comcast was fortified by a recent interview with researcher Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating from Harvard, Duckworth taught high school, and found a number of students were reading far below grade level despite high IQ. A lack of self-control was the problem.
She returned for her Ph.D. at Penn to study something she calls "grit" -- a combination of courage, focus, the ability to delay gratification and persevere over the long-term -- that leads to success. (It's something I talk about in my values class at Seton Hall University, but we call it fortitude, one of the cardinal virtues of Western philosophy -- along with prudence, justice and temperance.)
Duckworth has conducted a range of studies with students, from middle school, to Ivy League undergrads, to West Point cadets, testing both their ability to delay gratification and their intelligence. "The basic findings are that we could predict grades much better from self-control scores than from IQ scores," Duckworth says. For example, a study of eighth graders she conducted with Penn's Martin Seligman found self-control was twice as predictive as IQ in academic success.
Duckworth's research builds on the work of Walter Mischel, who pioneered self-regulation psychology. He conducted a series of experiments in the 1960s with four-year-olds, offering them a marshmallow treat and then testing their ability to resist. He continued to follow the participants and found that the pre-schoolers who could delay gratification had better outcomes as adults in a variety of areas. The child who could wait 15 minutes had an SAT score that was 210 points higher than one who could wait only 30 seconds. The more impulsive children also had a higher body-mass index as adults and were more likely to have had problems with drugs.
What does all this have to do with our cable service? Self-control is not just a genetic blessing, but something that can be taught and enhanced with practice. Duckworth and Mischel have both found that one key is simply eliminating distractions that hijack focus and attention. (Although we don't allow the kids to watch TV during the school week, the stations were constantly churning out new inane junk I had to ban on weekends and holidays. Ever seen "Total Drama Island" on Cartoon Network? Or frankly, most of the programming on Cartoon Network?)
Another technique that boosts grit is goal-setting and planning. "It's good to have a specific goal that's challenging as opposed to just a vague inclination: 'I'm going to do great in school this year' is not a good goal because there's no clear feedback," says Duckworth. "A better goal would be 'I'm going to turn in homework five days out of five in math class, which I'm always struggling with' because when the week comes along and it's four out of five, you have clear feedback."
Researchers also favor basic parenting rituals that encourage kids to wait and make waiting worthwhile -- whether it's not eating snacks before dinner or requiring them to do chores or practice piano before they play on the computer. If a kid asks for an iPod or other expensive item, offer to match the funds they save up. It was amazing to watch my oldest get entrepreneurial and save up $75 for her half of the Nano. Don't abandon your expectations in the face of tantrums or sulking.
Another key to self-control is managing the background cues. Researchers Andrew Ward of Swarthmore College and Traci Mann of the University of Minnesota have conducted a series of studies on what people pay attention to and how that affects their self-control.
For instance, in a study of smokers who expressed an interest in quitting, participants were exposed to cues encouraging them to quit (including an ad for the annual "Kick Butts Day"). When their attention was unconstrained -- that is, they weren't focused on any task in particular -- participants exposed to the "quit smoking" cues tended to rebel against the messages and smoke excessively. But when their attention was narrowed with a cognitive task, participants exposed to the background antismoking message substantially reduced their smoking.
In other words, once attention is focused on a specific task, supportive background cues can boost someone's ability to accomplish a goal. "Try to arrange (the) environment such that the most prominent cues aid self-control efforts," Ward wrote in an email. "So, for example, try keeping salient reminders around that help one stick to a (task)."
Setting Specific Goals
For short-term tasks like homework, that might mean prominently posting the assignments for the night, time limits and a possible reward for finishing everything on time. Have kids write out longer-term goals and deadlines for the month or semester and post them in their study space. Minimize distractions such as television, cell phones, iPods and the like.
The same concept works for parents trying to reach a financial goal, Ward says, because the wrong background cues can actually undermine discipline. Certain distractions "can sabotage attempts at self-control, such as when someone sees an enticing ad on TV for an attractive product and ends up impulsively purchasing it," Ward notes. "Remove from that environment those stimuli that try to undermine your efforts; turn off the TV, especially when distracted or fatigued -- times when we might be most susceptible to the influence of advertising."
Another strategy: Put a piece of masking tape on your credit card with a reminder of your larger goal ("college," "retirement" or "home down payment") to thwart short-term temptations.
One of my biggest goals as a parent is consciously guiding my kids toward the things in life that are worth paying attention to (and away from Total Drama Island).
"Deciding what to pay attention to for this hour, day, week or year, much less a lifetime, is a peculiarly human predicament, and your quality of life depends largely on how you handle it," writes Winifred Gallagher in her recent book "Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life." "We must deliberately select targets, from activities to relationships, that are worthy of our finite supplies of time and attention."
Self-control psychology is enormously important in personal finance, as well. Over the years I've found the biggest financial blunders are not made by investing in the wrong stock or launching an ill-conceived business, but by failing to pay attention, by earning and spending unconsciously and by ignoring the basics. The people who focus on identifying their values, set specific goals with crystal-clear dollar amounts and timeframes, and show enough discipline to monitor their progress, typically succeed, even when life throws them curveballs -- or marshmallows.
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