In the 1970’s, a Stanford University research team, led by Walter Mischel, did a study of self-control in four-year olds. They gave a four-year old a piece of candy (I remember it being an M&M) and explained that if they could wait 15 minutes, they would be given another piece as a reward. They then followed the four-year olds until they were 17 or 18 years old and checked their SAT scores. If memory services me correctly, they found that the average SAT scores for those who had the self-control to wait the 15 minutes scored over 200 points higher. It is now called the “Marshmallow Test.”
You should see the children who more recently were tested with marshmallows and asked to wait 15 minutes. It is posted on YouTube under “The Marshmallow Test.”
These results and other research like it highly suggests that self-control and the ability to delay gratification is a strong indicator of future academic success. Angela L. Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, found that self-control is a better predictor of a student’s academic performance than even an IQ test.
So what does this all mean for you, parents raising your children? I would suggest that you consciously make an effort to increase your children’s self-control. Have them wait for a treat (whenever you give them treats) for 5 minutes for the first few times, then 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. Have them read for longer periods of time. Start with a time which is easy for them and then add one minute more to their reading, then one more minute, etc.
The accepted attention span expectations 40 years ago was 10 minutes time the grade level. So an average 1st grader was able to pay attention for 10 minutes straight and a 12th grade student was able to pay attention for 120 minutes. Now in educational circles the expected attention span is 2 to 3 minutes time the grade; 2 to 3 minutes for a 1st grader and 24 to 36 minutes for a 12th grader, max.
I suggest that you work on getting your child from today’s 2 to 3 minute span to the 10 minute one by gradually increasing the time of different activities around the home. You can create an increasing time activity in many different ways. Let me know what you have designed.