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Guest Column: Dr. Missy, Feelings Helper

I want it now! Instant gratification and kids


“Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa now!” is the phrase one of the children shouted in the movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Instant gratification screams, “I want it and I want it now!”


“Instant gratification” is a term used to describe a situation, condition, or circumstance in which a person does not want to wait for desired results. “I must have it immediately.”


The Marshmallow Experiment is a famous test conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University. In the 1960s a group of four-year old children were tested by being given a marshmallow and promised another, only if they could wait a few minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait and others could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and found that those with the ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable (determined via surveys of their parents and teachers), and scored an average of 210 points higher on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. This study has been replicated by David Walsh and can be viewed on YouTube.
The following children experienced the instant gratification trap.


Michael demanded a candy bar at the grocery store. “Mommy, I want it right now!” He stuffed the item into his pocket while his mom wasn’t looking.


Sheena demanded a pair of expensive designer jeans. “I want it now! I must have it!” Her mother gave in and bought the jeans. Unfortunately, the water bill didn’t get paid.


Jose, an honor student wanted good grades in chemistry without studying. “I deserve it and I want it!” He cheated on an exam and got caught.


Kia, a 14-year-old teenager, drove her parent’s car into the swimming pool. She didn’t want to wait for her driver’s license.


Faulty beliefs about immediate gratification:

I must have it now.

I can’t wait any longer.

I deserve it this very minute.

I have to do it.

I have to buy it now.

Everybody else has it and I want it.

I must act on my impulses.

It’s okay to hurt others if I get what I want.


Emotions can fuel faulty beliefs. Help your child to write a list of the emotions he/she feels when they want something and believe they must have it now. Discuss the benefits of patience, impulse control, and the consequences of instant gratification.


Learning to wait and manage temptation and instant gratification is a part of human development. Toddlers begin to learn they cannot have everything they want immediately when parents set limits. Children learn that the cookie comes after dinner. Teenagers learn that homework comes before cell phones.


Read the following statements to your adolescents and invite them to agree or disagree.

I know the definition of instant gratification.

I have heard the phrase “immediate gratification” and delayed gratification.

I understand the difference between a need and a want.

I buy items on impulse.

I make hasty decisions to get what I want.

I can wait for something that I want.

I think about the consequences of my actions.

I nag my parents/guardians until I get what I want.

I shoplift to get what I want.

I manipulate others to get what I want.

I try to manage my desires.

I delay immediate gratification.

I use self-control.

I have a plan to manage my impulses.


Parenting involves understanding and discussing instant gratification with your children. Helping them to accept, process, and work through the feelings of frustration is essential.


Dr. Missy, Ph.D., is a feelings helper, child therapist, consultant, educator, and self-syndicated columnist. She provides therapeutic services at Affirmations, Columbus, Ohio. Contact her at [email protected].



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