Principle 8 for Being an Inspiring Parent
The eighth video talks about the importance of teaching your children to delay instant gratification and instead to think long.
How to be an inspiring parent, Rule Eight. Here it is. This is the big problem for our kids (for me, my grandchildren): our shortened attention spans. How long can you concentrate for, in an age of Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and all the rest of it? And I discovered this years ago, because I often do some broadcasting for the BBC on their morning news programme. It’s called, “Thought for the Day.” And I used to do it for three minutes. Fifteen years ago, they said, “No, you’ve got to keep it, cut it down to two minutes, forty-five seconds, because nobody can concentrate for three minutes anymore.” Now that was fifteen years ago. I think we’d be down to thirty or fifteen seconds nowadays.
And that is really, really problematic. But here is the irony. The irony is that the people who created this world, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Sergei Brennan and Larry Page of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, had among the longest attention spans of anyone I’ve ever come across. These are the people who thought long and played long.
If you had been told fifteen years ago that you could change the universe by creating a new search engine, everyone would’ve laughed. If somebody had said to you, “I can transform the world by having a bookshop, or what’s more, a bookshop that you actually can’t go into or see any of the books, and I hold them in your hands,” they would’ve laughed. The truth is, these people saw it longer than anyone else. And they stuck to it relentlessly, with absolute focus, for years and years and years. Now that is one of the things we should be teaching our kids, to see it long.
Freud defines civilisation as ‘the ability to defer the gratification of instinct.’ And it was another Jewish psychologist, well, psychologist rather than psychoanalyst, Walter Mischel, who did the famous thing, it’s called the Marshmallow Test.
You get a four-year-old child. You put them in a room with a table. On the table is one marshmallow. You tell the child that he or she can eat the marshmallow now or wait twenty minutes and they’ll get two marshmallows. It’s a fascinating thing to watch the videos of these kids. Some of them have the willpower, some of them don’t. Some of them really wrestle with themselves. But the incredible thing that nobody expected at the time is that your success of being able to control your appetite for twenty minutes with one marshmallow at the age of four is the most accurate predictor of how you will do in your SATs, how you’ll do at university, how you will do in your marriage, and how you will do in your career. It is the single greatest thing we should teach our kids.
Now, you go and think now about all the 613 mitzvot of Judaism, the laws of milk and meat, and Kashrut, and Taharat Hamishpachah [laws of family purity], and all the rest of it, every single one of those is a training in self-discipline, self-control, the ability to defer the gratification of instinct.
So never have any doubt in your mind that when you teach your kid to keep all these laws, you are teaching them to pass the Marshmallow Test, which will eventually lead them to happiness, success, and all the other blessings of life. So number eight, teach your kids to have self-control and play it long.
This video series, Inspired Parenting, consists of thirteen short videos of Rabbi Sacks discussing some of the ways we can be inspiring parents and really kindle the flame of Torah in our children.
We hope you will learn, as Rabbi Sacks did, from exploring these ideas.