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Watching Water Flow Uphill

September 4, 2018

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a series of tests conducted by Walter Mischel in the 1960s and 1970s. It was pretty simple. He offered a marshmallow to a child with a choice. The child could have one marshmallow immediately, or if they could wait 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.

Some children ate the marshmallow immediately, some waited. Those that waited were later in life found to be more successful. Some dramatically so.

We are seeing the marshmallow experiment play out in public and social media.

I tagged my 17 year old daughter in a Facebook post. Later I asked her if she had seen it.

Oh, sorry, no. I deleted Facebook off my phone.

Really? Because only old people use Facebook?

No, I actually deleted all my social media accounts. I’ve got too much going on my senior year. It was taking too much time.

My daughter didn’t abandon social media because it wasn’t entertaining. It was just just as inticing. But, at 17, she realized that she needed to manage her time. She opted to avoid eating the marshmallow.

And she’s not alone. Social media sites are struggling to keep young people online. The kids are figuring out that social media is not a panacea. They are Pinocchio on Pleasure Island. Or more accurately, she’s Jiminy Cricket. He’s the one that recognized the danger of constant diversion and tried to pull Pinnochio off his phone.

When I was a kid, video games were just coming into national prominance. We would spend hours at the arcade feeding our quarters into games like Pole Position, Donkey Kong and PacMan. Our parents were worried. They limited how long we could play. They worried about us rotting our brains.

It’s funny because when my parents were young, video games were called comic books. Just as my friends and I spent our time and money at the arcade, my parents spent and their friends spent their time and money at the comic book store, and my kids and their friends spend their time and money on their phones and social media.

It’s tempting to think of things constantly getting worse. In other words, if we don’t correct our children, they will not self correct. Water will only flow downhill, not up. But, kids seems to be figuring it out on their own. Rather than simply “going with the flow” and letting social mores drag them along, they are making their own decisions. It’s part of growing up that parents hope their kids figure out. In the mean time, we continue to train and teach.

France recently passed a law banning phones for elementary and junior high school. The parents are limiting the kids time at the arcade, and the comic book store.

Today is a big day for my 15 year old son. My lovely wife and I are giving him a smartphone for the first time. We are regularly viewed as the “mean parents” because we tried to keep phones out of our kids’ hands as long as possible.

Even now, it’s only because the sports team is requiring our son have an app to track practice and watch game film, that we are relenting.

However, I’m convinced the kids will be alright. We have hopefully taught them well enough to wait on before eating the marshmallow.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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