Instant Gratification Society

“The Instagram Generation now experiences the present as an anticipated memory” — D. Kahneman

Before my promotion to Patrol Sergeant, I was assigned to Investigations.  I was a general detective during the summer months, and the High School Police Liaison during the school year.  Any juvenile cases that required follow-up were my responsibility.  During that time, I learned a lot about teens and “tweens”.  Probably more than I wanted to know. Inasmuch (P.S.: that’s my favorite word), I gained a great deal of knowledge about juvenile behavior.  

Because of my position and experience, I was frequently asked to speak to community groups about my experiences as a Juvenile Officer.  One such talk prompted a very poignant question that I immediately knew the answer to.  A Kiwanis member, who was also a father of a to-be teenage girl, asked, “What is the one thing you think we should teach our kids as they get older?”  Without even developing my thoughts, I blurted out, “Patience!”

Our younger generations now live in an instant gratification society. Everything is available at your fingertips… literally.  No more going to the library to look up a fact.  You simply Google it.  Hell, you don’t even need to go to the store to buy something.  It magically shows up on your doorstep 2 days later (thanks Amazon Prime!)  Now, with the rapid new developments of social media, kids can access and share immense amounts of information—in real time—with ease.  The downfall: they want everything as quickly as they can access their information.

It makes sense to some degree.  If I can so easily find out any fact or order any item I want by merely pulling out my cell phone, why can’t I have the same speed delivered to the rest of my wants and needs.  If you want to order toilet paper from Amazon, in some cities it may arrive before you’re off the toilet.  It is simply mind-boggling: all the ease that we have in this world to get things delivered to us so quickly.  

But the constant spoiled nature in which we live has caused youth to grow increasingly frustrated if they don’t get solutions to their other life problems just as quickly.

In the school where I worked, in one year, there were over one hundred (100) student hospitalizations for mental health issues, mostly due to those students wanting to harm themselves or others.  If they felt sad/mad/frustrated, didn’t get the immediate answer or the good feelings they wanted, they resorted to what they thought was the only option.  I’m going to kill myself.

It’s hard to blame them for those feelings when we’ve spoiled our youth in the ways we have.  They simply don’t have the patience to deal with the social-emotional issues they face.  They don’t understand that you can’t simply Google your problems away.

The other side-effect is obvious: self-medication.  Kids use drugs, both legal and illegal, to make themselves feel better.  They don’t like the way they feel, so they try to make it a quick fix.  Take a pill, take a toke, drink a beer… feel better.  It’s a bit scary that the older generations do the exact same thing although maybe for different reasons.  Maybe it’s the combination of nature and nurture that has caused this younger generation to go to such lengths to feel better.  The sad part is, most of it can be avoided if we simply teach them patience.

So parents… this is what I ask of you:  Don’t give in!  Don’t just buy your kids something because they ask for it.  Make them work for it.  Give them a goal.

Start slow.  They can only have what they are asking for if they ask nicely and say “thank you” when they receive it.  They get to play with their toys so long as they eat their dinner.  As they grow, allow them to physically work for their rewards.  Sure you can go to the park with your friends, but first you have to rake the leaves.  Absolutely you can have a new video game, but first you have to shovel the driveway for the next month.  Into their teens, they will appreciate receiving rewards for their work and will be more likely to seek out early employment.  I started working when I was 14 and it was the best thing I could have done.  I bought my first car with my own money (with a little help from mom and dad [thanks! :)]), which meant so much more to me that way.  That sense of accomplishment.  That ability to work hard, save money, complete my goal, became my drug of choice.

Now I understand that I can wait for things.  It doesn’t need to happen right here, right now.  It is ingrained in me that good results take time and effort, not merely a little assistance from Google.  If I feel sad, I take steps to feel better.  I exercise, I talk to my wife/family/friends.  If I am frustrated, I ask for help.  I understand that nothing happens immediately and that I will have to wait some time to have my problem solved… and I have to be the one who solves it!

I am all for enjoying modern conviencences, but let’s teach our kids right.  Let’s get them out there helping themselves.  Learning patience.  Determination, hard work, and results will follow.  Keep up the good fight!

Brad is the father of a two year old. He’s a police sergeant in the west suburbs of Chicago. He is a Jiu Jitsu practitioner.

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