There has been a huge amount of talk lately about the importance of learning to delay gratification. People much more intelligent than me are promoting the idea and there was an amazing TED Talk called Don't Eat the Marshmallow by Joachim de Posada. Currently I'm living in the land of delaying gratification -- Korea. Korean students are told to work diligently and wait for everything good to happen later in life. There is even a children's book about not eating the marshmallow. First Koreans struggle to get into a great high school; then a great university; and finally into a great job with a major company. But my question is what happens while you are delaying all of your gratification? It is a little thing called life and it is important.
I'm not going to argue the pros and cons of delaying gratification. The research clearly demonstrates that children who learn to delay gratification lead healthier, more productive lives. But are we also raising a generation of people who never take risks? Sometimes in life you just have to try something just to see how it turns out. Sometimes you need to live with a little danger, a little risk, in order to feel alive. What we really want to teach our kids is how to delay gratification, but how to also pick times when seeking gratification is acceptable; even opportune. Imagine if Richard Branson had never jumped at the chance to own Virgin Atlantic? What if he had decided to "delay gratification" by not purchasing the other half of the business? His willingness to take a huge risk led to his amazing success. We want our children to do that! To spot times and opportunities that sometimes require us to not delay gratification, but instead to embrace gratification immediately. But not all the time! Basically we want to teach kids how to balance life.
As I stated before, I'm not suggesting that we stop teaching children the importance of not eating the marshmallow, but I am suggesting that there is more to it than that. Not eating the marshmallow is part of the picture, but knowing when it is the right time to eat it is just as important.