Anyone ever heard of the “marshmallow test”?
No, it’s not like the ice bucket challenge or the fire challenge (god help us, yes that’s a thing). Rather, it’s a decades-old study that tests the internal fortitude of your offspring by looking at their willpower to withhold indulging in a treat – as they hold out for getting a potential second treat – a reward for their patience. For instance, like, this painfully cute two and a half year old who almost-barely-maybe-but-not-quite pulls at my dormant ovary strings:
And this poor little guy who actually did great despite the shitty title of the video:
(Bless his heart.)
Or this commercial which appropriates this test and kid-cuteness alike for advertising:
I feel like the question isn’t whether the kids “pass” the marshmallow test, though.
And the parameters of the various experiments I’ve seen all over Youtube are too all-over-the-place to compare to one another. The ages, the way the parents give out the experimental parameters, and the fact that not all of them are happening “blind” (AKA, subject doesn’t know it’s a test being done) are all factors. But I feel like the biggest revealing element in how these kids would’ve faired at any age is that first parental/home thing: how shitty or fertile is the soil they’re growing out of? And what are their gardeners like?
Did the two and a half year old have nerves of steel? Was she adorably sitting in her seat making gleeful noises like a Pixar character because the good luck gods smiled upon her copulating parents as they conceived her? Or could it be because her mom issued the instructions in a sweet, motherly tone, and followed it up with celebrating how long she lasted? Unlike Trey’s sardonic mom? If you compare the two videos, Trey actually lasted longer than the little girl. But any success or lack thereof here is not about either child’s willpower. It’s solely to do with the instruction givers, how they’re raising them, and what kinda self-esteem they’re building up.
I emphasize the present-tense versus past on purpose.
Because at this age, it’s not too late to change bad habits before your kid goes Columbine on a classroom. Had it been me hearing, “You don’t want just one marshmallow. You want two,” in that bored I’m-over-being-your-parent tone of the video above, I would have definitely not lasted as long as Trey did. I would’ve thought, “Eff the police! I’mma take one now and steal one later!”. Then I’d have eaten that mother fluffer out of pure spite as soon as she left while plotting my five year plan of a Shawshank escape. #justsayin’
The point of this test when it was designed was initially to observe at a distance how your kids deal with “hot impulses”. They started it back in the 60’s, and much like these kids do now, the ones back then also would cast distractive spells around the big red button of deliciousness in front of them – by waving their hands or toys around it, singing songs, and simulating the act of eating like the dinner scene from “Hook”. All the same stuff you see the kids do in these more modern vids. After that, researchers then went on to see what kind of adults these people became. As you’d expect, those who could wait to indulge tended to win at life later on, while those who could not, tended to fall into vices, criminal lifestyles, addiction, and so on.
Which begs the question – what’d you bring to the marshmallow plated table, mom ‘n dad?
Yes, that’s what I surmised.
You see, what a poorly carried out test like Trey’s does (especially since he knew he was taking the test and was mocked afterward) is teach kids to feel ashamed about the act of eating and enjoying food – not rewarded for the time they spent holding out. What’s the worse that would have happened if she’d said “You waited seven whole minutes! That’s so great! We’ll try to go longer next time so that you can have a second one” instead of shaming him for the eight minutes he missed? If you’re gonna kill the whole point of the experiment then at least make it positive.
Maybe associate that patience is good; not that non-patience is bad. I say non-patience versus “impatience” because I want to illustrate an important fact: it’s not possible to envisage a negative or a “lack of something”. When you’re four, that abstract concept is confusing. All you know is what you have. You have waited. And you have a marshmallow sitting there.
We all hope that the worst thing that cruel very-telling-about-her-parenting-style bit at the end will do is maybe land poor Trey a s’more-o-phobia later on. But, sadly, it’s more likely that it’ll plant the detrimental seeds for emotional feelings of powerlessness as he grows up and takes it out on other kids at school. Then he’ll get in trouble. And suffer the kind of punishment reinforcement from his parents that made him that way in the first place.
I don’t mean any offense to any moms or dads out there.
I mean, it must be really, really hard to be one if so many of you are so terribly bad at it. For that reason, you have my sympathy in full. But mayhaps it wouldn’t hurt to look at the tone of kid-interactions in general. Do you care more about parading your kid’s milestone accomplishments and celebratory character traits online in some broadcasted extension of your own ego? Or making them grow up to be something better than douchebags or career criminals?
I invite all of my expecting-parent-friends to share a well done version of this in a few years – demonstrating patience and love and devoid of any shaming. And should you find yourself turning into one of those impatient parents, how about we play a game?
A challenge, if you will?
It’s called the parental marshmallow test. Not too hard.
Basically the same we give to the kids.
But the rules are even simpler:
Don’t have a second (sentient) marshmallow if you fail to be patient with your first.