|Delay of Gratification Testing|
As a child development research AND public radio junkie, I was thrilled this past weekend when NPR’s This American Life aired an hour-long segmenthighlighting the factors that allow students to succeed in school and in life. Spoiler alert: intelligence isn’t at the top of that list.
The segment explored emerging theories on what to teach kids from Paul Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed . The radio show and book explain that “soft” or “non-cognitive” or “executive” skill sets are actually much more important than was previously thought to a child’s future success. These are sometimes describes as character traits such as self-control, conscientiousness, delayed gratification, curiosity, perseverance/grit, and optimism.
Have you ever heard of the Marshmallow test? This is a cognitive test administered to young children where they are given one marshmallow. The adult instructs the child that they will leave the room and if the child hasn’t eaten the marshmallow before the time that the adult returns, the child will receive two marshmallows. You need only search the somewhat hilarious YouTube video archives to get a sense for the internal dilemma that these children are faced with. But these researchers have found that children who are able to delay their gratification—who are able to bear the wait for that second, larger reward—do better on their SAT’s, make more money in adulthood, and continue on a life trajectory of achievement.
Unfortunately, not all children ace their marshmallow tests. Children who have adverse childhood experiences (violence, poverty, hunger, and trauma) experience considerable stress in their environment which actually stymies the brain’s development of these essential, non-cognitive skills. As a result, these children are much more likely to have behavioral problems and difficulty in school and experience higher rates of chronic disease later in life.
Thankfully, these essential skills can be learned even in spite of adverse childhood experiences if children have strong, supportive connections to adult role models like parents and other community members.
In Marion County these resources are vast. Indianapolis is a home to mentoring organizations like 100 Black Men, the Boys and Girls Club, the Center for Leadership Development, United Way’s Youth Leadership Initiative, Girls Inc., and so many more.
For a comprehensive list of mentoring services, academic and non-academic support services, college and career prep organizations and other resources, visit the Own Yours Campaign Student Resources pageon MCCOY’s website.
This research only confirms what we already know: that success in life is determined by resourcefulness, determination and conscientiousness, that it takes a strong, caring community to raise a child, and that we can all take up the charge of investing in the growth and success of children.