Why we wait.

It’s a sentiment oft repeated – we live in a fast-paced world!

Emerging generations are born into a culture where everything is instant and waiting – for anything – is considered passé. Fast food, fast information, instant communication, a rapidly mobile people in a shrinking world … you’ve heard and seen it all and are probably fully immersed in it with the gadgets you own, the service you expect and the pace of life you live.

When it comes to our children and teenagers, more and more we are seeing the impact of a diminished capacity for waiting.

We cringe to hear the stories of pregnant 13 year olds and sexually active ‘tweens’; we are horrified by the teen who crashes a stolen car and is found to be under the influence of alcohol; drug dealing and addicted teenagers; the suicidal girls caught in cyber bullying or sexual coercion; the body image obsessed children ‘dieting’ at 5. These stories confront us for many reasons, but perhaps the thing we bemoan the most is the loss of childhood innocence – “they’re growing up too fast”.

It is a challenge of modern day parenting to make the strong stand necessary to keep our kids kids. Everything in our culture comes against that notion and we can be easily swept into believing that because it’s considered “normal” or because it is happening at all then it mustn’t be bad. No one wants to be that cranky old fuddy duddy who starts sentences with “in my day” (to the obligatory eye roll of all younger generations present) or to act in the role of “fun police” where your primary goal in life is to make your children miserable.

Here’s the reality though. Research indicates that the earlier children are exposed to more ‘at risk’ behaviours the greater their risk of addiction or abuse in that area as an adult. This is true for alcohol – the age of a youth’s first sip directly correlates with the likelihood they will handle it inappropriately (addiction/abuse) as an adult. (Yes, that does fly in the face of the old adage that giving alcohol to young people in a controlled environment may lessen their chance of bingeing on it once they’re of age.) Early exposure to sexualised imagery and language increases the likelihood of pornography addiction and sexual obsession or dysfunction as a child ages. (The average age for a first viewing of porn is 11.)

There’s a plethora of reasons we need to return to the virtue of patience and it behoves us as adults to actively seek ways and opportunities to help our children learn the art of waiting. Age restrictions on things such as movies, alcohol, riding on footpaths, video games and requiring adult supervision exist on purpose. There are realities about a developing brain that societal shifts and cultural advancement cannot change but that can be dramatically impacted by the things our children are exposed to.

The long term gain for waiting is unable to be measured, the consequences for not waiting in some cases cannot be overstated – with this in mind the short term cost of a complaining child or being the ‘only one’ rejecting the status quo might not seem such a high price to pay.

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