Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Some good news about today's kids

Edited by Jill Wright,

Worried that your kids are obsessed with electronic devices? Concerned by public commentary that suggests today's youngsters are hyperactive, crave constant stimulation, have the attention span of a goldfish? You might be experiencing the effects of what psychologist John Protzko at the University of California calls "kids these days phenomenon".

Protzko says that people's memories for their own and others' childhood abilities aren't accurate. They're unduly influenced by their current abilities. And from that unreliable vantage point, he says, it is easy to deride the ability of kids these days to control themselves and much harder to accurately recall our own selves as children.

Protzko's research has thrown up some encouraging indications that today's children are doing better than they're commonly given credit for in relation to self-control. He's looked at the results of 50 years of studies of one of the most famous childhood psychological studies - Walter Mischel's Marshmallow Test, which measured children's ability to put off eating one marshmallow for the promise of two marshmallows in 20 minutes or so.

Protzko found that today's kids on average do better than their counterparts of 50 years ago. Given that later studies showed the kids who displayed that self-restraint were more successful in their adult lives, it's an encouraging sign, although it should be said that the Marshmallow Test has been widely misinterpreted at times.

As Protzko puts it, "Contrary to historical and present complaints, kids these days appear to be better than we were. A supposed modern culture of instant gratification has not stemmed the march of improvement." 

Something to celebrate, perhaps with a marshmallow. Or two.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.