How Netflix May be Messing Up Your Kids (and You, Too)

"gimme it now" isn't always better

by: Erica Ehm

How Netflix May be Messing Up Your Kids (and You, Too)


Let me first preface this post with a disclaimer: I love Netflix and the freedom of binge-watching whatever I want when I score some free time. I don't schedule my Netflix fix; it's usually a situation of found me-time that lets me revel in watching a show everyone's raving about.

I rarely watch traditional TV although for some unexplainable reason we still have and pay for cable services, and my kids watch even less TV than I do. They've grown up in the video on demand era where they just click, scroll, click, watch. Any show, any time. Like Burger King's marketing tagline says, they are "having it their way."

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Remember when you scheduled your life around the shows all your friends watched at the exact same time as you? Lunchtime viewing for me was The Flinstones, and then after school it was always Gilligan's Island. Friday night was a bonanza of Partridge Family and Brady Bunch. Broadcasters made the shows and set the time they'd air, then we'd wait until "IT'S ON!" and park ourselves on the shag carpet or corduroy couch. 

Obviously, the magic of technology has completely changed the way we consume TV, and today's buzzword is customization. Remember, I'm a big fan of democratic broadcasting; of being in control of "IT'S ON" rather than manipulating my nights to be there when my shows are aired. I like that broadcasters are no longer dictating when and what to watch.

But here's what's been irking me about what our kids are growing up with: There are absolutely no obstacles in place to make our kids wait for what they want to watch. They press a button and voila - "IT'S ON!"

Instant gratification. Instant entertainment. Instant everything. Netflix, and now newer streaming video on demand services like shomi and CraveTV bring us (and our kids) instant customization, instant gratification.

Remember the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment? A psychologist examined the correlation between delayed gratification (waiting to eat a marshmallow) to future life success. The study showed those children who waited the 15 minutes to eat their treat tended to have better success in life. Of course there are many holes in his hypothesis, as Jacoba Urist points out in The Atlantic, but I agree with the premise in general.

Take my daughter for example: because she has lived with life-threatening allergies since a toddler, she's had to suck it up and walk away from a myriad of delicious birthday cakes, ice cream cones, chocolate bars, and brand name candies that kids around her get to munch without a care in the world. She's had to build up her delayed gratification muscle through the numerous occasions she's had to wait to get home to have her nut-free treat. I am 100% certain this is one of the reasons she is such an amazing kid. She is less demanding. She understands when things don't happen when she wants them to. She is thankful for what she has. She shows no signs of entitlement.

This is why I worry about the generation of kids we're raising. There is too much instant gratification and not enough character building delayed gratification. Are we raising a generation of Veruca Salts from Willy Wonka stamping their feet screaming in annoying British accents, "I want it now Daddy!" 

I realize it's not our kids' fault. They're growing up in a technological age where the rules of engagement consist of demand what you want when you want it. The world comes to our front door and we expect it to be there waiting when we need it. 

It's happening to all of us. Respond to my email NOW. Give me a promotion NOW. Customer service NOW!

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That entitlement doesn't appear out of thin air. It's a slow build of frequently having access to whatever you need without much effort. 

Parenting author Jessica Potts Lahey is seeing the trickle down effect of so much instant gratification on us. "This childish impatience—this rush to get the answer before really thinking through the question—appears in our adult world, too. It's in the online readers who comment without finishing whole article, in pundits who speak in sound bytes. It’s everywhere."

This is also a concern of Ariadne Brill, founder of Positive Parenting Connection, who was discussing this recently with a teacher. "She felt like her students have no desire to go through the learning process, make mistakes and try again,"There is an app for that" gets tossed around as a reason for not trying. I suggested it's become common place to look for short cuts, to accept nothing short of "easy" and "quick" solutions. It's really unfortunate given the importance of grit, accepting failure and learning from the process, not the end result."

So, we agree there's a problem. Tech is messing with our kids. So what to do to keep our little angels from turning into demanding devils? Here are five NOT quick and easy things you can do with your kids to make sure they learn from delayed gratification:

Teach it

Jessica Potts Lahey suggests the answer lies in teaching methods that stress patience, critical thinking, and a delayed response based on deep and meaningful contemplation. You can read more about teachers teaching patience here. I like this idea a lot. Slow things down for students. Create work that requires deep thinking, long answers and critical analysis. I love when my kids come home with big projects and no quick fixes. Work that makes them think- like reaaaallly think. 

Question it

Part of the problem with on-demand culture is ease of answering questions. Don't know something? Just Google it. Everyone's a genius...Not. Developmental Psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell explained to me how this is killing our kids' curiosity. Google is really good at giving answers but doesn't teach kids to ask good questions. When kids learn to ask good questions, they develop curiosity. Curiosity fuels learning -- and the patience to delay gratification and enjoy the process of finding answers. One proven way to enhance delayed gratification skills, therefore, is to develop a curious child. You can read more about the importance of instilling curiosity into your kids on Marilyn's site, Rootsofaction.com.

Spend it

Give your kids allowance. So when they pull a Veruca Salt on you and stamp their feet and say "I want it now, Mummy!" they will learn to wait until they have enough money saved up.  Ariadne Brill, founder of Postive Parenting Connection told me her kids have learned a lot about delayed gratification by her dolling out a weekly allowance and noticed how quickly the "need" factor passed after they leave a store.

Eat it

According to Dietitian Sarah Remmer, there is a time and place for snacking. Kids demanding snacks and parents acquiescing is another example of instant gratification. Read her post on the parent/toddler feeding relationship for really interesting insights on when and how to dole out snacks to avoid raising a demanding child.

Model it

Pyschologist Sara Dimerman suggests we practice modeling delaying instant gratification when we shop. It's going to be hard, I know, but consciously avoid impulse shopping. When you see that awesome deal at Costco, just keep on walking right past it and point out to your kids why you're not buying it on the spot. (I know; the things we do for our kids, right?)

Well, I don't know about you, but I feel much better after reading all this awesome advice. Time to watch American Idol, because "IT'S ON NOW!"

Hey; don't judge me. I'm a victim of the times.