Patience is a virtue, virtue is a grace. Both put together make a very pretty face.
As a young child, I loved this rhyme and eagerly embraced the virtue of patience because I honestly believed it held the promise of a prettier face. I figured that patience was a small price to pay for a better-looking nose. Now, as an adult, I recognize more clearly the merits of patience…while sadly accepting that none of them involve the reconstruction of my somewhat flawed nose. But I digress.
Dr. Sarah Schnitker, a psychologist from Baylor University and an expert on patience, defines it as
…the propensity to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity.
She identifies three types of situations in which patience can be displayed:
- Daily hassles-waiting in a long line, traffic jams
- Long term goals and life hardship-getting a job, coping with a serious illness
- Interpersonal-dealing with a difficult person
How important is patience?
We are regularly faced with such situations, and the research shows that the more we respond to them with patience, the better off we are. Compared to impatient individuals, those who display patience:
- Tend to have better mental health
- Have lower levels of depression
- Are more successful at reaching long-term goals
- Have better social interactions
- Better physical health
- Have greater satisfaction
Patience is clearly an important and necessary skill for children to develop.
However, it can be hard to remember that patience is a virtue in today’s fast-moving, always-on culture. Every day, we are bombarded with advertising, online apps, and other media that promises to deliver on a product or service at increasing rates, instilling a greater desire for instant gratification of our wants and needs. But is that always a good thing?
After all, we’ve all seen the harmful consequences of impatience:
- A driver runs a red light and gets into an accident.
- Holiday shoppers shove each other on Black Friday and fight over discounted electronics and toys.
- Students drop out of college because getting a degree feels like it’s taking too long.
The youth today lack patience
The reality is that today’s youth are impatient, and they know it. In one survey of adolescents and young adults, 80% said they expect to receive a quick reply when they send an email and express annoyance when this doesn’t happen. When presented with the statement, “I have little patience, and I can’t stand waiting for things,” the majority agreed.
To understand why one need only consider the technologically advanced society many of today’s youth have known their whole lives. It is a society where speed and immediacy are valued and rewarded, where information, entertainment, and communication are just a click away.
Retailers offer same-day delivery. Smartphone apps eliminate the wait for a taxi, a Starbucks coffee, even a date. Movies and TV shows stream in seconds. Books download instantly. There’s fast food, high-speed internet, instant messaging…the list goes on. As a society, we seem to place less emphasis on patience and more on speed and instant gratification.
In fact, one survey actually found that the use of the word “patience” declined by 48% in American books over the 20th century.
Technology is eroding our patience.— Dr. Schnitker
The marshmallow study
One of the best (and cutest) studies on patience was conducted by psychologist Walter Mischel at Stanford University in 1972; it is famously known as the Marshmallow Experiment.
Children between the ages of 3 and 5 were asked to sit at a table, and a marshmallow was placed in front of them. The researchers explained to the children that they had two options: either eat the marshmallow in front of them immediately (small reward) or wait 15 minutes and eat two marshmallows instead of one (large reward).
The researchers tracked the children well into adulthood, and the study revealed that those who were able to exercise patience and wait for their larger reward were more successful later on in life. They were also found to be better able to cope with stress and frustration as adolescents, suggesting that developing patience as children can lead to better coping skills later in life.
Additional research by Dr. Sarah Schnitker revealed that increased patience leads to higher achievements, which leads to greater well-being.
Research findings on delayed vs. immediate gratification
What differentiates those who can delay gratification from those who can’t? The answer may lie in our brains. Researchers conducted brain scans of the marshmallow experiment participants after a period of 40 years had passed and the children well into adulthood.
They found that the group that could delay gratification had greater activity in the prefrontal cortex area of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for thinking and planning, especially when it comes to actions that are relevant to our goals. It acts as the “control center” of the brain and is ultimately responsible for what actions we take.
This finding suggests that the prefrontal cortex played a large part in helping people prioritize controlling their impulses in order to obtain the desired reward. Conversely, those participants who had trouble delaying gratification showed more activity in the ventral striatum area of the brain; the ventral striatum is part of the brain’s reward system.
This finding suggests that those who could not delay gratification were drawn to the possibility of immediate rewards, which had an overriding effect on the rational, thinking parts of their brains.
Focusing on goals
The Marshmallow Experiment might lead you to believe that patience is a trait that is hard-wired into our brains, but Dr. Schnitker’s research suggests that patience is a trait that can be developed. One way to increase patience is by tying a delay of gratification to a larger goal. By thinking about goals, we activate the prefrontal cortex and are therefore more likely to control our impulses.
Dr. Schnitker found that adolescents who patiently pursued their goals actually exerted more effort toward attaining them and were more satisfied in their goal pursuits. Being patient and calm allowed the adolescents to engage more effectively in working toward their goals.
Patience isn’t about disengaging. On the contrary, patience is about active and calm engagement while waiting to achieve the end goal. That’s what leads to success.
How video games can teach your kids patience
We can teach children and adolescents that waiting to play video games until they’ve finished studying is tied to the goal of doing well in school, which in turn gives them greater choices in terms of occupation when they become adults. However, playing video games also can foster patience.
We turned to a kid to better understand if and how video games could instill patience in those who play them. He offered up some thoughts on how patience was required and reinforced through gameplay. We also asked a mom with gaming kids who was a teenage gamer herself for some game recommendations. Here’s what they came up with.
Exploration based games
The virtual worlds of many games today are so realistic; players feel as if they are actually living the experience in real-time. For instance, to get from point A to point B, players must physically travel there. And the greater the distance, the longer the journey.
The more valuable and desirable items are typically placed furthest away, so getting to them takes a long time—a situation that nicely mirrors real life. This gameplay feature basically rewards players for putting in time and effort in pursuit of something desirable, which is what patience for long-term goals is all about.
Here are examples:
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (12+, Nintendo Switch): A kid-friendly story-driven game with lots of hidden side quests to help you gear up your character. In one part of the game, you must transverse a large forest which takes a good amount of time, persistence, and navigational skills to complete.
- Outward (12+, PS4, PC, and Xbox One): A similar style game made for a little bit older audience. In this game, you not only have to travel and explore hidden places but also manage your survival. Players need to ensure they have food, water, and the appropriate clothing for the journey ahead.
- Sea of Thieves (12+, Xbox One, and PC): A pirate-inspired game where players must commandeer their own ship. Players get a location and clues they use to explore the map to find hidden treasure. This takes patience, persistence, and determination.
Games with a great storyline and essential side quests
In games where you level up, there is usually the main story as well as side quests or missions along the way. If players are impatient and complete the main story too quickly, the game ends. Players come to learn that a better, more satisfying strategy is to do a bit of the main story as well as some side quests, back and forth, so that they have a richer experience.
Also, by the time they get to the end, their ability to successfully complete the main story depends on the skills they gained along the way (through the various side quests and missions.) Once again, players are rewarded for displaying patience.
- Party-based role-playing games (RPGs): Also well known for incredible storylines as well as great side content that is used in preparation for the main story. In many of these games, the side quests can determine who you get to take in your party as well as what equipment you have to face the end boss. The Final Fantasy Series (Nintendo Switch and PS4) is well known in this genre for older children, and the Dragon Quest series (Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC) is very similar but for a younger audience.
- Monster Hunter World (16+, PS4, and Xbox One): For an older audience with gameplay centering around hunting large monsters to get materials to craft better gear. Each hunt can take around 20 minutes to first locate and then battle the monster. Players must learn the enemy attack patterns or risk defeat and before being forced to start again. It is quite common for a player to have to hunt the same monster multiple times to obtain enough crafting materials to level their gear.
No pain, no gain. Time to grind
Grinding is also an interesting aspect of gameplay. This is when players perform a repetitive, often boring, action in order to gain power or experience that will benefit them in the next stage of the game.
Grinding effectively corresponds to real-life situations and the patience required to attain long-term goals. In fact, when I went to a gaming forum discussing the pros and cons of grinding (apparently some gamers like it, others don’t), I came across this one entry that sums it up well:
For sure, grinding requires patience, but it allows someone who’s willing to put in the time an eventual 100% chance of success.
- Action RPGs: Games that are not only story and side quest driven but also heavily centered around grinding. The idea is to obtain gear and experience to level up your character. Torchlight 2 (12+, PS4, and Xbox One) is geared toward a younger audience with a bright, cheerful feel and includes mini-games like fishing to get items to change your pet’s appearance.
- Titan quest (12+, PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch): This would suit a slightly older audience where players transverse through ancient mythology. Players start off in a pre-Roman ancient world, then move through Greece, Egypt, The Orient, and even Atlantis, collecting powerful gear along the way. This is a great title for those interested in history or ancient mythology.
- Diablo 3 (16+, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch): For an older audience, and is the follow-up to a classic series that involves hunting supernatural creatures in the attempt to become the chosen one. This game is heavily centered around clearing out monsters who drop random looks, which means you may need to clear an area several times to get that new helmet you wanted. Character progression can be as long-winded as you want it to be because there is always an item that could make your character just that little bit better.
- Minecraft (7+, PC, Mac, Xbox One, and PS4): A well-known game where players have to collect resources to build their own creations. These can be as simple or complex as the player wishes, but oftentimes resources can be difficult to find and obtain. Older kids looking for a little more challenge can pick up Terraria (12+, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS3), which offers a similar experience, with more complicated combat and crafting.
- Simulation role-playing games are also great for teaching patience as players must build up their own little base over time: This includes things like farming, mining, fishing, and other world events to improve their space. Stardew Valley (7+ Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4) is heavily focused on farming, where players must plant, tend, and grow their own crops and raise animals. Animal Crossing (7+, Nintendo Switch) is more varied where players do everyday activities in a small-town community.
- Pokemon Sword and Shield (7+, Nintendo Switch): This has players exploring the world to collect Pokemon, train them up, and battle them against other Pokemon trainers. Players must find and collect rare Pokemon in the hops to become the best Pokemon trainer. Older players may enjoy a similar experience with Ark Survival Evolved (16+, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PS4), where players must survive, build a base, and explore a dinosaur-filled planet. The idea is to harvest materials and build a base while collecting and taming dinosaurs you catch in the wild.
Patience is a quiet virtue you can easily overlook in today’s busy, hurried, noisy world. Some of these games can be a great way to let your child learn in a fun and interactive way.