The New Yorker has a fascinating essay this week on self-control in children and the role it plays in their life chances. The story starts with a Stanford academic who experimented on whether children when left alone with a sweet of their choice would delay eating it in exchange for being allowed to eat two later. The study found that when these children grew up “the child who could wait fifteen minutes had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, two hundred and ten points higher than that of the kid who could wait only thirty seconds.” Another study in a school found that “the ability to delay gratification—eighth graders [13 to 14 year-olds] were given a choice between a dollar right away or two dollars the following week—was a far better predictor of academic performance than I.Q. [Angela Lee Duckworth] said that her study shows that “intelligence is really important, but it’s still not as important as self-control.”
This suggests that schools should place greater emphasis on teaching pupils self-control (the article makes clear it can be taught). Obviously in an ideal world children would have picked this skill up at home but that is, sadly, not going to have happened in lots of cases. Failing to teach pupils about this, is just going to further disadvantage children from unstable backgrounds.