Chapter 7: Self-Control
Submitted by: Drew Ibendahl
Throughout a single school day, students are continually asked to control their impulses, obey rules, ignore distractions, be patient, and stay focused on a task. In other words, students are asked to exhibit self-control. When exhibiting self-control, children delay what they desire in that particular moment in order to gain something more desirable in the long term, a process known as delay of gratification (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). Self-control increases as impulsivity decreases dramatically with age. Impulsivity in infants is evident when they are hungry and need to be fed immediately, whereas young children have a longer, albeit slightly, capacity to wait. As children continue to grow, their ability to stay on task, ignore distractions, and control impulses improves (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).
Research has shown that self-control in children is reflected in adulthood. A longitudinal study, which followed over 1000 children in New Zealand over the course of 30 years, was completed in 2011. This study found that children scoring lower on self-control measures as young as age 3 were more likely to have health issues, become dependent on drugs and alcohol, experience financial troubles, and have a criminal record by the age of 32 (Moran, 2011). A similar study was done with 500 pairs of fraternal twins. The study found that the sibling with the lower self-control scores at age five were more likely than the other sibling to begin smoking, perform poorly in school, and engage in antisocial behavior by age 12 (Moran, 2011).
The text describes cognitive abilities, practice, attachment, religiosity, and parental monitoring as factors linked to self-control. Students with high IQ are more likely to possess a delay in gratification (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). Through practice, self-control, like a muscle, can be exercised, and become stronger. However, just like muscles, overuse of self-control without time for rest and relaxation, can result in failure (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). Frequent breaks, such as recess, allow students the break they need from constant demands for self-control in the classroom. Research has shown students who spend time during the school day playing games, like “Simon Says” and “Red-Light, Green-Light”, which help improve self-control, score better on tests measuring executive functioning. (Manier, 2008). The pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for conscious decision-making is one of the last areas of the brain to develop in children, which is apparent in the young children’s impulsive behavior. By improving working memory in children, executive functioning and self-control may also improve, because children must keep something in mind, while avoiding distractions. (Manier, 2008).
Parents monitor their children to different degrees, and how closely parents monitor their children plays a role in self-control. Lack of parent monitoring is linked to low self-control, as well as aggression, depression, dislike of school, and drug use (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). In a study done by the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth in Canada, data was collected from parents, children, and teachers regarding various social, economical, and biological factors. Included within this study was information regarding students from intact families, reconstituted families, and single parent families. From the information gathered, parental monitoring appeared to have little association with the perception of self-control in children from intact families (Phythian, Keane & Krull, 2008). However, the data did show a positive association between parental monitoring and self-control in students from single parent homes and reconstituted homes.
So what can we as educators get from the information gathered in this study? It is widely believed that differences in self-control in children still remains unexplained, but the overall family dynamics of intact households seem to have positive effects on self-control in children. Moreover, parental monitoring and supervision have the potential to counterbalance the risks often associated with growing up in single parent and reconstituted households (Phythian, Keane & Krull, 2008).
- Bergin, C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2012). Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
- Manier, J. (2008). Research: Child’s Play Is Key to Self-Control. Retrieved from:http://proxy.mul.missouri.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.proxy.mul.missouri.edu/docview/390281500?accountid=14576
- Moran, M. (2011). Child’s Self-Control Reflected In Adult Health, Wealth, and Crime. Psychiatric News, 46(6), 17.
- Phythian, K., Keane, C. & Krull, C. (2008). Family Structure and Parental Behavior: Identifying the Sources of Adolescent Self-Control. Western Criminology Review 9(2), 73-87
- In your capacity working with children, do you recall observing any relationships between a child’s/student’s self-control and your perception of the parental monitoring shown toward the child/student outside of the classroom? Explain the relationship you observed.
- In what ways can we promote/encourage self-control in our students, no matter what age or at what level of self-control they possess?
- Research shows religiosity is linked to many life outcomes based on self-control (seat-belt wearing, longer wait before intercourse, longer lifespan, greater well-being, and higher academic achievement). If you are in a public school setting, religiosity is a very sensitive, even forbidden subject. How can educators use this subject to promote self-control?
- Some cultures center around a collectivist point of view, where the needs of the group are more important than the individual and interdependence and harmony are emphasized. Other cultures are more individualistic, emphasizing independence, self-reliance, personal freedom and rights. Which cultural characteristic do you feel your classroom centers around and why?