Put Down the Bluetooth: Patience and Focus Can Mean More Money, Better Health

Filed under: Work Life, Opinions, Just for You

Stop texting. Turn off the IM. Self-control offers a host of benefits, including better health, more money and less jail time, according to a new study out of New Zealand.

Actually, the well-designed study spanning three decades is a real feat of perseverance in itself. In 1975, researchers Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi from Duke University started tracking self-control in more than 1,000 Kiwi kids from toddlerhood to adulthood.

Every two years, while the kiddies were 3 to 11 years old, the researchers collected reports from teachers, parents and the kids themselves about their hyperactivity, attention, impulsivity and aggression.

All the forbearance paid off. The results eventually validated the perks of patience and planning. The kids who kept their hands to themselves and focused fared better later in life. By age 32, those with poor control as children suffered more high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, gum disease, alcoholism, bankruptcy, failed relationships and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Often, in their early teens, they made bad choices with major consequences such as smoking, quitting school or becoming parents through unplanned pregnancies. As adults, they were more likely to be single, abuse drugs and get arrested -- essentially the Kiwi equivalent of Charlie Sheen minus the fame and high-priced hookers.

The impulsive, ill-mannered and illegal impulses can't be entirely blamed on parents, however. Moffitt and Caspi also looked at more than 500 pairs of British fraternal male twins to parse out any differences due to parenting and home environment and found brothers differed in how well they coped with frustration and distractions.

Those with less self-control at age 5 had worse grades and were more likely to smoke by age 12 than their brothers. So, the delinquency can't be entirely blamed on poor parenting, as twins raised by the same parents displayed different levels of impulsivity and aggression, some engaging in downright stupid behavior.

Not that stupidity explained all the bad behavior, either.

Still paying attention? Self-control predicted future outcomes much better than -- and regardless of -- intelligence. That's good news. The ability to persevere through challenges, plan ahead and manage impulses turned out to be more important than IQ. Patience trumped smarts!

Thank goodness, because behavior management can be taught, whereas intelligence has proven rather immutable unless, of course, you're trying to sell a boxed set of DVDs with classical music and creepy puppets.

As a psychologist, I dig this focus on behavior, rather than some abstract ability. I can address it today, maybe on the way home from school. Maybe forget the snacks in the car and make the kiddies wait a few miles before breaking them out.

Despite the whines, I'll let my second-grader figure out how to spell all the words for her reading journal. Hopefully, these small moments serve as preparation for challenges that can't be readily solved by an app or Google search.

So, now that the word is out about self-control, maybe we should hold Mom and Dad responsible for reinforcing and modeling more purposeful thought and action. Start now or your child may someday be the highest paid actor working in television.

Done. Now, go check your inbox.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.