Lacking Patience: Quitting Is a Growing Phenomenon in Kids

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One clear sign of maturity is the ability to keep long-term commitments. Kids must learn to stick with a decision even after the glitz and glamour of an activity wear off.

Today, I am writing about the virtue of patience and what it does for us when we develop it. I believe healthy, mature people (and leaders) have cultivated a good sense of patience—the ability to endure and delay gratification. I’d like to talk about a growing phenomenon in children: quitting.

Today, much more than thirty years ago, kids are quitting sports, piano lessons, school, karate, you name it.

Why has quitting increased with kids today?

  • We live in a faster paced world. They are not used to waiting or slow results.
  • There are more options today; opportunities everywhere can distract them.
  • They grow up in front of screens where entertainment’s in short spurts, 24/7
  • They live in a world where parents prioritize happiness over character.
  • We condition them to seize a better option or opportunity when it comes.
  • Boredom is seen as a top culprit; both adults and kids do anything to avoid it

Katy Abel asks: Are you a “pushy parent” if you insist kids stick with an activity? Are you a “pushover parent” if you let them walk away after only two afternoons at soccer practice? David Elkind, Ph.D., professor of child development at Tufts University, and author of The Hurried Child, believes it depends on how you’re your child is—under ten years old or ten and older. He offers some thoughts:

Children ages nine and under don’t have a clear sense yet of what kinds of activities they will like. Elkind believes “it’s fine for them to give it up” if they don’t appear to be enjoying an activity. Quitting probably represents no more than a feeling of “this isn’t fun for me.”

Struggling with children about after-school activities tends to accelerate. In the end, it is impossible to force children to participate in a class or sport. Trying to force them may only develop anxiety that could make them even more reluctant to try other new experiences.

Involve kids in decision-making about trying new activities, instead of deciding for yourself what you think they’ll like. At the same time, Elkind advises parents to bear in mind that kids tend to overestimate how much they’ll actually enjoy an activity.

With older kids, talk in advance about what would be a reasonable trial period for a new activity. “That gives children a sense that they are sharing control.” Consider whether your child’s reluctance to continue with an activity is the result of fatigue or need for more down time. Many kids are over-scheduled, and may simply need more time to relax.

The key is: kids must learn to make and keep commitments. Somewhere along the way, they must become able to stick with a decision when the glitz and glamour wear off. There is a difference between young kids learning what they want to do, and older kids who simply cannot commit to anything once they are bored.

Let me remind you of one clear sign of maturity:

The ability to keep long-term commitments.

One key signal of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. Part of this means a student is able to keep commitments even when they are no longer new or novel. They can commit to continue doing what is right even when they don’t feel like it.

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