In Praise of Delaying

Santa Clarita Signal • Ethically Speaking Column • For December 12 Weekender, 2015


In Praise of Delay

David W. Hegg

Recently I was involved in a conversation with some parents about teenage sexual activity. Several commented that, while we push our kids into college, and travel, and getting settled into a career before marrying, God must have intended marriage to happen at an earlier age since he endowed teens with such a robust sex drive.

After biting my tongue as long as I could, I finally pushed back on the conclusion the group had come to. I asked how many thought 16 year olds had the maturity, either mentally or emotionally, to create good marriages let alone be good parents. The silence was golden.

So what is the answer? Here’s mine, and it is all about something we are fast losing in our day. It’s called delayed gratification, and without it societies whither away of their own volition.

Sexual appetites being what they are will always need to be curtailed by self-discipline, even when you enter into a committed marriage relationship. Perhaps it is for this reason that the sex drive appears in the human animal long before the emotional and intellectual maturity to form a lasting marriage is gained. And perhaps this is so because God knows that the product of sex – little humans! – deserve to be raised in an environment crafted out of the radical commitment their parents have to one another, to their marriage, and to their offspring. The discipline learned before marriage becomes the necessary foundation for the disciplined commitment and effort necessary to make marriage and family work well.

We are watching a society being overwhelmed with those who are adults chronologically but have never left adolescence simply because they were never forced to progress past adolescent levels of maturity. And it may be because they never learned the benefit of delayed gratification.

Today, too many moms and dads are opting to be their kids’ friends and homies rather than the character-shaping, ethics-building parents every child desperately needs. They are so afraid their kids might get their feelings hurt, or have the self-esteem damaged, or worse, get so mad they rebel, smoke pot, or get pregnant. And so these parents indulge their children’s desires, keeping them happy with bribes made up of what really are adult privileges and possessions.

Kids who get money, and smart phones, and cars, and adult privileges handed to them often fail to grasp the responsibilities attached to these things because they’ve not yet developed the character necessary. Worse, they grow up believing they’re entitled to everything they desire without ever needing to earn the right to them. Sadly, we see this most poignantly demonstrated in the wanton sexuality now accepted as normal among our youth today. They want it, and they want it now, and yet aren’t mature enough to understand either the responsibilities or the regrets attached to uncommitted sexuality.

Simply put, this type of child-centered parenting means never having to wait for anything. There is no delayed gratification, hence no development of the character necessary for it. And the final result is a generation of adults who have no perseverance when discipline and hard work are required.

And if you’re still looking for a good present for your teen or college student, let me suggest Tom Brokaw’s best seller “The Greatest Generation.” Yes, it is a collection of stories about men and women who served our country in World War II. But it is more than that.

In essence it is a summary of what makes for a great man or woman. It is a wonderfully told story of the character, integrity, honesty, grit, and commitment necessary to do the hard things in life, in the right way and for the right reasons.

But mostly, it is a course in the enormous benefit of delaying what you may long for in order to be the best edition of yourself possible. Buy it, read it, and spend the time to talk about it with the kids in your life. After all, our world will soon be in their hands, and if we don’t prepare them in the best way, our society will lead them down the very destructive path of entitlement. And that’s what we need to delay as much as possible.