Long-Term Implications of Low Self-Control

Brad M. Griffin | Jan 31, 2011

New studies are linking impulsivity in childhood with a whole host of troubles as adults.

As reported in this article entitled Impulsive kids at risk for debt, drug abuse, Duke researchers found that Children who scored lower on measures of self-control as young as age 3 were more likely to have health problems, substance dependence, financial troubles, and a criminal record by the time they reached age 32. A similar study of twins found that a twin with lower self-control skills at age 5 was more likely than their sibling to make poor choices at age 12.

If all that feels pretty deterministic to you, heres the less-gloom-and-doom news: Self-control can be learned. While these troubling outcomes were faithfully predictable across three decades, others in the Duke study were able to improve their self-control over time. According to researchers, successful intervention involves helping kids practice decision-making, role-playing, and learning the consequences of actions.

According to Paul (as in, the apostle), self-control is also a fruit of the Spirit that can grow in us as we follow after Christ and grow in spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:22-23). While we need to be careful about equating spiritual formation with behavior modification (and perhaps have done too much of that in the church in general), theres an interesting implication here that faith formation has the potential for holistic impact on kids development. And from the other side of that coin, there are implications of youth ministry failing to mentor kids toward better decision-making skills as part of our ministry to the whole kid.

Brad M. Griffin

Brad M. Griffin is the Senior Director of Content for the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), where he develops research-based training for youth workers and parents. A speaker, blogger, and volunteer youth pastor, Brad is the coauthor of Faith in an Anxious World, Growing Young, several Sticky Faith books, Every Parent’s Guide to Navigating Our Digital World, and the series Can I Ask That?: 8 Hard Questions about God and Faith. Brad and his family live in Southern California.


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