Grumpy Kids, despite so much choice?

Swapna Mirashi
“I can’t believe you are bored again. You have a play station, DS, so many toys, books and TV channels. When we were your age, we didn’t have as much choice but we never complained.”
If you grew up in the 60s, 70s or early 80s in Asia, you can visualise what life with limited choices was like. Fewer toys, no gadgets, no multifunctional phone, limited number of shows for children on TV, rare and far away amusement parks, fewer malls and restaurants. And hence, it may be difficult to imagine why your children today, with access to practically everything – more than you can imagine – are still complaining. About what?  
‘We had such limited choice as a child, yet we never complained. We accepted the reality and stayed happy with what we got. Today, our children have so much, things we could not even imagine. Yet they are bored most of the time and complaining. What is with this generation of ‘smart’ kids? They are grumpy despite so much choice.’  A couple quipped at a seminar and the question resonated with a large number in the audience. 

Research shows that children are grumpy today, NOT despite but BECAUSE OF too much choice.

Yes, they have access to more. And have much more than their parents had as children. But,

  • More TV channels do not give more entertainment.
  • More toys do not lead to more play.
  • More food does not give more nutrition.
  • And, more classes or tuitions does not mean more education.  In fact many psychologists believe that more choices lead to more stress, fatigue and regret.

Our children are growing up with what psychologists call choice overload.
Choice overload is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many equivalent options. Making a decision becomes overwhelming due to the many potential outcomes and risks that may result from making the wrong choice.
Harmless as it may seem, choosing from several, equivalent options, several times a day, every single day, is quite an ask.  It becomes unconsciously a stressful, often confusing and time consuming process. And hence our children, with a lot of clothes, often genuinely have a hard time choosing what to wear.  Besides, there is often a risk of dissatisfaction with the choice made, versus the expectations one had while making the choice – and subsequently regret or guilt for not choosing something better, cheaper, newer or trendier.
The Solution: ‘Inverted U’ Model
The satisfaction of choices by number of options available can be described by an inverted “U” model. Having too many choices, beyond a certain ‘ideal’ number results in the same low satisfaction as when having no choice at all.

Try limiting the number of choices your child has – in toys, clothes, shoes, books, entertainment options – to this ideal number.
The first issue of AIM for Parents by Kaleidoscope Training & Development, explores this problem of today in details. Read AIM JFM 2017 for more.