by Renee Mill, Clinical Psychologist
Originally published in Readers Digest, August 2006
It's no wonder McDonalds is as successful as it is; they've got their advertising psychology down pat. And I should know. I'm a psychologist.
Take their latest ad, for example, where you see a 'child' emerging from the body of an adult to queue up for a hamburger and fries. The slogan says something like, 'Spoil your inner child'.
Boy, those advertising guys are on the money. They know how to capitalise on a social trend when it's all around us assaulting our senses, pockets and our sense of decorum. Well mine, anyway. Gee whiz, I often ask myself, is there anyone out there who isn't gratifying his or her inner child?
Right now, Australians in the Noughties are so hooked on instant gratification, you'd be tempted to duck if - for whatever good reason - you had to tell somebody "Sorry, but no". I know we're all adults here, but a lot of us are acting like adolescents at best.
Children, you see, want what they want and they want it now, and these days, adults don't do much better. Not surprising really, when you consider our modern way of life.
Go shopping and check all the goodies stacked up near the checkout counters tempting you to buy on impulse. Switch on the television and discover the multitude of possessions you can acquire NOW… and only pay for LATER. And why cook when you can buy the complete package on your way home?
Our life has speeded up so considerably that the ability to wait has become an obsolete phenomenon. And it's turning us all into spoilt children!
Many psychologists know the difference between a healthy and a spoilt child - most of us have studied many child-rearing models and - no surprises here - McDonalds is appealing to the very worst of our child-like behaviours.
A child is someone who wants something immediately even if it's bad for him or her long-term. An adult, on the other hand, can rationalise going without for the sake of a better long-term prospect.
So how has our behaviour made such a 360-degree turn? Once upon a time, children were 'seen and not heard', but nowadays you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere, except in the Army, where authority goes unquestioned. We're cynical about politicians; businessmen; policemen and priests.
All this cynicism permeates our personal relationships too; a recent Australian survey found more than one-third of respondents had ended their relationship with a text message. Talk about instant gratification! You're so "over" the old boyfriend, why bother with the courtesy of a person-to-person "Dear John" chat?
Psychologists point out that children are impulsive; irrational; live in the now; want immediate gratification; and have poor frustration tolerance. Feel a tantrum coming on? Maybe your inner child is getting the better of you, because adults typically can exhibit self-control; are rational; are able to plan for the future; can delay gratification; and can also tolerate the frustration of a long bank queue or those interminable telephonic waits for Customer Service.
It's true that some of us should let our inner child out more often to play. However, there are others whose inner child (witness the road ragers) is running amok! In this day and age, where the mantras continually exhort us to 'spoil yourself, you deserve it', is it any wonder that the nation has succumbed to the McDonald's message … and landed up obese?
Like everything in life, what's needed is balance. Love your inner child, hold on to it and work with it, but know that it is only one part of you. There is also that adult 'you' that knows how to take control and who sets you up for a better life.
So don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Next time your child tempts you to surrender to your most primitive instincts, spit the dummy… and just say, NO.