As a parent of an almost teen I have a lot to learn and a lot of mistakes that I’m sure I’ll make. In fact, I’ve already started to find myself caught up in a sea of confusion, tears, fragility, moodiness, and anxiety that we are both going to have to learn to navigate through.
Introvert vs Extrovert
What compounds this even more is that my daughter is an introvert and I am very much an extrovert. I’m more reactionary and have an outward approach to my surrounding environment. I get to the point quickly, have vast amounts of energy, like to try lots of new things, and like being surrounded by large groups of people. A person like me can easily fatigue an introvert. My daughter on the other hand is more pensive, a quiet observer of the world. She is sensitive and her focus comes from within. She is thoughtful and makes logical decisions about the friends and activities that best suit her personality. She is one of the truest friends you could ever find and because of this she is happy with just a few friends otherwise her energy would be depleted. As I’m sure you can imagine the dichotomy between these two personality types can result in a mountain of frustration between us as she anticipates the wrath of the mom overlord and I anticipate a fragile broken winged butterfly dropping to the ground in a heap of defeat.
Getting it Wrong
Over the years I have tried to get my daughter to be an extrovert. When she was little I joined playgroups and worked at getting her to have a full social circle. In grade school and told her not to be shy and that she should raise her hand in class so the teacher would think she was an active participant. In middle school I recommended that she join clubs and team sports. When my introverted husband interjected and said the orchestra that she played violin in was a good team sport I rolled my eyes in exasperation. In junior high I found myself suggesting to her that she might want to explore hanging out with the extroverted girls who are socially advanced and already into boys because she might expand her circle of friends and have more fun. Did I really say that? I had clearly forgotten that I once was an introvert who cowered by my parents at the playground, never wanted to be called on in class and was considered socially naive by the more experienced girls when I entered into High School.
I know I shouldn’t completely blame myself for pushing the qualities of an extrovert on my daughter. The reality is that our society sets it up in a way that we appear to give more value to these characteristics. From our early years of school through to our later years of life we are taught how important it is to be popular, a team player and a leader to become a successful, well-rounded person. We learn that if we embody these characteristics we will have a greater impact on the world. Take a look at the characteristics of an extrovert:
- Are social – they need other people
- Demonstrate high energy and noise
- Communicate with excitement and enthusiasm with almost anyone in the vicinity
- Draw energy from people; love parties
- Are lonely and restless when not with people
- Establish multiple fluid relationships
- Engage in lots of activities and have many interest areas
- Have many best friends and talk to them for long periods of time
- Are interested in external events not internal ones
- Prefer face-to-face verbal communication rather than written communication
- Share personal information easily
- Respond quickly
Conversely the characteristics of the introvert listed below are often misconstrued as having negative connotations such as shy, socially awkward and an inability to easily adapt.
- Are happy to be alone – they can be lonely in a crowd
- Become drained around large groups of people; dislike attending parties
- Need time alone to recharge
- Are territorial- desire private space and time
- Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
- Act cautiously in meeting people
- Are reserved, quiet and deliberate
- Do not enjoy being the center of attention
- Do not share private thoughts with just anyone
- Form a few deep attachments
- Think carefully before speaking (practice in my head before I speak)
- See reflection as very important
- Concentrate well and deeply
- Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
- Limit their interests but explore deeply
- Communicate best one-on-one
- Get agitated and irritated without enough time alone or undisturbed
- Select activities carefully and thoughtfully
Admittedly I’ve distorted these characteristics in the past as they pertain to my daughter and it’s taken me the better part of twelve years to realize it. The reality is that she’s a well-adjusted, active and intelligent person that reacts to her environment differently than I do. Studies show that introverts brains are actually wired differently than extroverts. They have more gray matter in the frontal lobe of the brain that is linked to abstract thought than extroverts and they also produce less dopamine because they don’t need as much stimulation.
What I’ve realized is that there’s no one size fits all when it comes to personality traits, and it’s a disservice to an individual with unique qualities and characteristics to try to mold them into something they are not. The risk that we run if we take this approach is alienation, withdrawal and a loss of open communication, and that is one thing that I don’t want to loose as I navigate these sometimes choppy waters with my soon to be teen.
(Characteristics from: Hirsh & Kummerow, 1989; Keirsey & Bates, 1984; Lawrence, 1985; Myers & Myers, 1980.)