I ran into another parent recently, the mother of a girl at my daughter’s high school. Both our kids are seniors this year; they know each other, and are casual friends.
After congenial hellos in the line at our neighborhood coffeehouse, she asked, “So! What are Riley’s plans after graduation?”
We’re not totally sure yet, but are looking at colleges in the area.
“The whole college thing is overwhelming, isn’t it?” the mom exclaimed. “How are her grades? How are her SATs scores? Are you applying to places that put a big emphasis on extracurriculars?”
Grades were fine; test scores, fine. I had no idea how much certain schools care about extracurriculars (because of how I’m a bad dad and stuff), so I kept my answers polite but short, without elaborating much.
But this mom could not be stopped.
“Hey,” she said, “did Riley ever decide to try out for any school plays? Last time I saw you, you said she was thinking about doing theater. Theater can do wonders for a kid’s social skills and confidence. Skyler isn’t a theater kid, but she’s really loving her debate team. Plus she’s on the yearbook staff. And she’s doing cheerleading, can you believe it!?”
Riley and I had briefly talked about theater as an extracurricular pursuit, but it ultimately wasn’t for her. I said as much to the mom, then mentally kicked myself for it.
“Oh,” she said, suddenly doleful. “Sounds like she’s still our little introvert, isn’t she? You know what? It’s going to be fine. You shouldn’t worry. A lot of kids grow out of it.”
That’s when I had to suddenly use every ounce of maturity I had to excuse myself politely with my coffee and leave. It wasn’t just that her tone was condescending and offensive. It was that it was laced the arsenic glaze of “Thank God my kid isn’t like your kid.”
Thanks for that, but I like my kid just fine, fuck you very much.
Different teen spirits
When I was a teenager, it took me a little while to come out of what I perceived at the time as my “shell.” I was shy, awkward and pretty unsocialized. (And, as it turned out, deeply, deeply closeted. But that’s a whole other bunch of blog posts.) I never stopped being weird in my own ways, but I did discover a few social skills, and ended up making valuable friends, many of whom are still in my life today. I tapped into some dormant extrovert traits around my junior year, I think. I discovered confidence through my schools fine arts programs, learned the fine art of partying from my more rebellious friends, and found ways to connect with people from different social circles. As a result, I have deeply fond memories of high school.
And when I became a parent, I firmly told myself that when my daughter became a teenager, I wouldn’t use my own experience as a barometer for what was and wasn’t right for her — a common parenting mistake.
Which is good, because while my high school experience was about friends, school activities, and sneaking out to late-night parties, my daughter’s is not.
She just started her senior year of high school, and her experience has been different. She has a couple of friends, but very rarely does she have anyone over at school to study or hang out. She’s involved in a couple after school activities, but nothing that has enlarged her social sphere. She doesn’t party. She spends most weekends at home with us, and seems content with that. She’s a straight-laced, good kid.
And yes, my daughter is an introvert.
Neither she nor I need a Myers-Briggs test to tell us that. I see it in her behavior, and I recently came to appreciate it more than I used to.
Why do people worry about introversion in kids? Mainly because introversion so often runs against what we’re told are valuable skills: sociability, confidence in large groups, and the overall ability to be the life of the party. It’s the stuff of popularity and acceptance. The stuff we see in the kid Most Likely To Do Everything Impressive After Graduation.
In our cultural context, despite what people claim to understand today about the range of personality types, and the values that come with being both an extrovert and an introvert … the extrovert still always seems to win.
Introversion at its best
What does life with my introvert daughter look like?
- She is smart and funny, yet has limited energy to sustain it with others.
- She likes being around people and has fun in social settings, as long as she can retreat for short breaks to re-energize.
- She likes parties as long as she has an exit strategy available to her. She doesn’t like the feeling of being trapped someplace where there are tons of people. (You know what? Me neither.)
- She likes attention, but only when she knows to expect it, and only in measured doses. In other words, she wouldn’t like having friends throw her a huge surprise birthday party. She does, however, like getting together with a few friends at a time to hang out.
- She has friends, but prefers them at arm’s length much of the time. She doesn’t do the deep sharing thing easily with others. The close friends she does have, she cares for deeply.
- She’s a good listener with tremendous intuitive skills. She pays attention. Nothing gets by her. When I’m feeling sad or upset, she will notice and ask what’s wrong. And because she’s so intuitive, I can’t get away with the classic parental deflection answer: “Oh, I’m just a little tired.” She sees right through that.
- She enjoys her own company, and is almost completely immune to peer pressure. No one will ever pressure her into doing something she doesn’t want to do.
- She spends her free time diving deep into her own artistic creativity, drawing, sketching and manifesting a world around her that’s more colorful than the one others see.
- She solves problems and addresses challenges by talking them out to herself, rather than looking for others to serve as a sounding board. This means she’s got resilience, resourcefulness, and the ability to think critically on her own.
I do believe that there’s a healthy middle ground between extroversion and introversion, of course. The ability to draw energy both from being with others, and from taking time alone? That sounds great. Do you know anyone who has that particular yin-yang balancing act down?
My daughter still has growing to do. As always, I look forward to seeing how she’ll continue to change and evolve as adulthood approaches. But do I want her introversion to end up being just a phase? Do I want my wonderfully strange, creative, thoughtful girl to “grow out of it?”
Not even a little bit.