As a therapist who works with teens I get a wide array of calls. These can range anywhere from concerns over a teen using drugs, to worries about grades dropping, to an adolescent asking mom or dad for help, but not telling them why. One thing that parents sometimes bring up about their child, and teenagers often bring up about themselves, is a fear they aren’t social enough.
We live in a society that truly glorifies the person who has a lot of friends, and gets together with people in all their free time. We admire a really popular, social extrovert. We’re in awe of the person who can talk to anyone in a room. We wish we didn’t have feelings of social awkwardness. We imagine how much better our lives could be if we were an extroverted, life-of-the-party fun person.
If you imagine this about yourself, your teenager imagines it even more. When they’re at school they notice who looks happy and who doesn’t. Usually this is gauged by who is laughing, smiling and at ease around a good sized group of other teens.
There are many of us who don’t feel at ease in large groups though, and enjoy ourselves in quieter, smaller settings. I should know, I am one of these people! Because of this I feel it is really important to speak out on behalf of you teenagers who are naturally introverted.
How do you know you’re an introvert? You may be okay with a lot of people and excitement…for a few hours…but then you need some quiet alone time to regroup. You get your energy from being by yourself, or with a few close friends. Extroverts are often bored when they’re alone, feel restless, and are energized by large groups of rowdy people; that’s your nightmare.
I have good news for those of you who are introverted. There’s nothing wrong with you! It’s completely fine to be someone who needs down time. You live in a culture that is always on the go, values busyness, and thinks constant socializing is what it’s all about. However, that is simply untrue. Half of us out there need time to slow down, process what’s going on in our lives, think quietly, and just be alone for a few minutes (or hours). There’s also nothing wrong with your peers who want to constantly socialize. Being an extrovert isn’t bad either. These are simply characteristics, like the color of your skin, eyes or hair. You aren’t wrong for the way God made you.
If you’re a mom or a dad who is reading this, and this describes your teenager, then I hope you feel relief. It’s another story if your teen is desperate to socialize more, but can’t because of anxiety, depression, or something else that’s going on. That means they are really uncomfortable with themselves, and that’s a great time to seek out help. However, if you’re just worried about the fact that your adolescent would rather spend Friday night reading a book or watching a movie at home than being out partying, but they seem fine in every other respect, stop worrying- that’s just who they are.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT