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Introversion and the Teen Years

Year after year, you have watched your child be on the outside of groups. You have sat in parent-teacher conferences and listened to the teacher say that your child needs to talk more. You have struggled to make sense of your child’s quiet, observant nature. Is it concerning? Should your child be talking more? Should your child have more friends? 

Now, in early adolescence, it seems to be getting worse. You start to notice that your teen is left out more often. Your teen is voicing not wanting to go to school. They describe eating lunch on their own, feeling overwhelmed by group work, and having problems getting to sleep at night.

For you, you can’t really say what is wrong but can feel that something isn’t right. This is a common experience for parents of introverted teens. Introversion is still largely misunderstood, so it’s difficult to know when certain behaviors are concerning.

Signs that your teen is introverted:

  • Is comfortable only with a small group of people.

  • At school, the teacher has always described your teen as ‘well-behaved’ and always follows expectations, and rarely verbally participates in group discussions.

  • At school, they won’t ask for help, even when they are struggling in class.

  • Has always been more mature than their peers.

  • Is sometimes resistant to doing activities they enjoy because they worry about the social component.

  • Their feelings seem to get hurt easily.

  • They don’t often reach out to friends; preferring their friends to initiate getting together.

  • They worry what others will think about them.

Being an introvert can be difficult due to the bias toward extroversion as the ‘right’ way to be. For many introverted people, myself included, we feel like we are failing in our quietness. This becomes especially difficult during the teen years. This is a period when it’s important to fit in. In my private practice, I hear my teen clients tell me that they feel like they don’t belong, they walk around with sadness and anxiety, and they wish they could be someone else.

It breaks my heart when I hear this. It is difficult to know that a child struggles like this. But I strongly believe this can change. Once introverted teens see they aren’t defective, life becomes better.

How you can support your introverted teen

The first place to start is to learn more about introversion. The more you understand, the better able you can support your teen. Introverted teens often feel embarrassed about their quietness. You can make a significant difference by seeing the positive qualities that come with being quiet.

If your teen is struggling with friendships, open up the conversation. It’s so hard when we struggle with friendships and often there is embarrassment and shame.

When your teen is sharing with you about some of their struggles, try not to give them advice right away. Introverted kids are more sensitive to anything that feels like criticism. The consequence is that your teen will likely stop sharing about their struggles with you. I have found success in asking questions with curiosity as a way to keep the conversation going. For example, “I wonder what makes it hard to ask your teacher for help?” This question helps a quiet teen reflect on what happens for them and makes it easier for them to share their thoughts with you.

When you do need to give your teen some advice, I suggest adding at the end: “What do you think about that?” This question does three things: 1. It gives your teen permission to think before answering, which often results in them sharing more. 2. It shows that you want to hear their thoughts and it helps them to know that you care. The more we feel listened to, the more likely we will open up. 3. This helps your teen see that you believe they are capable of solving these issues.

One last point about introversion

Introversion is not something to fix. We come into the world more introverted or more extroverted. As parents, I believe our job is to embrace our kids for who they are and encourage them to embrace their natural behavior to be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Guillet is a Social Worker in Calgary who runs a specialized counselling practice working with introverted teens and adults, helping them manage social anxiety, depression, and relationship issues. To learn more, visit quietpathways.com.

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