Although your extroverted teenager’s personality may feel overwhelming at times, you can find common ground.
I came to motherhood slightly differently than most women do. While my friends met their little bundles of joy after spending nine months growing them, I met mine in a foster home in Alabama. The oldest of the two sisters had just turned twelve. We were just about 18 years apart in age. She was not shy; five minutes after meeting me and my husband, she bluntly asked, “So are you guys going to adopt us or what?” “That’s the plan,” I answered simply. From that moment on, we were “Mom” and “Dad.”
I bonded with my younger daughter fairly quickly. She’s more introverted than her sister, happy to play in her room alone or play Minecraft alone or do pretty much anything alone. We bonded over shared personality traits and interests; at seven years old, she was young and small enough to be held and cuddled and bathed and tucked in at night.
With my older daughter, it was different. She had already lived two-thirds of her childhood without me and we had almost nothing in common. She was dramatic and loud and craved being in the spotlight. She thought books were “boring.” She made friends with every kid on our street, and it was not uncommon (pre-pandemic, of course) to have 10 children in my house at once. As an introvert, I quickly became overwhelmed. Little Sister did, too. I knew I had to make some changes in how we operated as a family.
Big Sister is now thirteen. At 31, I am the mom of a teenager. Sometimes I feel more like an older sister (or maybe a cool aunt) than her mom. And sometimes I feel awkward navigating our relationship and being the “person in charge” that she needs, especially since her personality is so much more boisterous than mine. We are a work in progress, but we’ve come a long way since that wide-eyed 12-year-old answered the door back in 2019. Here are four things that I do to keep myself — and our relationship — emotionally balanced as an introverted parent to an extroverted teen.
4 Tips for Raising an Extrovert Teen as an Introvert Parent
1. Set clear boundaries and enforce them, like making sure your teen knocks if you’re having some alone time.
I’m someone who needs boundaries but hates conflict — a terrible combination. It results in being interrupted, barged in on, grabbed, and having all manner of personal space invaded without me saying a word about it in order to “keep the peace.” Quiet resentment builds and builds until I no longer recognize myself. I lash out at everything and cry for no obvious reason. I feel miserable and exhausted. I’ve allowed myself to completely burn out, and I feel completely stuck. When I don’t set and enforce my boundaries, this is what happens.
“Mom needs some alone time” is such a simple phrase, but one that has made my life so much better. The kids know what it means. It means I need to be in my room with the door closed and headphones in. I need to read or watch Netflix or journal or knit or just sit in quiet and take some deep breaths. Sometimes, I only need a few minutes. Other times, I need a few hours. And unless someone needs to go to the hospital, please do not disturb me while I’m in my introvert sanctuary.
I have a few other boundaries that I’ve set that have become house rules:
- Always ask permission to enter someone else’s room, even if the door is open.
- Always ask before you use any of my makeup or lotions or hair products (even if I’ve let you use them in the past).
- Keep voices down inside; if you need to let out some energy, go outside and be as loud as you want!
- And maybe most importantly, don’t hover over my shoulder when I’m cooking or cleaning or doing work on my computer.
I’m still working on enforcing these consistently. If I’m being honest, I often let them slide. Speaking up for myself is not one of my strengths (I’m sure my fellow introverts can relate!). But I’m getting better at it, slowly but surely.
2. Meet them halfway and find some common ground: Introverts and extroverts do have things in common.
It’s funny because I think my own mother could have written this from the opposite point of view. She was the extroverted mother who shared almost no interests with her introverted teen (me). It’s tempting to think that introverts and extroverts are complete opposites, and therefore have nothing in common, but that isn’t true.
Shopping? Cooking? Scary movies? Anime? Video games? Music? Whatever it may be, find the thing that you and your teen both love and latch onto it. Plan outings around it. Does she share your love of cats? Take her to a cat cafe. Do you both love getting pampered? Get a monthly pedicure together. Who doesn’t love dessert? Go grab a milkshake together!
I think my favorite moments with my teen so far are the times I pick her up from school in my old car with the broken air conditioner. We roll the windows down all the way and play my old Coldplay CDs. For 10 minutes, we just sing and take in the fresh air. It’s simple. It’s special. It makes us happy. It’s ours.
3. Try not to compare them to who you were as a teen — just because you craved alone time doesn’t mean they do.
“Gosh, when I was her age….” I find myself saying a lot. I can’t help it. One afternoon after school, my extroverted teenage daughter came into the house crying because she had gone door to door to all the kids in the neighborhood and none of her friends were able to hang out. I just sat there stunned. None of your friends can hang out? And that’s… bad? Can’t you just draw or read or do a craft by yourself? You’ve already been around people for eight hours straight, and you still don’t want any alone time?
As obvious as it may seem on paper, it’s something I need to constantly remind myself: “If I am an introvert and my child is an extrovert, we will have very different teenage experiences, and that is OK.” It is OK that she craves people in a way that I never did. It’s OK that she spends her free time Snapchatting with friends while I spent mine making up stories. It’s OK that she prefers to have as many surface-level friendships as possible while I opted to have just a handful of really deep friendships and ignored everyone else. We are different. And it’s OK. And, most importantly, make sure your extroverted teen knows it’s OK.
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4. Appreciate them for who they are, not who you wish they were.
On the days when we are finding it difficult to get along, I imagine what life would be like if my daughter were a different person. What if she were more like me? What if she were quieter? What if she loved reading as much as I do? What if she could stand being alone and not constantly need another person for company? What if she didn’t have such a giant personality, a personality that overwhelms, overstimulates, and sometimes even smothers me?
I suspect all of us introverts have felt this way about the beloved extroverts in our lives. Sometimes, let’s be honest, we just wish they could be more like us! But once we’ve allowed ourselves to stew for a bit in that want, how do we pull ourselves out?
I look at my daughter and I see strengths that I’ve never seen in myself. She’s confident and sure of herself. She can make friends with anyone — absolutely anyone — in a matter of minutes. She isn’t overwhelmed by noises and crowds. She’s not afraid to stand up to bullies, both for herself and especially for others. She doesn’t keep her emotions repressed until they explode. She lives in the moment and doesn’t waste time overthinking everything.
She is strong where I am weak, and I am strong where she is weak. For instance, in typical introvert fashion, I carefully think about the words I say (usually!) while she tends to say the first thing that comes to mind (even if it’s inappropriate or means she’s interrupting somebody in the room). When she first came to us, it was a really bad habit and happened constantly. But she’s gotten a lot better about it over the past two years (I’d like to think I had an influence in that!).
As polar opposite as we are, we strangely complete each other. She is the exact child I need to teach me, challenge me, and grow me, and I am the exact parent that she needs.
If you are an introverted parent with an extroverted kid, I know you are familiar with the emotional exhaustion that can set in if you aren’t deliberate about your self-care. If you ever feel guilty about taking time for yourself or communicating and setting boundaries, think of this: Your children are watching you. They are observing — and even learning — to mirror your behavior and habits. If they see you constantly running yourself ragged and neglecting your own emotional and spiritual needs, there’s a good chance they will grow into adults that do the same thing. However, if they see you taking care of yourself and speaking up when you need support, they will grow up not being afraid to set boundaries or practice self-care.
So speak up for yourself — even if it’s difficult —and don’t hesitate to acknowledge your needs. It’s good behavior to model for the little ones that are watching you. And your introvert/extrovert relationship will not just survive, but thrive.