From bustling hallways to group projects, the school system was obviously not designed by introverts. That doesn’t mean we can’t thrive in it.
Here’s how a typical school year looks for me: The month before school starts, I’m so excited that I drag my mom to Target and make her buy me all the pretty notebooks and paper. Ah, the smell of fresh college-ruled notebook paper is absolute heaven.
The night before school starts, I can’t sleep — I have too much nervous energy.
The first day of school, I come home pooped. How in the world am I supposed to survive this for a year?!
On the last day of school, I cheer when the final bell rings.
Sounds familiar, introverts?
For a teenage introvert, the above is a never-ending cycle. Luckily, from personal ongoing experience, I can tell you that there is hope! You don’t have to leave school every day feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus. School-aged introverts — and parents of introverted kids — there are things you can remember in order to stay positive and keep your introvert battery as full as possible — yes, even during school. Here are ways for teenage introverts to survive school.
5 Ways for Teenage Introverts to Survive School
1. Remember, it’s not always people that drain you, it’s stimulation.
Introverts’ brains respond differently to stimulation than extroverts’ brains do, and that stimulation is easily found in people. Usually when I come home from school feeling like I’ve been flattened by a ton of textbooks, it’s because I spent a lot of time with very draining people, on top of all the other energy-sucking undertakings school requires, like small talk, school events, and social hierarchies.
If we try to remember that it’s stimulation making us feel like stale gum on the underside of a desk, we can pick out where it’s coming from and limit it. If there’s one person who drains you twice as fast as everyone else combined in your third period, try to limit the time you spend with them. Sometimes that’s not possible, however. School is still school; group projects and friends of friends exist whether we like it or not. This is where we can look at the other kinds of stimulation, like noise…
When I feel too overwhelmed by noise at school, I take a break between my classes or during lunch to go outside or put some relaxing music in my earbuds (which are a must). Seriously, just going the long way to class through an empty hallway or outside can really boost my happiness.
2. Do something during the day that you actually enjoy.
Most of the time, my schedule is so routine it feels pointless. Wake up, go to school, learn math and English and Spanish and chemistry, go home, learn it all over again in the form of homework, repeat. Sometimes when my extrovert friends ramble on and on about what cool things happen to them, I wonder, “Why don’t I ever do anything interesting?”
The thing is, though, the interesting things I do aren’t the kind of things you can tell long stories about, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Doing something fun at some point during the day can boost your mood and keep you from going home worn out. Try a science club, take a class on writing or drawing, join a sports or debate team.
You don’t even have to get incredibly involved or into the whole school-spirit attitude to do one thing you enjoy. Honestly, it could be anything. Play some Disney music and sing with your friends. Have a deep conversation with someone about the meaning of life or which Harry Potter book is the best (both important questions). Tell a “dad joke.” Read when you get to class and have a spare minute. Write down the funny things you hear people say and reread them later. I mean literally anything. It doesn’t have to be big.
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3. On your way home, think about what went right.
On the ride home from school, I try to think about the funniest thing that happened to me during the day. It always gets me laughing, and even if I feel drained, remembering what went right makes me feel better.
When I get home, I reflect on step two: I committed to doing at least one thing I enjoyed, so I think about how I followed through. Every time I got lost in thought, read another page of my book, talked to a stranger, hugged my friends, or listened to music. As an introvert, I usually remember entire conversations I had during the day, and if one of them strikes me as funny, I let myself laugh out loud. If one of them strikes me as incredibly awkward, I still laugh out loud. Sometimes the awkward conversations are the funniest.
This really helps put things in perspective; school isn’t all that terrible, even if sometimes I feel completely drained and never want to go back. It’s this moment in my day, remembering everything good, that gets me to wake up in the morning and drag myself to my car.
4. Get the alone time you need after school.
When all is said and done, I’m still an introvert. I need to be alone to recharge my battery after all the stimulation school throws at me.
But wait, what about homework? What about family time? What about hanging out with friends?
All of that is important, too, but I’ve found that my brain won’t function until I have at least a little alone time, since stimulation exhausts me physically. Hanging out with friends is great, but if someone asks me to hang out right after school, I’m wary. Sometimes hanging out with friends makes me really happy, and sometimes it makes me really tired, depending on my mood and the situation. If I think my social battery can handle it, I go for it. If not, I’ll tell my friend I’m busy and we can get together later.
I’m not usually “busy” as most people would define the word — I’m giving my brain the time it needs to process all the information it received during the day, and then some time to cool down. All I need is at least 10 minutes by myself after school to read, listen to music, or lie on my bed, lost in thought. This gives me the energy to do homework, hang out, and whatever else I have to do. This is what makes the rest of my day bearable.
5. Quit pretending to be an extrovert.
Sweet introvert, I understand you. I’m a teenager, too (I’m 17). School is tough, and there’s no changing that. Friends, dates, grades, trying to be independent, learning to drive, and part-time jobs for spare change are tough. What makes it more tough is when you pretend to be something you’re not, so quit playing extrovert. If you don’t want to go to the party, say no. If you’re at the party and feel completely drained, go home early. If you don’t have the energy to contribute to the conversation, don’t sweat it.
I get that most of the cool kids seem really extroverted. A lot of them probably are (though not necessarily), yet that doesn’t mean you have to change your entire brain chemistry to fit in. If they won’t accept you as your introverted self, find people who will. I know it’s a load of Mom Advice, but it turns out, mother really does know best. Trust me, it will be worth it in the end, even if it’s hard in the moment.
Think about it this way: In 10 years when you look back at your high school days, do you want to remember pretending to be an extrovert and feeling out of place, or spending time with people that value your personality and actually enjoying yourself? Pretending to be an extrovert will only hurt you in the long run.
With all its group projects, participation points, bustling hallways, and get-to-know-you games, the school system was obviously not designed by introverts. That doesn’t mean we can’t thrive in it. You don’t have to wear your battery down so much every day, and you don’t have to hate school. Take it from a teenage introvert — you can make these years yours.