Parenting teenagers is tough, but parenting a teenager who seems to have a completely different personality than you can be even tougher. As the child of two introverts, my desire to not be a social butterfly was well-understood. I can’t say the same for my introverted friends whose outgoing parents forced social activity after social activity on them. It may be confusing or frustrating to parent an introvert when you aren’t one yourself. Don’t worry, this introvert is here to help. I have put together six tips to help you better understand and connect with your introverted teenager.
(Not sure what counts as an introvert? Check out this simple guide.)
1. Accept that your teen will be different from you.
There is some debate about whether our personality traits are influenced by nature or nurture, but either way, you shouldn’t expect your children to have the same disposition as you even if they do have 50 percent of your DNA. You may have been the “prom queen” or “football star” type with parties to go to each weekend, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that kind of social life would be of any interest to your teenaged kid. The most powerful thing you can do is accept your teenager for who they are. Don’t make them feel like there is something wrong with them if they are quieter than most. Nothing will wreck your relationship with your children more than insisting that they need to change a fundamental part of who they are.
2. Bond with them in their territory.
Introverts are usually content to pursue their interests alone. While extroverted teens might want to gather a bunch of friends to go to a movie or skateboard in the park, introverts may be perfectly happy doing these activities alone. This also means they may not been too keen on doing activities together as a family if you have other children or relatives living at home. Because of this, it may seem like your teenager is shutting you out. Teens do tend to rebel against their parents, but that may not be why your introverted teenager isn’t sharing their thoughts or interests with you or the rest of the family. It’s possible that including anyone else in their interests and goals just slipped their mind. Since you shouldn’t expect to be outright invited to share in your teenaged kid’s interests, you must engage with them.
Ask questions about what books they’ve read lately or if there is a new movie they want to see. If you do this in non-nosy way, chances are your introverted teenager will start to open up over time. Suggest that just the two of you do something that is in line with your teen’s interests. Your introverted teen will likely appreciate the one-on-one time.
3. Push their comfort zone… gently.
When it comes to expanding your introverted teen’s comfort zone, you must strike a balance between pushing them too little and pushing them too hard. Introverted teens can easily fall into a pattern of spending all their free time alone. School and being a teenager in general is hard. This is why they might retreat into their rooms for a lengthy period of time to recharge their mental batteries. Allowing them to have alone time is good, but too much of it can contribute to feelings of depression or low self-esteem. However, chances are if you have a teen boy who is used to spending most of his free time alone or with a few friends, and you force him to go to a huge birthday party or a football game where he’ll be surrounded by thousands of screaming people, he probably won’t have a good time. In fact, forcing him to socialize on your terms or by doing things only you or other family members want to do is a surefire way to make him want to retreat more and more into his room. Much like point two, find out the ways your introverted teen likes to socialize and encourage them to invite their friends along. If they struggle with meeting new people, find a club, group, or event that is centered around one of their interests. This way your introverted teen will feel like they have something in common with the other people around them.
4. Don’t assume they are being rude.
In my life, there have been many times that I’ve come across as rude or disrespectful just because I’m introverted. If you think your introverted teens might have said something disrespectful, ask them what they meant before instantly punishing them. Introverts with “thinking”-type personalities tend to respond in a matter-of-fact way. This might cause adults to think that they are smart-talking, when in reality, they are just trying to relay the facts to you. If you take a moment to pause before jumping to conclusions, you might see that your teen wasn’t trying to be snarky. Also, remaining silent when spoken to may not necessarily be a sign of disrespect. Your introverted teen might be struggling to vocalize the right thought before speaking. Giving them time to speak will save you from any rash judgements or misunderstanding, which could damage your relationship with them.
5. Bolster their social skills.
Speaking to new people and connecting with them may be something that comes easily to you but may be a challenge for your introverted teenager. So, don’t push them into social situations without giving them the skills to handle them. That’s right, being social is a skill, much like math, auto-repair, or painting. Some people are born gifted in those areas and others have to apply themselves in order to learn these skills. Chances are if you’re extroverted, you are naturally better at talking to and relating to people than introverts. Don’t try to socialize for your introverted teenager, but instead, help them by imparting your social wisdom to them. For example, if you see that they struggle to start conversations, give them advice on how to better speak to new people. Maybe you can tell them that complimenting what someone is wearing or asking them about their family has always worked for you. For more tips on social skills, see this article, Social Skills 101.
6. Learn what’s healthy for an introvert and what’s not.
Parents of all teens, extroverted or introverted, should be vigilant about their children’s mental health. The symptoms of many mental health disorders begin to appear in late adolescence and young adulthood, with depression and anxiety being the most common. There is a line between your teenager being introverted and having a mental health issue. Introverted teenagers will still be able to get through the day at school, pursue their interests, and have friends. Their quiet nature shouldn’t stop them from functioning on a daily basis. But if you notice that your teenager struggles to get by without being extremely sad or angry, that could be a sign of depression. Also, if your introverted teenager is highly uncomfortable socializing with others or avoids it all together, that could be a sign of social anxiety. Be on the lookout for any changes in their mental health, and don’t be afraid to seek help.
Parenting any teenager can be hard, but I hope you’ve learned how to navigate the complexities of the introverted teen a little better. If you appreciate their differences and work with them, there is no reason you can’t have a happy family of both introverts and extroverts.