Previously published in ‘Teachers Matter’ publication
Introvert or Extrovert?
As we well know, the teen years can be fraught with many issues. Adolescent hormones bring about both physical and emotional changes. The need to make “responsible” decisions, cope with their evolving feelings towards parents, family and friends, all create turmoil. For teens good friends can be like their own support group. The knowledge that others are sharing the challenge of establishing their independence and dealing with the same situations brings a sense of comfort and belonging. Never is there a better time for them to have an understanding of people’s personalities including their own. The more knowledge they have about the ways that they gain energy, make decisions, view and structure their world, the greater their confidence in understanding themselves and handling different people. Both parents and teachers would also benefit from this information, as it is their job to support the teen through these years.
The preferences of Extroversion and Introversion, which tell us where a person’s energy is found, are particularly important at this stage when friendship groups are becoming the focus of the teen’s personal development. Extroverted teens might find it hard to successfully balance their increasing need for energising in the ‘outer’ world of friends with the time necessary for escalating study demands and essential home life. Setting practical personality expectations in these areas is very important for teens, parents and teacher. For example, allowing time for social interaction with friends throughout the lesson/study time and family time is stimulating for the Extrovert and can make the prospect of study/being home a reasonable expectation.
Remember that the Extrovert needs to talk whilst working as well, as that is how they think things out. Locking them away in a quiet room for too long will be de-motivating and depressing for them as is preventing them from not only going out and socialising with their friends, but discussing their work with others which is paramount to helping their comprehension of the topics being studied. If they understand this about themselves they can manage their situation. My daughter will intersperse her study and time at home with either quick visits to a friend, out for a coffee or organising a study time with people. Once she has had this interaction to energise herself she is ready to put in a few more hours of study until the next ‘energy’ break is needed. She is also happy to spend time with the family if she has spent time with her friends.
However, for the Introvert the teen years can be different, as they are energised by time alone or in quiet environments. Unfortunately this means they may be viewed as friendless or needing more friends by well meaning peers, teachers and parents. This pressure is overwhelming for them as they try to follow the need for socialisation. If the teen, parents and teachers know their preference they can accept that the socialisation process will be different.
The Introvert may seem less social but will still enjoy time spent with a few or one special friend. They may not wish to have lots of friends around or go out with them. My son informed me, the extroverted mother, “Mum I see people at school and sport, and I really do not need to see them on the week end or have them back to my place. I do not need people like you do. I am perfectly happy”. What more could I say? He has a great understanding of his needs. Introverts are often happy to spend quite long periods of time in isolation studying and may need the occasional reminder to ‘come up for air’ or just take a break doing something that they enjoy, which may be another quiet activity. If this is your child or one in your classroom you can always ask the question, “What suits you best?”
Too often we have perceptions about what we think is good for teenagers rather than asking them what they think. If they know and understand themselves they then also have the skills to validate their own feelings and ideas with greater self-confidence. If you as the parent/teacher are also aware of their preferences and your own, then you can alter and adapt your expectations of the teen and use your knowledge to help them on their exciting but challenging journey into adulthood.