My son, 12, has always been a quiet child. He is not shy or anti-social, nor does he try to act superior to others. But he is being labelled thus by some of the extended family and friends. My husband and I have been having arguments about this because my husband feels we have to get him to be more extroverted. By this he means that he should show more interest in others, learn to engage in some amount of social chit-chat, and also showcase his own talents and achievements a bit. He wins prizes for Scrabble and good behaviour, scores well in math and geography, goes on treks and ends up collecting the best stones, etc. But he doesn’t talk about this to anyone except a couple of friends. He would not like it if we were to talk about these things. I don’t want to force him to behave in any particular way, but I too worry a little. Any suggestions?
It seems that the introverted personality has for long been misjudged and mislabelled as being “anti-social”, “painfully shy”, “nerdy” and other such terms—all very different things from being an introverted, quiet person.
The last decade has been particularly partial to the extrovert, in that “being out there” is seen to be the ideal way for a person to be, and this is rewarded with recognition and accolades more easily. The introverts, quieter and less audible and visible, are sometimes passed over because of the mistaken notion that they are this way because they have nothing to say! All this must be weighing on your husband’s mind when he admonishes and goads his son into being something different from what he is.
However, from the introvert’s point of view, today’s world is over-communicative (all social networking sites are abuzz with the constant and instant externalizing of inner thoughts, feelings, events and achievements!).
Introvert: It doesn’t mean he’s shy.(Thinkstock)
To force a child to go against the grain of his basic personality is to actually tell him “you’re not okay as you are, you need to be something/someone quite different”. This is a very hard thing for a child to deal with, and he could well cope with this “not okay” signal from you by becoming even more inward and inaccessible. This would not be a good thing, given that he is anyway headed towards the confusions and anxieties of adolescence.
Having said that, it would be a good idea to watch for whether he is, in public situations like family get-togethers, etc., simply sitting aloof looking horribly uncomfortable? If yes, perhaps you need to guide him to loosen up a little. If sharing things about himself is anathema to him, it would be a good start to get him to take interest in people around him. You could tell him a little about someone that you are going to meet, and encourage him to know more about that person’s work, hobbies or recent travels. This way he will interact, and will have some focused things to talk about, rather than just the vague feeling that he needs to be social just to get his parents off his back. Perhaps you and your husband should read a book that came out earlier this year—Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (by Susan Cain)—to help you understand and be at ease with your son’s personality.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org