Dear Groovy Mama,
I know my teen is an introvert. How do I push him to engage in activities with others without pushing him too far out of his comfort zone? (Amy)
This is an excellent question, one I happen to have intimate experience with. Out of the six people in my family, four of us are seriously introverted. A couple of us also deal with social anxiety. More about that in a moment.
First, I would make sure that you have a good working definition of what it means to be an introvert. Here’s a quick overview: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/extraversion-or-introversion.htm
Being introverted does not necessarily mean that a person is shy or reclusive. However, the introvert will need alone time to recharge after social situations. Depending on the degree of introversion, even regular family interactions can drain their energy. They need more time to answer questions, formulate their thoughts into words, or to warm up to new people and situations.
Understand that there are actual physical differences in how introverts and extroverts are wired. It’s not something you can ‘get over’. A wonderful resource I read is a book by Adam McHugh called, ‘Introverts in the Church’. He explains the differences in how our brains are wired and how even the brain chemistry differs. As an extreme introvert in a busy world, I found myself in tears at times reading this book. It made me feel less like a freak, and gave me hope that perhaps God can use me just as I am. I highly recommend it.
Social anxiety, on the other hand is another beast altogether. This disorder is the third largest psychological disorder in our country. It can be debilitating and often the onset is the teenage years. Again, I would suggest that you acquaint yourself with the symptoms to determine whether your son is struggling with this. The good news is that social anxiety is highly treatable. Here are a couple of links to get you started.
Next, I would sit down with your son and discuss what he finds to be an acceptable level of social interaction. How much can he handle? Set a level that suits you both and let him choose which activities each week he would like to participate in. I found with my teen introvert, the more control I gave her, the easier it was to push the occasional activity I wanted her to take part in.
Some questions you might ask yourself if his lack of social life concerns you:
*Is he healthy emotionally? Does he relate to the family and any close friends easily and comfortably?
*Does he enjoy hobbies or learning new things?
*Is his behavior in character or has there been a sharp, negative change?
*What are his media influences? Are they positive or negative?
If your son is a characteristically happy young man, then I wouldn’t worry over much. Push him gently, but let him ultimately decide how many activities to take part in.
None of my three teenagers were introverts, so I’m stretching myself here, trying to think what I WOULD do if I had a son who was introverted.
1. Begin with prayer! Pray that your son will be receptive to moving out of his comfort zone. Pray that God will make a way for him to become socially comfortable and build friendly relationships with others.
2. Choose a relaxed moment for a heart-to-heart talk with your son. Celebrate the fact he’s comfortable with who he is and enjoys his own company.
3. Affirm what he already knows: another joy of life is relationships, and group activities will offer the potential for meeting like-minded friends, learning new skills, and making discoveries about himself and the world. He’ll probably tell you he’s fine with the one or two friends he has, but ask him to hear you out.
4. Brainstorm possible activities he would enjoy, beginning with the church youth group.
5. Suggest he attend/participate for six weeks (with someone he knows from church so he doesn’t have to go alone) and then re-evaluate the situation together. Perhaps he’ll find it’s really fun, with some kids actually friendly and inclusive. (I might call the youth pastor or one of the adult mentors and give them a heads up that “Michael” is coming. I’d let them know that he’s an introvert and might need some support in order to make a place for himself in the group. She, in turn, could cue a few guys to reach out to Michael and make him welcome.)
6. Among those kids that Michael meets will be those involved in activities he also enjoys—a community project, volunteer work, a musical group, etc. Encourage Michael to contact the person already involved, find out about becoming a participant and perhaps visiting a time or two to see what it’s like. With prayer and lots of positive reinforcement, Michael can enlarge his circle of friends and expand his involvement in activities to discover greater satisfaction and fulfillment in life!
I’m hopeful and prayerful that at least some of these ideas might be helpful!
Visit Nancy at her blog, From the Inside Out. Nancy is full of godly wisdom and always has uplifting words to inspire!