A few years ago, introverts finally started to be understood. No, they aren’t shy or miserable. Yes, it’s draining when you constantly ask them “What’s wrong?” And really, introverts are powerful. All of this and much more was detailed in Susan Cain’s 2012 book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The founder of the organization Quiet Revolution, Cain (an introvert!) also gave ablockbuster TED talk that has been viewed almost 14 million times.
And now she’s tackling the issue of introverted kids and teens in her new book, “Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverts.” The book is a guide of sorts for not only teens, but every parent, teacher, person who has kids in their life or cares about them should read it. Because we all need to remember: “Being introverted is not something to outgrow; it is something to accept and grow into — and even to cherish.”
We spoke with Cain to try to shed some light on how to help introverted kids thrive and accomplish all they can (which is as much as anyone else, if not more).
What exactly is an introverted child? It really has to do with where you get your energy. They can be socially skilled. But they enjoy being alone or doing quieter things, or hanging out with one close friend at a time. Introverts tend to have their batteries drained by loud activities. The book is focused on shyness as well as introversion, but it’s important to distinguish the two. Shyness is about fear of social judgment. Everybody, especially in middle school, feels that. But if you’re shy, you’re probably more worried. You’re prone to feeling embarrassed and just think a lot about how you might come across.
As an extroverted parent, especially, how can we help introverted kids thrive? The first piece is to understand more about them and what they really need to be happy and successful. It first begins with understanding their nerve biologies. Introverts have nervous systems that help them react more to stimulation. When they tell you that they want to go home from a party, that’s probably their body feeling physically overwhelmed at that time. This is really not a preference. And it’s worth knowing that you, as an extrovert, react less to stimulation. When there’s not enough going on, you feel bored and sluggish. It’s normal for you to want to be much more hyper in social situations. It can be really hard to imagine someone so close to you who really experiences things so differently.
What is the day like for the introverted child? Know that going to school every day is very battery draining for introverted kids. They want to come home at the end of the day and recharge their batteries. That might mean being alone or quiet at the end of the day. They may tell you that they don’t like a given activity after school and it might be that really what they’re reacting to is the simple problem of not having enough downtime. The key is to be always looking out. How can I give them that time?
How is social media changing the way introverted kids function? How should parents deal with it? It’s helpful in the sense that it gives an introvert ways of communicating without being at the party. But at the same time, of course, it turns social life into a 24/7 operation where everyone is constantly evaluating each other. I think it’s really important for parents to equip kids with the ability to filter out social media, and help them understand the photos that their friends are posting may not really be that fun. Parents need to help make them be intelligent consumers.
What are some of the smart ways teachers include introverted students? We’ve actually created a Quiet Schools Network where we’re working with educators all over the country to understand how to harness the talent of the half of the class who is introverted. Other techniques include think, pair and share. The teacher poses a question, then asks students to think individually. Then they pair up with one partner to talk about their ideas. The pairs then share with the larger group. That gives them time to process and allows everyone a chance to articulate ideas, which is really helpful for introverts. Once they’ve had that articulation, they’re more likely to share with the group. It’s like a dress rehearsal.
What could teachers or parents do better? Take middle schoolers and preparing them for public speaking. The thing teachers need to know is that you should think of anxiety level on a scale of one to 10. You shouldn’t ask kids to operate in the eight to 10 range. They are approaching public speaking and have off-the-charts anxiety. Let them build up to a comfortable place. For anxious ones, let them prepare something to deliver to a small group or one other student and, little by little, work up to the challenging situation. Teachers should be aware that there really is a severe downside asking kids to be in the eight to 10 range. The risk is that it will backfire and make it that much harder for them the next time. We now know that if you’re afraid of something that goes poorly, that experience will become coded in your brain and will forever after tell you to stay away from that particular experience.