The introverted teen

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -

Dr Asha Pemberton

We live in a society and wider global culture that glorify popularity. The very goal of social media is to attract the largest possible number of followers. Those who have thousands of followers and appear extroverted are those who are highly sought after. We admire those with robust and demonstrative social abilities. As we reflect on this social phenomenon as adults, imagine the feelings of adolescents. They are even more aware of popularity. Peers whom everyone wants to befriend or follow on social media. Other young people who make jokes effortlessly, are always confident and are able to command the attention of a room. While personality, exposure and innate social skills will factor into the behaviour of young people, in reality, there are many who simply do not feel comfortable in larger groups. They are perfectly content in quiet, smaller settings. Some teenagers are naturally more introverted.

To a certain extent reserve and introversion are simply aspects of a particular personality type. Once young people are functioning well in other aspects of their lives, they should be accepted and respected as such. Parents, however, are often concerned as to whether a quieter disposition may be indicating something extreme, unusual or pathological.

We must recognise that during adolescence, many young people will struggle with psycho-emotional and social difficulties which may present themselves with behavioural changes. In these cases extremely reserved outward behaviour could indicate the presence of deeper, more serious problems. Critical to assessing this, is demonstrating that there has been a change. Children who are reserved, often – but not always – grow into teenagers who remain reserved. If there has been a gradual change in social disposition, which has not affected other aspects of life, and the young person demonstrates joy and contentment in their pursuits, there is likely no cause for concern. If, however, a young person was previously outgoing, socially connected and gregarious and suddenly becomes withdrawn, isolated and refuses to interact, the change is more likely indicative of another concern.

The age of young people also plays a role. Younger and older adolescents differ in the importance they place on solitude. Time alone is generally viewed negatively in early adolescence. At this time, focus on peers and relationships is at a peak and even more introverted young people will often display interest in at least one or two companions. In contrast, solitude becomes more acceptable in late adolescence. Older adolescents not only spend more time alone compared with younger adolescents but also report such solitude as more positive and more important in their lives. This likely coincides with their ability to think more rationally about their lives, time spent on activities and making reasonable decisions.

For parents of tweens and teens of a quiet disposition, there is nothing to fear. If your young person (or your family) has always enjoyed time alone; engages in solitary pursuits (writing, art, creative expressions, reading) and continues to do so, accept that they feel balance and joy in these activities. Once they are able to communicate effectively, engage social interactions appropriately and are thriving this is likely their personality. Such teens are more likely to make deeper connections with friends leading to longer lasting relationships and may avoid much of the social drama and distress of adolescence. It is important to distinguish those who are in emotional upheaval who often demonstrate changes in behaviour and difficulties functioning holistically. Tearfulness, isolation, poor communication skills and refusal to engage are more likely to indicate an underlying concern that needs attention. In addition, for teenagers who are neurodiverse or have other cognitive or learning differences, a shy social personality may accompany other neurobehavioural effects which can be optimised through appropriate behavioural interventions and supportive care.


"The introverted teen"

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