(I Wish I Knew) How to Parent an Extrovert

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Social butterfly and shrinking violet
Image composited by the author from public domain pictures

Introversion is still considered a minority setting in our society. You can tell because you can always find articles explaining introversion to “typical” people. “How does an introvert think?” “How can you support the introverts in your workplace?” “Don’t worry, introversion has a plus side!” And most relevantly, “How should you parent an introvert?”

I’ve spent my whole life as a pretty heavy-duty introvert. I already intimately know the answers to those questions. What I don’t understand are the unique struggles of the extrovert.

I mean, why would anyone want to go out for a night on the town or a drunken party or a noisy happy hour in the first place? Why would anyone want to be sexually promiscuous or socially high-ranking? Why would anyone want to spend hours on the *gasp* telephone?

My daughter gives me a lot to think about on this topic. She’s an extrovert. Her brother’s a solid introvert, like me. Her dad’s more of an ambivert. Sure, he can talk for hours straight, on the phone or in person, and he’ll often observe the rest of us absorbed in our quiet individual hobbies and say sarcastically, “Well, you’re all exciting,” but in the end he’s happiest at home in his workshop or on his computer with headphones on, too, and will outright avoid social occasions.

But the girl always needs attention. She can’t play quietly by herself like the rest of us. She wants someone to play with her. But everyone else in the house wants to be left to their own devices (often literally). Nobody else wants to play ponies or princesses. We’re all big jerks that way.

Will it kill us to give her a little bit of our time? Isn’t time together as a family the most important gift we can give our children? Didn’t Harry Chapin write a whole song about this that’s been resonating with people for going on half a century?

Yeah. But she always wants more than we have to give. What’s quite enough rounds of Uno for you is nowhere close to enough for her. You know you ought to, but it’s just so exhausting. How can an introvert parent take care of themselves and satisfy the needs of their extrovert child? Why hasn’t anyone written an article of helpful tips for this?

Last night she handed me a Dork Diaries book to read to her—and that’s some together time I’m almost always up for. I do love reading aloud. This was the second book in the series, Tales From a Not-So-Popular Party Girl. Nikki Maxwell, narrator of the Dork Diaries, claims to be the second-least-popular person in school, just above the slime mold in the locker room—”you think that’s really true?” I asked my daughter at that point. Of course she didn’t, she could tell Nikki was being melodramatic. But I kept thinking about the tiers of unpopularity below Nikki that she was unaware of. She was going to parties. She and her friends had requited middle school crushes! How utterly foreign her life seemed to me. Sure, she had problems with Mean Girls, and I’m not belittling that. In fact, I was thinking that I, being an utter social nobody, eventually completely fell off the radar of my school’s Mean Girls, and that made me somewhat fortunate compared to people on Nikki’s social tier.

The benefit of having absolutely no social life as a teenager is you don’t find yourself in situations where the Mean Girls can humiliate you. You don’t have to deal with the drama of relationships, friend or crush. You don’t have to fight against peer pressure, or keep an eye on your drink at parties, or worry about who you can trust to drive you home from an activity.

My daughter will be Nikki Maxwell’s age in just a few years, and she has a social life. How can I help her navigate an adolescence I have no experience with myself? I don’t know what’s normal middle school behavior and not. I never hung out with middle schoolers. What am I, Miss Antisocial, going to need to tell my Party Girl about life as a Party Girl?

Can somebody explain the needs of a young extrovert to me? Because I have a feeling I’m going to have to learn quickly.

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