An enthusiastic cheerleader’s voice boomed through the loudspeaker over our heads and echoed down the shiny, tile hallway. Our little group paused until it was over.
“Sorry about that. Big game tonight.” The assistant principal said with a smile. He then motioned us toward a doorway marked “125”. Inside, students were huddled together over papers and chrome books, talking and writing. They looked up at us briefly.
“This is one of our history classes. The students here are working on a group project,” he explained.
We watched for a while, then continued our tour. We were new parents and students, getting informed and oriented before the next school year. The following thirty minutes were spent moving from one spot to the next, as students pushed past each other in the hallway, reached across each other in the cafeteria, and talked over each other at classroom tables. It was a loud, busy place.
Personally, I loved high school, and happy memories washed over me that day. The energy of games, clubs, and social activities fueled me through my academics, and I thrived in it all.
But now, as a parent, I was seeing things through my daughter’s eyes. With her in mind, even this short tour made me tired.
She is extremely introverted person, and I realized I had to do some very intentional parenting for us both to survive until graduation day.
Looking back now, months later, we admit we made some mistakes. But we also realize we did a few things right.
Although every child is unique, here are some things we did that might help you and your introverted student survive high school…
1. Turn down the social pressure – I said it often: “You must be friendly to everyone, but don’t feel like you have to be friends with anyone. Just smile, be positive, and be yourself. Friendships will come – either now or later.” Just taking the pressure off made it easier for her relax socially. We also made sure she had social opportunities OUTSIDE of school: at church, on her climbing team, etc. For an introvert, it’s very discouraging when the only chance to make friends are in the crowded, loud, and often immature hallways of high school.
2. Turn down the academic pressure, too – With my daughter, I knew if I took the spotlight off the social scene, she would move it to her performance in the classroom. I wanted our focus to be on overall health, so I knew I must set her straight from the beginning: “Your job is to learn – about the content and about yourself. Regardless of what they tell you, your GPA won’t follow you into adulthood – or into what you think of yourself — unless you allow it. And don’t get caught up in the lie that you have to get a scholarship, or have a certain ACT score, or even go to a four-year university after this. Dad and I will decide what’s best for you and our family. Just learn. And grow. And enjoy today.” After these talks, I got the biggest hugs.
3. Mental Health Breaks –
Whole Days – High school is draining for everyone, but extremely so for introverts. I knew that if we were going to last four years – and remain emotionally healthy, my daughter would need to pace herself. So, we allowed her (and expected her) to take one mental health day per quarter. It could even be on the day of a big test or project (that’s what makes them good for mental health, right?) as long as she made up all of the missed work AND claimed it the night before – to avoid decision-making in the morning. I can’t tell you how much these days of solitude helped.
Nights – In order to be refueled and ready for the next day, I knew my daughter needed some quiet in the evenings. Of course, the expectation was for her to engage in family meals and certain activities, but I also kept a close eye on the rhythm of her day.
Moments – I texted her. Often. In class, we texted about hair cuts, weekend plans, and bad teachers. We sent funny memes and GIFs during lunch. These were quick breaks for her to mentally escape and remember there is more to life. We often joked about how I was going to get her into trouble with my texts, and I always responded with, “Well, I hope they threaten to call your mother…” Don’t judge.
4. Framing it all – Our culture – and especially high school – rewards extroverted behavior and puts introverts into a box – often making them believe that they must “overcome” their introvertedness as if it’s a weakness. I didn’t want my daughter to go through high school – or life – believing that lie. I spent lots of time pointing out her introverted qualities and naming them as strengths. I did my best to convince her that we love her exactly as she was created and other people will, also. What helped me the most in this area is Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” I wish every parent and educator would read it.
We had our good days and bad, but along the way she served as the manager of the wrestling team, pursued a book club, did service hours, earned two tuition-free years of community college, and got a job.
And we made it. Just a few weeks ago, she donned a mortar board, hosted a graduation party, and even went to prom – all on her own unique, but admirable terms.
Now, for some quiet time …
stairway photo cred: Ryan Tauss