My husband and I have long joked that no one anticipates the end of the school week as much as our 14-year-old daughter. For as long as I can remember, Friday afternoons have found her barging into the house with a look of relief on her face. As she sheds her bookbag and coat, she immediately trudges to her room to put on her coziest pajamas. She folds up on the couch with a book, content to dive into the world of characters who have become her best friends.
She famously told me when she was three that she didn’t like to go to family parties or social gatherings because “peopling is just too hard.”
She’s an introvert in every sense of the word. And, though it sometimes causes friction between her and her extroverted mother, I have mostly learned to accept that my daughter is more careful and exacting about how, and with whom, she spends her time.
Socializing at school has been enough for her. She has never been a teen who needs to jam her weekend with sleepovers and long trips to the mall with her friends. Never one for social media, she found the perfect balance: socializing face-to-face during the week and taking a break on the weekends to rest and rejuvenate her introverted soul. She is able to greet Mondays with a smile because she’s been able to nurture that part of herself.
But, in the wake of social distancing, she’s been feeling isolated and lonely.
I have seen many jokes alluding to the fact that introverts have been preparing for quarantine their whole lives. But I’m finding that it’s the opposite with my daughter.
Now that the rest of her school year has been canceled, she’s realizing more and more that she is missing her friends deeply. As a shy, introverted kid, it has taken her a long time to cultivate the tight knit friendships she has—friends who have come to accept her introverted ways.
These days, however, she is painfully aware that she has lost the connections she enjoyed at school. And, recently, it came to a head when she sobbed about how much she missed sitting at lunch with her best friend. It broke my heart.
Raising an Introvert
Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to raising a social distanced kid in the midst of a quarantine:
1. Other teens are in the same boat.
As I gently explained to my daughter, quarantine means that all of her friends are at home, too. She needed to be reminded that her friends still love her and want to spend time with her. We talked about her friends and their good qualities. And I helped her see that this is not a situation where they are deliberately excluding her. It seems simple, and yet she looked visibly relieved to remember we are all in the same boat right now.
2. Social media isn’t always the answer, but it’s a start.
My daughter has always been hesitant to join Instagram or Snapchat, mostly because she prefers one-on-one, face-to-face communication. I reminded her that her friends might be forgetting to text her because she’s not reaching out, either. These days, as teens spend more time on IG or Snap, it’s almost an “out of sight, out of mind” situation. I explained to her that her friends might just be forgetting because she’s not online. We’ve explored starting an IG account for her to feel a little more in tune to what her friends are up to during quarantine. And she’s set up times to FaceTime with her friends, which has also helped tremendously.
3. Being an introvert isn’t a character flaw.
As my daughter cried about how much she misses her friends, she lamented that she “hates the shy part of myself.” I reminded her that being an introvert just means she knows exactly what works for her and what doesn’t. That is a lesson that some adults haven’t yet grasped. I helped her see that, in the absence of spending time with her friends in the cafeteria, there are ways for her to feel connected during social distancing. We just needed to find creative ways for her to connect that felt authentic to her.
4. Talking about feelings of isolation is necessary right now.
I want my daughter to feel empowered to talk about her feelings of sadness, isolation, and loneliness while we are all at home together. We’ve spent a lot of time talking through her emotions. The point I have emphasized is that yes, it’s great to talk about our happy feelings, but the sad ones need attention too. I praised her for coming to her father and me with her emotional struggles rather than keeping them to herself.
Quarantine won’t last forever. But I hope our conversations about navigating life as an introvert will stay with my daughter long after social distancing is a distant memory.