Dear Your Teen:
My kid sits at home every Friday and Saturday. He generally seems like a very social guy with lots of friends, but when it comes to the weekend, he ends up at home. There is lots of talk about “plans,” but in the end, there seems to be no execution. Could it mean he is staying away from a certain scene? Is this somehow smart decision making? I know that there are lots of kids NOT getting into trouble. Why can’t he go to a movie, hang out, etc.? Does he need new friends? The situation seems odd and even worrisome. What should I do?
First, you need to understand where your son fits on the introversion-extroversion continuum. We often associate introversion as a character deficiency, but it’s a normal personality characteristic distributed across the population. In other words, there are as many people in our world who are introverted as extroverted, and there’s nothing “good” or “bad” about either one.
Does He Need New Friends, Or Is He An Introvert?
Introverted people get their psychological energy from being alone. Most do fine in social situations, but being around a lot of people at school, in sports or any other venue runs down their mental battery. They need to be alone to recharge. Extroverts and introverts are the opposite. After being alone for a period of time, they need the company of others to recharge. During the teen years, many kids – even introverted ones – will shift toward the extroverted side, as kids need to be more social to navigate adolescence. Once they reach their mid-20s, however, the introverts go back to their natural state.
It’s very possible that your son is introverted by nature, but his world of adolescent extroversion at school, work and other activities overwhelms him. So, when the weekend comes, he just wants to hang out by himself.
Introversion versus shyness
To be very clear, introversion is not the same as being shy. Shyness can affect introverts and extroverts. Extroverts want that social contact, but lack the force of will to make it happen. Your son doesn’t sound shy. He sounds like someone who has the company of many friends and feels socially competent. Unless he tells you otherwise, his social life seems quite fine. It’s just that by Friday night, he may not have the social energy to pull off those plans that sounded so good on paper. If that’s the case, don’t look at it as worrisome. Look at it as a normal part of your son’s self-management.
It is possible that your son is avoiding a bad teen scene. Maybe he knows that the crowd is smoking weed, drinking or having casual sex. If that’s the case, give him a hug. He is choosing to avoid some of the common trappings of youth.
Making social plans
You can probably test some of this out by asking if he’d like to have some of his friends over for a BBQ or paintball or an Xbox playoff. If there are girls in the picture, make it a low-key party. Maybe if you put forth the social planning, he’ll be happy to participate. But if your son isn’t interested, don’t push it. After more than 20 years of practice, I’ve known some pretty cool kids who were introverts. Learn about and embrace your son’s unique way of being.
Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a family psychologist specializing in adolescent therapy and author of Dear Dr. Wes.