Extroverted Moms with Introverted Sons: Respecting Your Differences

A photograph showing the rear view of mother and her teenage son going for a walk in the country“You know,” Jasmine said, “you can talk to me about anything.”

She couldn’t tell if he was playing a game or texting. Fifteen-year-old Scott just stared at his phone. It seemed like only yesterday he pleaded to show her what he could do, or was asking her questions about everything. But to Scott, that was a lifetime ago, back when he was “a little kid.” Now his almost man-sized shoulders hunched over the tiny screen, shutting her out.

“Are you depressed?” she asked, leaning on the door frame to his room. “You’re always hiding out in here. It’s not normal. Do you want to talk with someone? Your cousin Sasha likes her therapist. I could get the number.”

Jasmine knew she was talking too much and was probably driving her son into further seclusion, but she couldn’t help herself. “Look at your room! It’s a post-apocalyptic disaster! Don’t you care about anything? This isn’t how I raised you!”

Scott’s phone pinged and he swiped a thumb over the screen.

“Why are you shutting me out?” Anxiety shot her words out like a Gatling gun. “Are you upset with me? What have I ever done to you to deserve this silent treatment? All I ever do is try to show you I care.”

“Could you just leave me alone?” Scott mumbled.

Jasmine slapped a hand to her chest. “He speaks!”

Her workout shirt gathered under her sweaty hand. “Could you at least come downstairs and spend time with the family? Sometime this century?”

Scott looked up, squinted, and then rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, leave me alone,” he said.

She made sure her tennis shoe was in the doorway in case he tried to close the door.

“Don’t be so disrespectful,” she said. “Are you doing drugs? Did you know that neighbor kid who came out as gay? You’re not thinking of hurting yourself, are you?”

“Mom! Stop!” Scott yelled.

Jasmine sighed. She knew she was being far too intrusive, but her anxiety drove her to keep trying to reach him. She would never have spoken like that to her mother. She shared everything with her mother. Scott must be suffering some horrible emotional pain to be so distant, she surmised.

The SpongeBob laundry basket taunted her. She must be a terrible mother to have driven her son so far away, so deep into his own misery.

“Please, Scottie, just tell me what’s wrong.”

Scott stood up, shoved his phone in his pocket and pushed by his mother. “I’ll be back later.”

She heard the front door slam.

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On average, girls and women tend to talk more than boys and men (John Grey wrote about this in Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus). But in my practice, I see many caring mothers who are worried their boys are in extreme emotional pain and they can’t reach them, or worse, they have alienated their own sons.

Most of these well-meaning mothers are strong extroverts. They gain emotional energy from social discourse and from interacting with others, even at a superficial level. They relieve their stress by talking to friends. They determine if they are reacting “the right way” by running ideas by other people. They are externally focused and often do not have a large vocabulary for their feelings outside of “bad,” “good,” “upset,” and “tired.”

They tend to attribute how they feel to external events rather than how they interpret situations internally. They evaluate their social standing by how many invitations they receive. If their sons aren’t invited to activities or having friends over, they worry their sons may be shy or have social anxiety.

Introverts are just wired differently. They tend to be self-reflective, are easily drained by small talk, detest being interrupted, and are most comfortable alone or hanging out with one friend, possibly doing parallel activities such as video games.

As with extroversion, introversion is not a pathology. There’s nothing broken that needs fixing. Introversion is the normal temperament of 25% of the population. Introverts can function well in the world, even in occupations that demand a lot of social interaction (read Susan Cane’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking). But they generally must carve out time to rejuvenate in quiet.

Introversion is not the same thing as depression or social anxiety. The latter are mental health conditions according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Adolescents with depression may be pessimistic about the future, angry, or turn to destructive ways of coping such as alcohol or drugs, cutting, or sexually acting out.

Just because your son doesn’t answer, or uses fewer words, doesn’t necessarily mean he is depressed or anxious. Introverts often are more comfortable writing or texting. They may hate to be interrupted and they may need long pauses in a conversation in order to speak up and share their thoughts.

Be conscientious and alert without being shaming or threatening. Your teen is doing the best they can—and so are you. Be kind to both of you.

Fathers of introverted sons often instinctually find activities to do with their boys. There may be a connection in playing golf, hiking, playing catch, washing cars, working on engines, or building something together. These activities, and others like them, may be done mostly in silence, with a sentence or two of disclosure every so often. This is an optimal environment for an introverted adolescent boy to share with a parent.

Many mothers feel uncomfortable doing mostly nonverbal activities. Many women see having a conversation as an activity in and of itself. Many boys/men do not think this way, especially introverts.

If you are a highly extroverted mother with an introverted son, respect that there are differences and they are normal. Don’t take these differences personally.

Try texting, messaging, or leaving notes. In an extroverted world, perhaps this may seem cold and distant, but to an introverted adolescent it may seem respectful and less intrusive. When an introverted boy feels respected, he may be more likely to respond and self-disclose.

If you are worried about your son having depression or anxiety, ask about these feelings in short sentences or in writing. Ask for a one-numeral rating of what they may be feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. This may get you further than a full-on inquisition.

If you are genuinely concerned about acting-out behavior or a possible mental health issue, as with all adolescents it is imperative to monitor social media and computer activity. Trusting means trusting yourself as a parent to remember that teenagers’ brains aren’t yet fully developed. Trusting a teen to objectively evaluate situations is like trusting a toddler to not put dangerous items in their mouths. Adolescence is a difficult time of life. Don’t take adolescents’ personalities or their mistakes personally. Verify the things that are important for you to know. Don’t rely on a teen’s self-report or your ability to nag the truth out of them. Check with teachers, coaches, digital records, and social media.

Be conscientious and alert without being shaming or threatening. Your teen is doing the best they can—and so are you. Be kind to both of you.

Jasmine was making dinner when Scott returned. She turned off the stove and gave her son a hug.

“A walk later?” she asked.

Scott shrugged. “Sure, whatever.”

It was a start. And she knew it.

References:

  1. Males and females differ in specific brain structures. (2014, February 11). Retrieved fromhttps://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140211094201.htm
  2. Olsen Laney, M. (2002). The introvert advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company.

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  • 5 comments
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  • Joely

    July 17th, 2017 at 10:41 AM

    Life can indeed get pretty tricky when you are one type of parent and your child has a completely different type of personality than you do. The things that you think that should be so easy for him, because they are for you, are not easy at all and this can lead to a bit of butting up against one another to say the least. It is important as parents to know what things make our kids comfortable and situations that do not. Although I think that it can be good to expose them to a lot of different things, up to a certain point it is also important to respect their boundaries and help them keep inside their comfort zone if or when it is appropriate.

  • katey

    July 17th, 2017 at 2:00 PM

    how much easier life would actually be if we could all be allowed to be who we really are and not someone that another person wants us to be

  • Sandy

    July 17th, 2017 at 9:55 PM

    Very insightful article. Something to think abut.

  • Laurel

    July 18th, 2017 at 11:25 AM

    How much easier i things would be if they would just talk to us!

  • Corenna

    July 19th, 2017 at 11:04 AM

    Much of the time it is just a teenager being a teenager. Don’t you remember being like that, being a sour puss and not wanting to have anything to do with anyone in your family? I mean, I am older and i still remember just wanting to hide out in my room and have nothing to do with anyone until it was dinner time. I just think that this is how many teens are and they will eventually come back around.

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