Virtually every report card from my childhood said one thing, regardless of the teacher or subject matter: "Alison needs to talk more in class." The comment always appeared in the "negative" section of the reports. Sometimes, my grades dropped because of it.
I started off shy and remain shy, although less so than in childhood: I can speak up as needed in meetings, for example, and do a decent job with small talk in social situations. But the thought of getting up in front of people and making a speech still scares me a great deal. Big social gatherings exhaust me. I don't have a huge group of friends, just a small number of close friends.
Now, as the parent of one shy son -- the second one is a major extrovert, go figure -- I am so happy to see that least some people are viewing introversion not as a character flaw but as something with positive attributes. Here is one such article from Time magazine, which also ran a cover story on the topic this week. I absolutely love the subtitle: "The forgotten rewards of sitting down and shutting up."
Why is there so much value placed on being bold and outspoken? Of course we need extroverts too; we need all types of people. It just stinks that so much attention goes to the people with the loudest voices, while the quiet ones are expected to change themselves to get the same attention. At least that's the message I got as a child.
Obviously there's a difference between a child who is so shy that it becomes a problem for his or her social and language development and a natural introvert who just gets tired out by noise and people after a while. And obviously introverts might need nudges to make their needs known, connect with people and, yes, even speak up a little in class.
But I think introverts also need to hear that they have qualities an extrovert might not have, because they're not naturally as likely to get praise as the attention-grabbers among us. Introverts tend to be better listeners, scientists say. They consider pros and cons more before making a decision, so they might take fewer dumb risks. They usually can focus better, which might lead to better grades at school and more creative ideas in the workplace. If they have fewer friends, they might be deeper friendships. I remember a few moments in school when I wanted to be the "super-popular" kid with a million friends, but now I wouldn't trade my handful of very close friends for that. No way.
I plan to point those positives out to my younger son, even as I encourage him to "get out there" too. I'll do the same for my extroverted son, whose boldness I truly admire.
It takes all kinds, right?