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My Introverted Teen Is Desperate to Be Popular 

 

I know this is going to sound like a nonproblem at first, but there is a deeper issue that troubles me. Our 16-year-old son is an amazing kid: intelligent, hardworking, and athletic. He is a straight-A student who juggles multiple AP classes with a demanding sports schedule. He is one of the top three students in his class and is also being recruited by college coaches for his sport. But ever since he was in elementary school, we’ve had the same experience at the end-of-year awards ceremonies: He’ll occasionally get recognized for the “objective” awards, like honor roll or scoring the highest on foreign-language tests, but he has never won a single “subjective” award, the ones selected by teachers/coaches or voted on by his peers. When he was little, we would console him by saying “Don’t worry, just keep working hard and maybe you’ll get one next year!”

But after several years of that, we changed our message, instead emphasizing that hard work is its own reward, and that we are proud of him for his diligence and work ethic. I suspect one of the reasons he gets so little recognition is his personality: He is extremely quiet, introverted, and serious. He has a handful of close friends but gets along with everybody; his school tends to be a bit “clique-ish,” but he is one of the few students who has good friends among both the “smart kids” and the athletes.

I’m not concerned about the awards themselves or about him impressing anyone else. Now that he’s older, he tends to brush it off as no big deal. But I just watched him sit through yet another awards ceremony with a forced smile on his face and tears in his eyes as every one of his friends at the table got a special award from one of the teachers or coaches. He sometimes comments about feeling “invisible” because he doesn’t have the charm and charisma of some of his peers. We’ve tried telling him that sometimes teachers like to reward students for their effort since the students who excel in class already get the reward of good grades. But this doesn’t feel right either, especially after seeing him come home exhausted from a three-hour sports practice and then stay up till 1 a.m. studying.

After 10-plus years of this, I can’t help worrying that maybe we should be giving him different advice—instead of preaching self-acceptance, perhaps we should be telling him to adjust his personality, so he is a bit more likable? He is headed to college soon, so maybe I should do nothing and let him figure it out himself?

—Mom of the Invisible Man

My Introverted Teen Is Desperate to Be Popular

Tags: Advice, Children, Etiquette, Exclusivity, Mental Health, Modernization, Parental Burden, Parental Crime, Perception, Performance, Privilege, Protest, Unruly Child, Weird

Filed under: Health/Food

06-Jun-2021


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