We love sorting people into categories—identifying similarities and differences in an effort to understand each other. From an early age, I was deemed an “extravert”… as opposed to an “introvert.” As an adult, I began to explore these terms and discovered how helpful they were in explaining the behaviors of others as well as myself.
While some may resist being labeled, the knowledge of the two has proved invaluable in my experience as a friend, parent and minister. Knowing your own preference and that of your teens can make a significant impact in your ability to communicate, disciple and relate effectively.
In broad, simplistic strokes, extraverts get energy from the outer world. They enjoy meeting people, talking about a variety of topics and having new experiences. They share thoughts and feelings freely and are generally eager to connect and communicate. Extraverts multiply their energy by engaging people and exploring their surroundings.
Introverts get energy from the inner world. They enjoy deeper relationships with fewer people, share information sparingly and prefer time alone to large social gatherings. They are likely to keep ideas and emotions to themselves and have a deep need for solitude. Introverts multiply their energy by being alone and retreating into their own thoughts and reflections.
A healthy awareness of these basic personality differences empowers parents, ministers and mentors of teens to be more intentional when planning events and setting schedules. From family vacations to mission trips, there is value in creating itineraries that include space for activity AND rest, for experience AND reflection, for large group interaction AND one-on-one conversation. We want to enable both types to succeed by accommodating their basic needs while also pushing them beyond what is comfortable.
After a week-long trip with a large group, one introverted student shared with me that it was the first time she had ever felt energized after six long days of work, worship and being surrounded by people. When I asked her what made the difference, she quickly identified the scheduled times for journaling, reflection and quiet. The “down time” allowed her to gather her thoughts and recharge for the next day’s activities.
Intrigued, I sought out the most extraverted student in the group and inquired about his experience. He raved about the interaction with the people in the community and the opportunties to be active in vibrant urban ministries. He also confessed that he had been resistant to the time set aside for journaling, reflection and quiet, but ultimately found it incredibly helpful in giving meaning to all of his experiences each day.
As I plan events for youth and college students, I see the direct benefit of incorporating a variety of opportunities for individuals to interact AND retreat. Without consideration for both, we risk leaving our teens depleted and disengaged. Introverts need sufficient time to process information and recharge from social demands. Extraverts need activity and opportunities for verbal exchange. On the flip side, when introverts are not pushed to share their ideas, to take risks and have new experiences, then they become stagnant. Likewise, extraverts should be pushed to be quiet themselves and reflect on their experiences so they do not risk becoming superficial. By taking both personalities into account, you will help all of your students meet God in both familiar and unfamiliar places.
April Robinson graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Samford University and a Master of Theological Studies from Duke University. She is a qualified administrator of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and has been a campus minister for 11 years. She is a mother of three daughters and wife of one wonderful husband.