Parenting An Extrovert In An Introvert-Centric World
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I think it's fair to say that we are in a loud moment. Our politicians are loud. Our music is loud. Our movie blockbusters are loud. Still, introverts are having a moment. Books have been written and TED Talks have been given about the virtues of quiet, sensitive people. So the question is, has that newfound appreciation left the extroverts out in the cold? Mark Oppenheimer thinks so. He's a father of five, and he recently wrote a piece for The Washington Post about his 5-year-old daughter Anna titled, "How To Raise An Extroverted Child In A World That Loves Introverts." In it, he describes his concerns about an exuberance that knows few boundaries in a world that lets say doesn't always appreciate that.
Well, it's been kind of sad around here with the government shutdown. And, also, I thought this would be a good time to call up Mark and Anna and hear more about extroverts. And they are with us now from their home in New Haven, Conn. Mark, Anna, welcome. Thank you both so much for talking to us.
MARK OPPENHEIMER: Thank you.
ANNA: Thank you.
MARTIN: Anna, can I start with you since you are the star of the piece?
MARTIN: Tell me about yourself. What do you like to do?
ANNA: I like to read Harry Potter so I can become a genius.
MARTIN: Oh, yeah. That's good, yeah. Anything else? I hear you like parties.
ANNA: Well, I like to do magic so I can go to Hogwarts when I'm 11.
MARTIN: Oh, OK. That sounds good. OK. Well, Mark Oppenheimer, thank you for letting us talk to Anna and visit her and brighten up our day.
OPPENHEIMER: She would have it no other way. She doesn't say no to invitations.
MARTIN: When did you notice that your daughter is very outgoing? You mentioned that some of the other kids in the family, your wife, not so much.
OPPENHEIMER: Right. So she's the fourth of our five children. And, you know, these categories are, obviously, kind of invented, right? No one human is everything. But our third daughter, who's now 8, is definitely a lot like my wife, which is to say she doesn't like big parties and doesn't like big crowds and gets easily overwhelmed. And Anna, who came three years after her, was exactly the opposite from a very young age. She just would always rush to crowds, greets people with hugs, loves parties. And it was obvious from the moment she had a personality that this was the personality she had.
MARTIN: Well, give an example if you would.
OPPENHEIMER: Oh, sure. For one thing, there's - she doesn't like to leave the classroom until she's hugged a certain number of people in her kindergarten class (laughter). That's pretty typical of her. There was not long ago a party that she was invited to, and we were going to suggest that she skip the party because the child was someone whom she wasn't terribly fond of. They didn't have a great connection. And she said, but I want to go to the party. And we said, well, you don't even like so-and-so that much. And she said, well, that's true, but I love parties.
OPPENHEIMER: So that's - her attitude on life is that it doesn't really matter whose party it is. It's a party.
MARTIN: She's very self-aware. It seems like that. Anna, you like people a lot, right?
MARTIN: Yeah. How come do you think that? Why do you think you like people so much?
ANNA: Because, well, I only like certain people. I only like people that are nice to me.
MARTIN: Really? Well...
MARTIN: ...Because your dad was telling a story once about how you walked up to people. And you try to say hi to them, and they don't say hi back.
ANNA: Well, I probably would tap them on the shoulder. If they just didn't like that and still didn't answer, I'd probably just walk away and ask my dad if they would help me get them. And if that person still didn't like it, I just, well, go away because they probably didn't want to be bothered.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Why do you think it is that some people don't want to be friends? Or what do you think that is? Are some people shy, and you're just not shy? What do you think that is?
ANNA: Not shy person, I would probably say. But I would not say that I just ran into crowds giving people hugs. I would not say that. I would probably say - I would probably go to crowds, yeah. Maybe that's true. I'd probably wouldn't say that I hug people a lot.
ANNA: And I'd probably say that I just talk to people a lot.
MARTIN: Exactly. Mark, your piece is very funny, and I understood what you're saying about how, you know, we're in a moment where there's sort of a something in this argument that there's something better about introverts but you have, also, a deeper point about the message you think society is sending to girls who are extroverts. Could you talk a little bit about that?
OPPENHEIMER: Yeah. I mean it's very hard to read some of the pro-introvert literature (laughter) without getting the sense that what's being exalted is a certain kind of quiet and reserve and what is often referred to - especially with girls - as poise. And that seems like code for don't be too exuberant. Don't put yourself out there too much. Don't be too loud. Don't be too in your face.
And so the flip side of that is, what if you're a girl coming up in the world who likes being loud and exuberant and in people's faces? I think there's lots of wonderful ways people can be. But we're in a moment where you're reading a lot of books. I mean, the airport bookstores are filled with business guides saying, hire the person who is really quiet. And that has its own kind of prejudice that - you know, that I think does have a cost.
MARTIN: What have you come to about Anna? Like, what advice are you giving her about how to manage that?
OPPENHEIMER: Yeah, I want her to be her. And I think the world is going to, you know, have to deal, you know? I'll give you an example. About three summers ago, she walked up to an older woman on the playground and just introduced herself and said hi and started chatting. And the woman turned to me with this kind of spiteful look and said, you have to teach her not to talk to strangers. And I thought, well, I actually think it's great to talk to strangers.
I think we need to talk to people we don't know more. And we need to walk up to people more often and break down barriers and get to know them. And so I would, in a million years, not counsel her not to talk to strangers. I think people need to do more of that. I think she's kind of a role model for me.
MARTIN: Well, that's a very good thought there. So let's say - I want to say goodbye to Anna. Anna, do you have any thoughts for people who are maybe not as bold as you are about talking to people that they don't already know? Do you have any advice for people who are shy?
ANNA: Well, I think I already know a person that doesn't like talking to people as much as me. Megan (ph), right. That's her name, Megan.
OPPENHEIMER: And what's your advice for her? Like, would you be able to teach her how to talk to people better?
ANNA: Well, I don't think I could do that. People can't change their opinions. She's shy. I can't change that she's shy. I think if I could change her, I probably wouldn't. People don't change the way they act...
MARTIN: Well, that's a very good point (laughter).
ANNA: ...That she's shy. And I don't think she should change it.
MARTIN: Well, thank you. That's Mark Oppenheimer. And his daughter, Anna, joined us from their home in New Haven, Conn. Mark Oppenheimer wrote a piece called "How To Raise An Extroverted Child In A World That Loves Introverts." He wrote that for The Washington Post, and he also hosts a podcast on Jewish identity called Unorthodox. They joined us from New Haven. Mark Oppenheimer, Anna, thank you both so much for talking to us.
OPPENHEIMER: You're welcome.
ANNA: You're welcome.
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