The power of introverted young people

You can help ensure the introverts in your 4-H club are heard.

Twelve year-old Logan sits at the table with her peers at a 4-H club meeting, listening to the group struggle to choose a project. “We should do experiments with wind energy,” says one boy enthusiastically, eliciting nods of agreement from about half the young people in the room. Others mention activity books on the topic, the possibility of organizing a competition and how it might relate to a science fair at school.

Not everyone seems convinced, though.

“I think we should plan a community-service project,” suggests a girl on the opposite side of the table. “We haven’t done one since the school supply drive last summer.” The boy sitting next to her agrees and says he really enjoyed giving school supplies to kids at the elementary school. Someone else suggests they help first graders learn to read. Within minutes, the group has separated into a three-way debate, with some advocating for science experiments, some in support of the service project idea, and a smaller group focusing on a literacy project. An adult volunteer is about to step in and call for a vote when Logan speaks up.

Logan hasn’t offered an opinion in the debate thus far, but has been listening carefully to all the suggestions and jotting a few notes. In a quiet voice she asks, “What if we put everyone’s ideas together into one project? Maybe we could do the experiments together and then show our wind turbines to the first graders. If we find some books about wind energy, we could read with the younger kids, too. Wouldn’t that be a service project, since we’d be helping someone?”

Within seconds, the most introverted person in the room nudged the group to consensus.

Logan’s story is just one example of the contribution that young people who prefer introversion can make. Their preference to think before they talk often gives them the advantage of seeing connections, choosing their words carefully and making an impact when they share ideas. As Susan Cain, author of The New York Times bestseller Quiet urges, “Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.” In fact, it can’t be.

Human beings are hard-wired to prefer to draw energy from interactions with others (extraversion) or focus on the energy within themselves (introversion). By supporting the natural preferences of young people, we can help them contribute their unique gifts to the world.

How can you apply this perspective to working with 4-H groups? Is it possible to lead a 4-H club in a way that meets the needs of introverts and extraverts equally? Absolutely. All it takes is a bit of intentional planning to make sure introverts have time to think, extraverts have opportunities to express themselves and everyone feels comfortable being themselves. For some practical suggestions, take a look at Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms, a new book by youth leadership experts Susan Ragsdale and Ann Saylor. You’ll find a chapter that highlights specific actions you can take to support the needs of all the young people in your club.

This is Part 1 in a Michigan State University Extension series on personality preferences and youth development. For more, see:

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