In the Whirled: Socializing our kids to death

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 7:05 p.m. MDT

Group projects. Group think. Team sports. Socialization.

We live in a day and age when working with others has never been more valued. We send kids to school at younger and younger ages so they can properly socialize. We encourage involvement in activities, lots of activities, for the same reason.

As parents, we assume this is best. Everyone loves the extrovert, the guy who knows everybody’s name. Who doesn’t love a team player? Who doesn’t love the person who works well with others? Who can argue the value of collaboration?

Susan Cain can, and she does so quite convincingly in her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” (Broadway Books, $16). A book like “Quiet” comes as a balm for the run-of-the-mill introvert like myself, but it also serves up some thought-provoking insights into parenting, schooling and how we set our kids up for hyper socialization.

Think, for instance, of the modern-day classroom. When I was a kid, everyone sat at their individual desk and did their individual work. All that has changed. We’ve chucked out the desks in favor of tables where a cluster of kids can sit together, sharing workspace and often work supplies. Most projects are done in teams. Kids are encouraged to work in teams to solve problems and discover creative solutions.

While this type of learning can provide valuable lessons, we assume this is the optimal way for kids to learn. However, as Cain points out in her book, “collaboration often kills creativity.” In a group, the outspoken, opinionated-type usually take control, leaving behind the measured, thoughtful contribution of the introvert. Working with others can spark good ideas, but study after study shows that real creativity happens in solitude. Cain references everything from the creation of the first Apple computer to Newton’s law of motion, all of which happened in solitude. The best musicians in the world don’t practice more than the average player. They simply spend more hours practicing alone. The same goes for athletes, even those who play team sports.

This can be uncomfortable news. We’ve been schooled into thinking that a group is always better. Who wants to work alone? Who wants to be alone? No one likes to see a child wandering the playground by himself. Or spending too much time in her room, playing with dolls. This is the era of people, people everywhere. I carry my friends in my back pocket, ready to contact at a moment’s notice. Solitude is sin.

And yet, for roughly one-third of the population, solitude is just what they need. It’s not something that can be worked out of their system, like poison, or diluted, like orange juice. The solitude is where they gain energy, regroup and produce their best work.

For instance, I’m writing this article in my favorite place, the Quiet Room at the public library. This is my happy place. It is clean, quiet, free from interruption, and absolutely silent. A few hours of writing in the Quiet Room, and I emerge like Superwoman, ready to face my kids (and their homework), the music lessons, my church responsibilities and the din of everyday life.

As parents, we need to be aware of our introverted children because they can’t always articulate these needs for themselves. While we need to teach them social skills and encourage friendships, we also need to understand where they thrive. It may not be in a class of 30 children who are constantly encouraged to work in large groups. It may not be on a basketball or football team.

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