Most of us feel a bit uneasy about new social situations. There is a certain degree of pressure everyone feels about performing in some way publicly. Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is more than common jitters. It is a medical condition that interferes with a person’s ability to participate in normal social interactions. The condition, which is a common anxiety problem among adults, also affects 13 percent of all 9 to 17 year olds.
What Does Teen Social Anxiety Disorder Stem From?
In teens, social anxiety disorder often stems from a low self-image. The teen has an extreme fear of doing or saying anything that may expose him or her to ridicule or to be rejected by others. In one sense, this is true for most teens, but the key word is “extreme.” The fear involved in normal social interactions is so intense for teens with social phobia that they either avoid situations or experience physiological responses.
Sometimes social phobia surfaces in childhood and keeps the child from developing strong social skills, which then makes it hard for the teen to enter into school activities and friendships. In fact, just entering the school building each day can be cause for anxiety. Any time the teen is faced with a social demand, anxiety ensues. This means that being placed in a study group, being asked to read aloud or even needing to ask for a piece of paper can be very trying for the teen.
While adults are usually aware of the fact that their social anxiety is inordinate, children and teens often do not. Kids may cry about being forced to participate in things like the school play or gym class. Teens, on the other hand, find ways to avoid social gatherings. They may say that their one (or two) friend(s) is all they need and they are not interested in having more.
Teens With Social Anxiety Disorder:
- Have severe worry over situations where they must interact socially or perform in some way
- Will go to great lengths to avoid social interactions and when they cannon, will endure them with great unease
- Worry about having to start or carry on a conversation, eating in front of others, being required to perform publicly in any way
- Seem to live on the fringe of the class and avoid as much conversation as possible
- Often sit by themselves
- Find it hard to concentrate on class directions or assignments because they are preoccupied with concern about being embarrassed
- Can have a panic attack just thinking about an upcoming social demand
How Therapy Can Help Teens With Social Anxiety Disorder
In some cases, the teen is so distressed by the social demands of school that they refuse to go. Often teens with social anxiety disorder also suffer with depression. They feel that they are broken and that it is their fault and that nothing can be done to repair the damage.
Although these teens may initially have trouble talking about their anxiety and fear, a trained therapist can help teens confront those deep feelings of failure and hopelessness. The therapist can offer the teen help in assessing the negative expectations, feelings and thinking patterns which take over in social settings. The teen is shown how positive thoughts and feelings can replace the negative ones and result in reduced anxiety.
What Parents Can Do To Help Their Socially Anxious Child
At home, it is important for parents to become educated about the disorder and be able to empathize with their teen. Moms and dads can listen to their teen talk about the struggle without offering any advice. Just listening shows the teen that he or she is worthwhile and that they can work through these painful things on their own with the new tools gained through therapy.
Problem solving is a skill that only improves with practice, so parents should remind their teen of every past success but should avoid giving constant reassurance to fearful teens. Instead, ask the teen for his or her plan to deal with a stressful situation. With therapy and a supportive home environment, teens can overcome the social phobia that was once so limiting.
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