Social Anxiety In Teens: Everything You Need To Know
By Dr Stephanie Ooi
As a parent, you’ve probably heard of social anxiety in teens.
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) affects nearly 5% of teenagers and children.
Those diagnosed may experience extreme fear of social situations or performing due to being overly worried about being judged negatively or rejected.
While most of us worry about being judged harshly by our peers or rejected even as adults, social anxiety in teens can have a huge impact on their ability to make friends and do well at school.
What is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety can be hard to identify, as sometimes it can come across as being shy or an introvert, which is not in itself a problem.
If your child is experiencing some of the following symptoms and you are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing, we would recommend you seek the advice of your GP, school counsellor or a specialist.
Your child may be experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder, or Social Phobia if they show one or more of the following warning signs for more than six months:
- Avoiding social situations and interactions
- Continuous negative thoughts
- Fear of being judged or embarrassed
- Isolating from groups, people, family
- Fear of going to school/college/university
What is the difference between Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder have similar physical symptoms, however, may be caused or triggered by different things.
Teens experiencing both general and social anxiety will experience a constant anxiousness which is often disproportionate to the threat.
With Generalised Anxiety disorder which is more common in adults, this may look like overthinking or worrying about major and minor life problems. Their focus tends to be on relationships rather than fear of judgment like in social anxiety disorder.
What causes Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety is normally caused by a combination of environmental factors and genetic predisposition. While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly why your child has social anxiety, it is something your child can overcome.
Some negative experience such as bullying can increase the chances to develop social anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders.
What are the complications of Social Anxiety Disorder?
Social Anxiety, if untreated can have a negative impact on your child’s mental health and can lead to more severe mental health issues such as depression, ADHD and bipolar disorder.
It may also lead to them feeling, isolated from family and friends and possibly underachieving in school.
The diagnosis and treatment options
If you are concerned your child’s mental health is not improving with school and family efforts, we would recommend seeking help from your GP or Specialist to get a diagnosis.
Often, teens suffering from Social Anxiety can also have other simultaneous disorders such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder and ADHD.
However, do not let a diagnosis frighten you, it is the first step in getting the right support to help your child needs.
In these situations, it’s best to seek help from a Specialist who, if needed will turn to the right treatment and sometimes medications to support your child into growing out of Social Anxiety.
1. Cognitive Behavioural therapy
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be one of the best ways to treat Social Anxiety and help your child overcome the fear of social situations and performance.
CBT is used to treat other common mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
It is a type of therapy based on the fact that the way we feel, the way we think and the way we act are linked with each other.
The therapist will start to work on teaching your child how to replace certain negative thoughts with more positive ones and how to respond emotionally to challenging situations.
This kind of therapy can certainly give your child the right tools for them to overcome Social Anxiety and the underlying fear of judgment.
2. Social Skills Training
SST or Social Skills Training can be used by your child’s therapist to improve their social skills. Your child may be asked what social situations they find more stressful and why.
The therapist will then gradually introduce many different social skills to your child to make it easier for them to socialise in different social occasions.
Social skills training has been proved to be very effective and a lot of people took great benefit from it.
How to prevent social anxiety disorder
As a parent, you may see a few warning signs that social anxiety is something your child is beginning to struggle with or it might be something you are concerned about for the future.
While there is no foolproof way to stop your child from developing social anxiety, there are a few things you can do to help minimise the risk of social anxiety.
- Start teaching them social skills early
- Encourage them to join in with other children in activities
- Plan activities to help them build their confidence in social settings and performing or presenting
- Provide reassurance and encouragement where needed
How to help your child if they are bullied
I would recommend offering them support and listening to how they feel.
Remaining calm, encouraging them and offering positive reinforcement will help to increase their self-confidence and help them feel more comfortable being open with you.
Your child may feel more comfortable opening up to their peers, but let them know you are there for them if they need to talk.
Encourage them to take part in extra-curricular activities that might increase their self-confidence, help them overcome their anxiety and build social skills.
Talking to the school can help you address the issue and to help find ways to support your child in the best way possible.
How to help your child with social anxiety
- Speak positively with your child about Social Anxiety will make them feel stronger and reassured.
- Try to avoid criticizing your child if they are experiencing social anxiety to harshly, try to encourage your child to challenge themselves gradually.
- Try to encourage your child to join social situations and start new, extra school activities. Allowing them to avoid social situations can make the issue worse.
- Be open to therapy and medication and allow your child or teen to see a specialist if needed
How can the school help to support your child with social anxiety?
While there is a lot of things you can do at home, your child’s school can offer additional support too.
There are different ways teachers can help improve your child’s mental health:
- Your child’s teachers and school counsellor might help you to keep track of your child’s mental health improvements by scheduling regular meetings with you.
- They might use group assignments in class and pairing students for activities so that your child will not be feeling isolated and will be included in group work with their classmates
- It is important that your child’s teachers and counsellors will encourage them to stand up for themselves, rather than speaking for them. Your child needs to know they can rely on themselves and by doing so they will increase their confidence and performance skills.
What strategies have you found helpful in dealing with social anxiety in teens?
Dr Stephanie Ooi is a general practitioner at MyHealthcare Clinic, perhaps better known as @the_gp_mum on Instagram. Dr Stephanie Ooi regularly contributes to a number of publications offering help and advice on general health issues, paediatric care and life as an allergy mum.