Shyness is a personality trait that affects the temperament of many children and can sometimes lead to the development of social anxiety in later years. Shy children often have a difficult time making new friends or coping with social interactions. While certain social activities may be difficult, shy children are eventually able to warm up to the situation and enjoy interacting with their peers. As a parent of a shy teenager, you may be concerned that their shyness may have a negative impact on their future. If you begin to notice your child avoiding social situations or limiting interactions with people, they may have Social Anxiety Disorder.
What Is Social Anxiety?
Social Anxiety Disorder is a common anxiety disorder that causes a person to feel anxiety or fear during social situations. Teenagers with social anxiety often find themselves feeling uncomfortable during situations such as dating, answering questions in class, or meeting new people. Doing regular activities such as eating or drinking in front of others can also cause feelings of fear or unease.
Teenagers with social anxiety are often afraid that they will be embarrassed, rejected, or judged by the people around them. This fear is so strong that a teenager with social anxiety feels that they are unable to control it.
Social anxiety causes an intense fear of embarrassment or humiliation in front of others, and causes people to expect the worst in every social situation. Teenagers with social anxiety will often refrain from asking or answering questions in class or giving presentations for fear of speaking in front of others.
Social anxiety can cause teenagers to feel intense feelings of anxiety both during the social situation and beforehand while preparing for it. They also tend to dwell on mistakes made in past social interactions for fear of repeating them. During the social event they may feel intense fear and an extreme desire to flee. They will avoid being the center of attention and fear interacting with strangers, as they often worry that others will notice how anxious they are. This can make it extremely difficult for teenagers to make new friends or succeed in school.
Social anxiety in children doesn’t just affect behavior and emotions; it also presents itself physically. Social anxiety causes a person’s fight-or-flight response to be activated when faced with social interaction. The fight-or-flight response is the body’s way of responding to threats, whether they are real or perceived. When this happens, the part of the brain known as the amygdala activates a physiological response to get the person out of the perceived danger.
Social anxiety in teenagers may present itself physically by causing blushing or flushed skin. They might find themselves with an upset stomach or difficulty breathing when faced with social interactions. They might also find that their mind goes blank when speaking to people. While these physical symptoms are not dangerous, they can cause extreme distress.
How to Tell if Your Teen Is Suffering From Social Anxiety
As a parent, you hope your child grows up feeling confident and comfortable in their own skin, and can thrive in many aspects of their lives including socially. Unfortunately, many teenagers develop social anxiety and find it difficult to function in certain social situations. Recognizing and keeping track of all the symptoms of social anxiety your teenager exhibits is the first step in getting them the proper help they need. These symptoms include:
- Intense fear of social situations
- Anxiety around unfamiliar people
- Excessive clinging to familiar people
- Fear of being embarrassed by their own actions
- Avoiding social interactions
- Dread over events planned in advance
- Poor school performance
- Fear of taking tests
- Inability to handle criticism well
- Flushed skin
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Hard time speaking
- Feelings of dizziness or faintness
- Shaky voice
Social anxiety manifests itself differently in every person. Some teenagers may experience all of these symptoms, while others only exhibit a few of them. If your child demonstrates any combination of these symptoms and finds it difficult to function because of them, they likely have social anxiety, and will need help to manage their symptoms.
How to Help Your Child With Social Anxiety
Social anxiety in teenagers can make it difficult for them to function in normal social settings. It can be difficult to watch your child struggle, but there are multiple options to help them manage their symptoms.
- Discuss and understand your child’s issues. Talk with your child to get a deep understanding of what they are truly experiencing and feeling. Explain anxiety to them and why they may be feeling it. Offer a safe space for children to talk openly with you about the anxiety and fear they may be experiencing.
- Teach and practice relaxation strategies. Relaxation techniques are used to slow rapid breathing, reduce heart rate, and lower blood pressure. This brings the body to a relaxed state instead of the stressed, anxious state it was currently in. There are many types of relaxation techniques to try, including breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, autogenic training, and guided imagery. Work with your child to find the relaxation techniques that seem to help. You can find more information on several relaxation techniques and how to use them by visiting the NIH website.
- Teach cognitive reframing: Cognitive reframing is a technique that involves acknowledging and changing the way certain ideas, experiences, emotions, and situations are observed. Cognitive reframing can be beneficial for social anxiety by challenging certain thoughts or feelings associated with social situations.
- Teach problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills teach your teenager to identify the source of the problem and figure out an effective solution. You first want to identify the thoughts and feelings associated with social situations and then make a decision on how to face these problems. Together, you can come up with an action plan to better face these social interactions.
- Model social behavior: It’s important to be aware of the way you interact with other people when your child is watching. If you are overprotective of a shy child, your child won’t be able to get used to new people and situations, which can lead to social anxiety. Parents who have shy temperaments may accidentally set an example by avoiding certain social events. A child may see this and think that social settings are uncomfortable and should be avoided. Modeling good social behavior can help your child understand the ways to interact socially and help them overcome their social anxiety.
- Work on friendship skills: Social anxiety can make it difficult for some teens to make friends because they are unsure how to feel safe in social situations. Help your child learn friendship skills. Encourage your teen to join clubs or groups that involve their interests.
- Seek professional help: Seeking professional help is an important way to help your child overcome or work through their social anxiety. Having a proper social anxiety diagnosis can give teachers and other leaders a better idea on how to help your child. Professionals can also provide your child more tools to help them handle social situations, and can put forward other suggestions to help your child.
Living with social anxiety can often be debilitating for teenagers, but you can help. Expressing to your child that you support them and are willing to help them manage their symptoms will be beneficial in their healing. Visit our website to find additional tips and resources to support your child living with social anxiety or any other mental health issues they may be experiencing.