Tweens, Teens and Social Anxiety Issues

Most teens get some anxiety about new situations and meeting new people. Some feel a heightened level of shyness when faced with these types of situations. Many wish they could stop worrying about what others think or not feel embarrassed in front of other people. For some teens and tweens, this anxiety can increase to a level that is so intense that it can often become debilitating. For teens who are faced with this type of anxiety, they could be suffering from social anxiety. The goal is to help your teen or tween gain more confidence in order to feel comfortable when faced with a situation that increases his shyness or social anxiety.

What exactly is social anxiety?

Social anxiety, sometimes called social phobia, is a condition characterized by excessive self-consciousness that goes beyond common shyness. Teens or tweens with social anxiety are so worried about being judged negatively by others that they are terrified of doing or saying anything that may cause humiliation.

Social anxiety is the most common anxiety disorder that affects teenagers and often affects the teen’s well-being and functioning. It can also lead to depression or to self-medication if it goes undetected or does not receive the appropriate treatment. It is very important to look for and be able to recognize the warning signs of a teen or tween who may be suffering from social anxiety.

What are some warning signs of social anxiety in your tween or teen?

  • An intense fear of social situations or situations in which performance is required
  • Avoids social situations or goes through them with an intense amount of stress
  • Fears situations such as unstructured interactions with peers, initiating conversations, performing in front of others, inviting others to get together, talking on the telephone, and eating in front of others
  • Engages in minimal interaction and conversation with peers
  • Appears isolated and is typically an outsider to her social group
  • May sit alone during lunch or in other situations with large groups of students, such as a study hall
  • May exhibit a heightened amount of shyness
  • May have concerns about negative judgment, humiliation, or embarrassment
  • May have difficulties with public speaking, reading aloud, being called on in class, or participating in gym class
  • May exhibit signs of a potential panic attack as a stressful situation approaches

How can you help your tween or teen if he suffers from social anxiety?

If you think that your tween or teen might be suffering from social anxiety, you can start by consulting with your child’s school counselor to let her know what is going on. If your child appears to need additional help outside of the school, it is important to note that adolescents often respond well to therapy, with the goal being behavior modification. A clinician can help your child improve his/her social and coping skills during the situations that tend to be anxiety provoking.

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques can also help to teach your tween or teen that they are in control of their anxiety and behaviors that they wish they could get rid of. Through therapy, your child can learn how to overcome his fears and work towards changing the thought patterns that are causing him high levels of anxiety.

Some hands-on tips for parents:

  • Learn about social anxiety. The more you understand about social anxiety, the better you will be at sympathizing with your child and truly understanding what she is going through.
  • Make sure to always try to listen to what your child is going through. By listening to his feelings, without judgment or advice, you will help to reduce the isolation that he may be experiencing. Through this, you could reduce the lower self-esteem and depression that sometimes comes from this isolation.
  • Try your best to remain calm when your child is upset about a situation that is bothering her. This will be excellent modeling for your child to work through her anxiety and stress.
  • Try to help your child remember a similar situation when he was able to survive in a positive manner.
  • Try to help your child gain more awareness of the events that may cause an increase in anxiety. By talking them through and creating a game plan prior to the event, your child might have an easier time with the transition through it. Through this, your child will also gain an increase in her ability to problem solve.
  • Try to help your child learn more relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, counting to ten, or visualizing a calm and peaceful experience. By learning how to relax, your child may develop an increased sense of control over her body.
  • Try to support the accomplishments of your child. Your child’s symptoms are more likely to decrease when he learns that he can survive the anxiety.
  • Try to support your child’s participation in activities, while also helping her get through the social fears that may come from trying new activities.
  • Most importantly, praise your child’s efforts to overcome his anxiety. Any step that your child takes – no matter how small – is worthy of praise.

Book Recommendations:
My Anxious Mind: A Teen’s Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D., and Katherine A. Martinez, Psy.D.

Freeing Your Child from Anxiety:  Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries, and Phobias by Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.

If Your Adolescent Has an Anxiety Disorder by Edna B. Foa, Ph.D., and Linda Wasmer Andrews

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Dr. Allison Johnson, PhD, LAC, of Dr. Johnson Counseling Services, LLC, is a therapist and educational psychologist who specializes in therapy for children, adolescents and adults in Bergen County.  She is a Licensed Associate Counselor, a certified school counselor, teacher and school administrator who focuses on helping adolescents and young adults with issues related to body image and self-esteem, relationships, anger management, coping and stress management, transition, and career development and exploration.  Additionally, she has a great deal of experience working with at-risk adolescents on an academic, personal, social and emotional level.  Dr. Johnson earned her doctoral degree from Fordham University.  You can contact her at the following:  Phone: (973) 769-6304, Email: [email protected] , Website:  

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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