How to Parent Teens With Social Anxiety

7 Tips for Teens with Social Anxiety

How to Parent Teens With Social Anxiety

For teens with social anxiety, the high school years can feel particularly challenging.

Trying to cope with expectations, changing bodies, and meet their school demands places a lot of pressure on students. Fortunately, there are ways to fight social anxiety and enjoy being a teenager.

Successfully managing social anxiety doesn’t happen overnight. The first step is being willing to do something about it and not just accept it as reality.

Once your teen has made the commitment to overcome their social anxiety, these 7 tips to help them get there.

1. Remember You’re Not Alone

It’s easy for teens with social anxiety to feel they are suffering by themselves. But the reality is there are a lot of people who have similar fears.

Feelings of anxiety are normal. It’s a natural response to fear and discomfort embedded in our DNA for as long as we’ve been here. In fact, more than half of Ontario’s youth has admitted to missing school because of anxiety disorder. And while there are many different reasons triggering this epidemic, struggling teens can take some comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.

The next time they encounter a tough social situation and feel those familiar anxieties creeping in, remind your teen that those feelings are natural and common. Other teens with social anxiety have conquered their fears, and they can too.

2. Practice Breathing Exercises

Stressful situations can affect breathing which, in turn, adds more stress and triggers a chain reaction of physical problems. Anxiety can lead to dizziness, lightheadedness, feeling disoriented, and even fainting. In fact, your teen’s social discomfort can easily become a medical issue.

For teens with social anxiety, it’s important to face fears head-on or there’s a strong risk of becoming adults with social anxiety.

Simple breathing exercises will help your child stay calm and reduce the anxiety they’re feeling at the moment. When stress creeps in, that’s the moment to pause, breathe, and get centered.

Encourage your teen to close her eyes and slowly take a deep breath. Count to 10 on the exhale and visualize all the tension evaporating with the breath.

Techniques mindfulness meditation benefit those who prefer a guided meditation. In a few minutes, they’ll feel calmer and ready to handle whatever situation they’re facing.

3. Face Your Fears Head On

Avoiding a difficult situation isn’t always the best solution. Sometimes it’s not even an option at all.

Desensitization is a tactic many cognitive therapists have used with strong results. Teens with social anxiety learn coping tools by being exposed to difficult, triggering situations. Through repetition, with patience, the impact these triggers have can be greatly reduced.

Facing your fears head-on doesn’t mean that they go away completely. But it gives you a way to fight them and the confidence in knowing that you survived them before and can do it again.

4. Fight Negative Self-Talk

Help your teenager learn to check their interior monologue. The more they tell themselves that they aren’t good in social situations, the truer it will be.

There is a lot of power in the words we speak. And for teens with social anxiety, it can be natural to recall past experiences through a negative lens.

But there are documented medical benefits to positive thinking. People who regularly engage in being optimistic have lower stress and depression levels, healthier hearts, and longer lifespans.

Dwelling on the negative could literally be making people sick. If you want to help reduce social anxiety, it will take practice and diligence.

Be your teen’s biggest cheerleader. They may not be able to resist the urge to beat themselves up over something that didn’t quite work out. But you can champion them and help them develop an alternate self-image through positive reinforcement.

5. Encourage Your Teen to Find a Support Group

Being surrounded by allies and supporters will lower your teen’s social anxiety as much as possible. If the voices that have the greatest influence on you are supportive, you will be better equipped to drown out the negative ones that arise.

Be aware of who your child’s friends are. Encourage them to hang out with people who reinforce the positive things they about themselves.

Help fight against non-supportive tendencies within their group and keep an eye out for if and when your teen is really struggling with feelings of isolation.

If they need someone to talk to who can listen without judgment, consider making an appointment with a therapist. They’ll be able to help them process their feelings in a safe space and give them tools to cope with anxiety.

A therapist can also help you support your teen better by providing you with a welcoming environment to share your own frustrations and fears.

Click here to learn more about our group for teens with social anxiety.

6. Embrace Discomfort

When you’re suffering from social anxiety, stepping into a new situation can feel staring into the deep end of a pool. The temptation is to tiptoe into it and run back at the first sign of discomfort.

Sometimes it’s better to just jump right in. After the initial shock wears off, the water feels refreshing and your fear of being too cold is no longer relevant.

Your teen won’t be able to avoid every triggering situation, and there will be some initial discomfort. However, embracing it can help them recover quickly and realize that most of it was self-created.

Help your child get used to being uncomfortable and not being able to control everything around you. It’s important they learn to go with the flow. Know that you can’t protect them from every uncomfortable situation, but you can help them embrace it.

7. Practice Makes Perfect

The more often you expose yourself to a situation, the more routine it will become. Though your teen’s instinct may be to avoid social stress at all costs, resisting the urge to flee will make them stronger and better equipped for future stress.

Practicing their response to your triggers can help them feel more comfortable in the moment. Help your teen think through all the possible triggering scenarios they might face and formulate a game plan that ends in success.

It will build their tolerance to anxiety, much a vaccine.

With practice, they’ll begin to realize that the worst of their fears are largely impractical and, even when things don’t go perfectly, it’s not the end of the world.

Hope for Teens with Social Anxiety

No one has to be a slave to social anxiety. Your teen can enjoy life to the fullest and connect with others if they practice these tips and give themselves permission to grow.

We’re here to support you however we can. From helpful tips on our blog to our well-trained team of caring therapists, our goal is to be there when you need us.

Read how our child psychologists team can help your child’s anxiety.

Book An Appointment

If you are interested in therapy for social anxiety in Vaughan, Thornhill, Markham, or the GTA, please call 905.597.4404 or fill out the form below and you will be contacted within 24 business hours.


Social Phobia

How to Parent Teens With Social Anxiety

It's natural to feel self-conscious, nervous, or shy in front of others at times. Most people get through these moments when they need to. But for some, the anxiety that goes with feeling shy or self-conscious can be extreme.

When people feel so self-conscious and anxious that it prevents them from speaking up or socializing most of the time, it's probably more than shyness. It may be an anxiety condition called social phobia (also called social anxiety).

What Happens When Someone Has Social Phobia?

Extreme feelings of shyness and self-consciousness build into a powerful fear. As a result, a person feels uncomfortable participating in everyday social situations.

People with social phobia can usually interact easily with family and a few close friends. But meeting new people, talking in a group, or speaking in public can cause their extreme shyness to kick in.

With social phobia, a person's extreme shyness, self-consciousness, and fears of embarrassment get in the way of life. Instead of enjoying social activities, people with social phobia might dread them — and avoid some of them altogether.

What Causes Social Phobia?

other phobias, social phobia is a fear reaction to something that isn't actually dangerous — although the body and mind react as if the danger is real.

This means that someone feels physical sensations of fear, a faster heartbeat and breathing. These are part of the body's fightflight response.

They're caused by a rush of adrenaline and other chemicals that prepare the body to either fight or make a quick getaway.

This biological mechanism kicks in when we feel afraid. It's a built-in nervous system response that alerts us to danger so we can protect ourselves.

With social phobia, this response gets activated too often, too strongly, and in situations where it's place.

Because the physical sensations that go with the response are real — and sometimes quite strong — the danger seems real too. So the person will react by freezing up, and will feel unable to interact.

As the body experiences these physical sensations, the mind goes through emotions feeling afraid or nervous.

People with social phobia tend to interpret these sensations and emotions in a way that leads them to avoid the situation («Uh-oh, my heart's pounding, this must be dangerous — I'd better not do it!»).

Someone else might interpret the same physical sensations of nervousness a different way («OK, that's just my heart beating fast. It's me getting nervous because it's almost my turn to speak. It happens every time.

No big deal.»).

What Fears Are Involved?

With social phobia, a person's fears and concerns are focused on their social performance — whether it's a major class presentation or small talk at the lockers.

People with social phobia tend to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about being noticed or judged by others.

They're more sensitive to fears that they'll be embarrassed, look foolish, make a mistake, or be criticized or laughed at. No one wants to go through these things.

But most people don't really spend much time worrying about it. The fear and anxiety are proportion to the situation.

How Can Social Phobia Affect Someone's Life?

With social phobia, thoughts and fears about what others think get exaggerated in someone's mind. The person starts to focus on the embarrassing things that could happen, instead of the good things. This makes a situation seem much worse than it is, and influences a person to avoid it.

Some of the ways social phobia can affect someone's life include:

  • Feeling lonely or disappointed over missed opportunities for friendship and fun. Social phobia might prevent someone from chatting with friends in the lunchroom, joining an after-school club, going to a party, or asking someone on a date.
  • Not getting the most school. Social phobia might keep a person from volunteering an answer in class, reading aloud, or giving a presentation. Someone with social phobia might feel too nervous to ask a question in class or go to a teacher for help.
  • Missing a chance to share their talents and learn new skills. Social phobia might prevent someone from auditioning for the school play, being in the talent show, trying out for a team, or joining in a service project. Social phobia not only prevents people from trying new things. It also prevents them from making the normal, everyday mistakes that help people improve their skills still further.

What Is Selective Mutism?

Some kids and teens are so extremely shy and so fearful about talking to others, that they don't speak at all to some people (such as a teacher or students they don't know) or in certain places ( at someone else's house). This form of social phobia is sometimes called selective mutism.

People with selective mutism can talk. They have completely normal conversations with the people they're comfortable with or in certain places. But other situations cause them such extreme anxiety that they may not be able to bring themselves to talk at all.

Some people might mistake their silence for a stuck-up attitude or rudeness. But with selective mutism and social phobia, silence stems from feeling uncomfortable and afraid, not from being uncooperative, disrespectful, or rude.

Why Do Some People Develop Social Phobia?

Kids, teens, and adults can have social phobia. Most of the time, it starts when a person is young. other anxiety-based problems, social phobia develops because of a combination of three factors:

  • A person's biological makeup. Social phobia could be partly due to the genes and temperament a person inherits. Inherited genetic traits from parents and other relatives can influence how the brain senses and regulates anxiety, shyness, nervousness, and stress reactions. wise, some people are born with a shy temperament and tend to be cautious and sensitive in new situations and prefer what's familiar. Most people who develop social phobia have always had a shy temperament. Not everyone with a shy temperament develops social phobia (in fact, most don't). It's the same with genes. But people who inherit these traits do have an increased chance of developing social phobia.
  • Behaviors learned from role models (especially parents). A person's naturally shy temperament can be influenced by what he or she learns from role models. If parents or others react by overprotecting a child who is shy, the child won't have a chance to get used to new situations and new people. Over time, shyness can build into social phobia. Shy parents might also unintentionally set an example by avoiding certain social interactions. A shy child who watches this learns that socializing is uncomfortable, distressing, and something to avoid. 
  • Life events and experiences. If people born with a cautious nature have stressful experiences, it can make them even more cautious and shy. Feeing pressured to interact in ways they don't feel ready for, being criticized or humiliated, or having other fears and worries can make it more ly for a shy or fearful person to develop social anxiety. People who constantly receive critical or disapproving reactions may grow to expect that others will judge them negatively. Being teased or bullied will make people who are already shy ly to retreat into their shells even more. They'll be scared of making a mistake or disappointing someone, and will be more sensitive to criticism.

The good news is that the effect of these negative experiences can be turned around with some focused slow-but-steady effort. Fear can be learned. And it can also be unlearned, too.

Dealing With Social Phobia

People with social phobia can learn to manage fear, develop confidence and coping skills, and stop avoiding things that make them anxious. But it's not always easy. Overcoming social phobia means getting up the courage it takes to go beyond what's comfortable, little by little.

Here's who can support and guide people in overcoming social phobia:

  • Therapists can help people recognize the physical sensations caused by fight–flight and teach them to interpret these sensations more accurately. Therapists can help people create a plan for facing social fears one by one, and help them build the skills and confidence to do it. This includes practicing new behaviors. Sometimes, but not always, medications that reduce anxiety are used as part of the treatment for social phobia.
  • Family or friends are especially important for people who are dealing with social phobia. The right support from a few key people can help those with social phobia gather the courage to go outside their comfort zone and try something new. Putdowns, lectures, criticisms, and demands to change don't help — and just make a person feel bad. Having social phobia isn't a person's fault and isn't something anyone chooses. Instead, friends and family can encourage people with social phobia to pick a small goal to aim for, remind them to go for it, and be there when they might feel discouraged. Good friends and family are there to celebrate each small success along the way.

Overcoming Social Phobia

Dealing with social phobia takes patience, courage to face fears and try new things, and the willingness to practice. It takes a commitment to go forward rather than back away when feeling shy.

Little by little, someone who decides to deal with extreme shyness can learn to be more comfortable. Each small step forward helps build enough confidence to take the next small step. As shyness and fears begin to melt, confidence and positive feelings build. Pretty soon, the person is thinking less about what might feel uncomfortable and more about what might be fun.



How to Parent Teens With Social Anxiety

If you are a parent of a shy adolescent, it is common to wonder whether your teenager’s timid behavior is negatively impacting their future.

A 2016 study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) found that about half of all teens in the United States describe themselves as shy.

Many parents worry whether shy behavior is limiting their child’s ability for normal development. They question whether and when to push their teenager into more social interactions.

Shyness is a personality trait that affects an adolescent’s temperament. A shy teen may be reluctant to enter some social situations or take longer to warm up to new friends. Most adolescents feel shy at least occasionally, but can eventually adjust and enjoy participating in social activities with their peers.

If the teenager’s shyness leads to avoiding new experiences, or limiting interactions with new people, it can lead to Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). The 2016 NIMH study found that around the age of 13, SAD emerges in approximately 12 percent of teenagers who identify as shy.

SAD can have a long-term negative impact on a child’s development.

If you have a shy teenager, these are some symptoms that may be early indicators of Social Anxiety Disorder:

Possible Symptoms of Social Anxiety-Behavioral and Emotional

  • Intense fear of situations where the teen may be judged by others
  • Feeling overwhelming anxiety when around unfamiliar people
  • Excessive fear of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions
  • Fear and avoidance of social situations
  • Extreme fear of being thought foolish by others, even with an understanding that the fear is unreasonable
  • Dread of social events that begins days or weeks in advance
  • Severe test anxiety
  • Irritability or anger before a social event
  • Hyper-sensitivity to criticism
  • Poor school performance

Possible Symptoms of Social Anxiety-Physical

  • Trembling or shaking when around others
  • Blushing, flushed skin
  • Difficulty speaking, shaky voice
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Feeling dizzy or faint

If your teenager exhibits the symptoms above and these symptoms are creating impairment in their functioning, there are several ways a parent can help improve the situation. Kashden, et al (2001) stress the benefits of early intervention when Social Anxiety Disorder is suspected. Teenage SAD sufferers can often create a way of life that alleviates their fears, often by using avoidance as their primary coping skill. This avoidance strategy can create a lost opportunity to establish healthy social skills that typically develop during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Long-term sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder are at greater risk of developing additional mood, behavioral, and substance abuse issues.

Parental Support Suggestions: Things to Try

  • Discuss the evolutionary origins of anxiety. Ask your teenager to do some research on the evolutionary development of anxiety. is one good internet resource for this topic.

    Talk through the “fight or flight” response that was once essential in keeping humans alive, but now can create unnecessary stress responses to fearful situations. Helping a teenager understand the reasons for physical changes during periods of stress can be beneficial in normalizing their responses.

  • Teach calming techniques.

    When anxiety does trigger physiological changes, one of the most noticeable responses is rapid breathing. Breathing quickly can lead to an imbalance in oxygen and carbon dioxide, which may lead to increased heart rate, muscle tension, and dizziness. This vicious cycle can be easily broken by using calming breath techniques.

    Work with your teen to find an effective calming exercise. Experiment together with different approaches to find the technique that is most effective in calming anxiety. The following website describes one popular approach. .

    Once your teenager believes in their ability to reduce the physiological symptoms, they will develop confidence in their ability to control anxiety.

  • Gather more information by talking with your teenager about their specific challenges.

    If you have identified the presence of Social Anxiety symptoms, talk with your teen to find out which social situations or interactions are the most challenging.

    Some helpful questions to ask are: “What is your most feared situation?” “Are you afraid of being embarrassed?” “Do you worry about what your classmates think of you?” “Do you hate talking in a large group?” Ask them to help you make a list of their most distressing situations. Use this list to set up specific strategies to alleviate their symptoms.

  • Adjust Expectations. Social anxiety and perfectionism commonly occur together. Fear of not meeting high personal expectations heavily contributes to anxiety. Talk with your teenager about how mistakes are part of the growth process.

    Ask them to share experiences that they label as “failures”, and help them see the benefits of not always succeeding immediately.

  • Problem Solving. Help your adolescent find ways to face fears, rather than avoid them. Ask them to describe a situation when they were reluctant to participate.

    Encourage them to brainstorm ideas that may make it easier the next time.

    Ask “What would happen if you did it this way?” “What would be the worst possible result?” “What’s the lihood that the worst possible result would happen?” “Would this make you feel better?” Help them work through their fears in advance and create a new plan for future anxiety-provoking situations.

  • Conquering negative thoughts.

    Adolescents with SAD often believe negative thoughts about themselves, others or the situation, without much evidence supporting those thoughts. Some common ideas are: “I know I will fail.” “They will see that I am really stupid.” “If I blush while I am talking, my social life is ruined.” “My teacher is in a bad mood, I must have failed yesterday’s exam.” Challenge your child to recognize that these thoughts are unrealistic and probably incorrect. Help them develop alternative explanations to these negative ideas. Practicing this activity together can help them create a more positive view of their world.

  • Model Social Behavior. Allowing your teenager to see you experience nervousness about a situation, and then see you confront that situation anyway, is one of your most powerful tools in helping them through their social challenges. Talk with them about your feelings before and after the situation and explain the changes that took place as your confronted your fears. Encourage them to take a similar risk.

Parent Support Suggestions: Things to Avoid

  • Criticizing. Criticizing your child’s beliefs or behaviors is counter-productive in helping them make changes. Always focus on positive progress.
  • Labeling as Shy.

    If a parent, teacher, or doctor labels an adolescent as “shy”, it can lead the teenager to believe making changes is not possible. Labeling can encourage them to continue unhealthy coping techniques, especially avoidance.

  • Blaming.

    Don’t blame yourself or your teenager for the social anxiety problems. There are many possible contributing factors that lead to the development of these symptoms. Focus on the future and practice techniques to make beneficial changes.

  • Accommodating Avoidance.

    Allowing your child to stay home from school or avoid all social events will reinforce their fears. Provide gentle support and guidance while encouraging participation.

Parental Support Suggestions: When to Seek Professional Help

If your teenager’s Social Anxiety symptoms are present for six months or more, and they are not changing after trying the above ideas, you may want to seek professional help.

A therapist with specialized training in Social Anxiety treatment that includes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can offer further support for parents who continue to be concerned with their teenager’s behavior.

Additionally, therapists who specialize in treating anxiety disorders in adolescents can work directly with your teen to develop a treatment plan to ease their symptoms and establish healthy social habits.

The National Social Anxiety Center is a national association of regional clinics with certified cognitive therapists specializing in social anxiety and anxiety-related problems. We have compassionate therapists who can help you to reduce social anxiety.

Currently, we have regional clinics in San Francisco, District of Columbia, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, New York City, Chicago, Newport Beach / Orange County, Houston / Sugar Land, St.

Louis, Phoenix, South Florida, Silicon Valley / San Jose, Dallas, Des Moines, San Diego, Baltimore, Louisville, Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Maryland / Northern Virginia, Long Beach, Staten Island, North Jersey, Brooklyn, and Santa Barbara.

Contact our national headquarters at (202) 656-8566 or visit our Regional Clinics contact page to find help in your local area.

 Sources:National Institute of Mental Health (2016). ANXIETY DISODERS., Todd & Herbert, James. (2001). Social Anxiety Disorder in Childhood and Adolescence: Current Status and Future Directions. Clinical child and family psychology review. 4. 37-61.

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