Social anxiety is finally becoming a more understood disorder.
In the past, it was treated with less than stellar seriousness in both the professional and non-professional world. Often mistaken for shyness or even antisocial qualities, we now see that this is a very real phobia that can have a painful impact on the sufferer’s life.
Teenagers and Social Pressure
Teenagers are one group that is especially prone to social anxiety. The myriad of social stigmas associated with adolescence and growing to adulthood are hard enough. But then you add in the need to perform well in school, the competitiveness of modern academics and college applications, the dynamics of their peer groups, changing bodies, still forming minds, problems at home and a host of other factors. Is it any wonder depression and anxiety are such a serious problem for teenagers?
Genetics may be a contributing element at play, as well. A study by the Institute of Human Genetics at the University of Bonn found that a serotonin transporter called SLC6A4 could have a significant impact on the chances a person will suffer from social anxiety. If you have social anxiety, there is a chance your kid could end up with it as well.
Then there is technology. The world moves a mile a minute, and every second of every day seems to be recorded for posterity. Every young person is under a constant microscope. We all remember the days when we did stupid, reckless things in our youth. But we were fortunate enough not to have it go viral to be forever documented online.
Pressure to stay connected and on social media at all times, added to the threat of negative response, cyberbullying and perception of reality caused by social media may be ramping up that anxiety that teens feel.
Teaching Teens to Cope with Social Anxiety
Social anxiety causes stress. When that stress is mild, it can be a positive force, pushing someone to perform better, act with more care and operate outside of their comfort zone. But when social phobia is present, that stress will reach higher levels, eventually becoming toxic.
So, how do we help teach our teens to cope with that toxic stress level? By attacking it from two angles: for the phobia and for the stress itself.
- Expose Them More, Not Less – Your teen’s natural inclination is going to be to withdraw. But you should be encouraging them to interact more with their peers. That could be done in a safe place, or during an activity they enjoy. It is just important that they don’t shy away from social situations.
- Teach Them Breathing Techniques – When they are interacting, they might find themselves panicking at first. Remember that social anxiety is a real condition and it often has a physical impact. Teach your child to breathe through the belly, taking deep breaths through the nose so their stomach rounds, holding it for three seconds, then releasing it slowly.
- Let Them Take a Break – If they are overwhelmed, and mindful breathing is having no effect, let them step away. Sometimes they will need a break to collect themselves and quiet their anxiety. You also might try setting a time goal for social situations, such as one hour at an event, then letting them go home.
- Listen and Assure – Your teen might not feel like you understand them and their feelings. Encourage them to open up about how they feel. Be supportive and build trust. Really hear what they have to say.
- Seek Professional Help – Sometimes coping strategies just aren’t enough. If your child seems to be getting worse or they are seeing serious negative consequences, seek professional help. Therapy and medication may be necessary to overcome their social anxiety.
By doing these things, you can give your children the tools to manage their social anxiety and go into adulthood strong and confident.
Medina, Joanna, PhD, ‘Social Anxiety Disorder Symptoms’, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/disorders/anxiety/social-anxiety-disorder-symptoms/
Forstner, Andreas J. et. al. ‘Further evidence for genetic variation at the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4contributing toward anxiety,’ Psychiatric Genetics, https://insights.ovid.com/crossref?an=00041444-201706000-00003
Rowe, Jasmina, ‘How Kids Experience Stress’, KidsMatter, https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/health-and-community/enewsletter/how-kids-experience-stress
Wood, Janice, ‘Pressure For Social Media 24/7 Linked to Teen Anxiety and Depression’, PsychCentral, https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/09/12/pressure-to-be-on-social-media-247-linked-to-teen-anxiety-and-depression/92145.html
Liahona Academy, ‘Standing Up For Teen Anxiety’, https://www.liahonaacademy.com/standing-up-for-teen-anxiety-infographic.html