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How To Help A Teenager With Social Anxiety

Social anxiety is more than just your occasional shyness or self-consciousness. It is an anxiety disorder characterized by nervousness, fear, and embarrassment in social situations sometimes triggered by biological and environmental causes.

Social Anxiety develops anytime from childhood to adolescence and is common in the teenage years. Individuals living with this disorder experience excessive fear when they are around people, they worry other people will criticize them for how they look, eat, and act.

Signs of social anxiety include psychological and physical symptoms such as fear of public speaking and interactions with unfamiliar people, sweating, shaky hands and voice, racing heart.

Although Social Anxiety Disorder may begin in adolescence and teenage years and sometimes through a lifetime, it can be treated with a variety of cognitive-behavioral techniques.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety is an excessive fear of social situations due to fear of evaluation by others. This fear can cause distress that leads to discomfort and avoidance of situations. If you experience shyness, anxiousness, and withdrawal when faced with situations such as

  • Meeting new people?
  • Presentation in front of people?
  • Speaking to people in authority?
  • Being the centre of attention?
  • At parties or social gatherings?

Also, if you experience excess sweating, racing heart, nervous voice, and averted gaze in these situations, then it is most likely that you experience social anxiety. However, social anxiety can be confused with natural anxiety since frequent nervousness in anxiety-induced situations might occur from time to time, which is natural.

Social anxiety is one of the most reported anxiety disorders and may coexist with other disorders such as depression, anxiety, and substance use. It emerges during early adolescence and can continue throughout adulthood, although it has a higher prevalence rate in girls than boys and in teenage years.

Teenagers worry so much about rejection, fitting in and being self-conscious that it can be quite difficult to determine if they are experiencing social anxiety disorder or the usual growth bouts.

This disorder affects teenagers so much that it often goes unnoticed and lasts a lifetime, resulting in impacts on their work, relationship, educational, occupational aspects of life and eventually limit their overall functionality.

Related: How To Overcome Shyness and Social Anxiety

What Are The Signs Of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can be diagnosed by identifying the symptoms associated with the disorder. These can be emotional signs, psychological signs, or physical signs such as:

Heart palpitations

Faster heartbeats and racing hearts are not uncommon to this order. Sufferers experience an increase in heartbeats when in anxious situations.

Dry throat

Nervousness from what to say and feeling uncomfortable can lead to dry patches of the throat accompanied by gulping sounds.


Social anxiety can make you feel intense heat and cause facial redness from being agitated. Trembling, quivering, shaky voice, and averted gaze can also occur in SAD.

Other signs of Social Anxiety in teenagers include:

  • Talking in low tones
  • Difficulty making eye contact
  • Fear of interactions
  • Reluctantly taking part in social activities
  • Easily embarrassed without triggers
  • Mood swings
  • Avoiding social gatherings
  • Extremely self-conscious
  • Fear of speaking up
  • Social isolation
  • Appearing unnoticeable in social interactions
  • Difficulties meeting and socializing with new people
  • Intense worry about upcoming events such as presentations.
  • Intense anxiety or panic attacks in socially induced situations.
  • Depression
  • Discomfort in social events.

What Are The Causes Of Social Anxiety In Teenagers

Similar to other phobias, social phobia is your body’s reaction to situations that seem threatening, your body’s fight to flight mode is activated in dangerous circumstances. This activation leads to a rush of adrenaline and other hormones that prepare the body to fight in response to these situations.

These conditions might not be threatening since each individual’s concept of danger varies and depends on personal triggers such as upbringing, stress, work, experience, environment, family history. For teenagers anxiety is mostly caused by a combination of these three factors:

Life events

Your personal experience can also be responsible for how to react to similar conditions. Children who grow up in strict households with restrictions on expressing themselves and speaking up usually develop social anxiety and grow up to be timid and shy, they feel the past will repeat itself hence they experience social anxiety symptoms.

Traumatic experiences such as violence and abuse can also result in SAD.


Children learn behaviors from their environment and the people around them. They watch, mimic, and eventually adapt to these learned behaviors. Shy children who have been overprotected grow up with the same temperaments or with SAD in worse cases. Sometimes, children also develop these temperaments from watching and learning how their parents respond to interactions.

A child who constantly sees his or her parents distressed from social interactions will cultivate the same habit with the mindset of seeing these habits as a natural part of life.

Biological History

Humans develop in such a way that they inherit genes passed down from one generation to the other. Genes is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity inherited from each parent.

Therefore, you would see similarities between a child and the parent. These similarities may come as physical structure, emotional reactions, or behaviors. Parents with a shy temperament are likely to have children with a similar disposition. Not all children inherit the same genes from their parents but at least one or two are liable to develop the parent’s attitudes.

Other causes of social anxiety in teenagers are:

  • Bullying from friends or classmates
  • Unfortunate previous experience
  • Frequent negative criticism
  • Peer pressure

Effects Of Social Anxiety On Teenagers

Social anxiety can have a variety of effects on teenagers such that it affects their overall functionality.

Difficulty concentrating

Loss of focus and attention can arise from worrying and constantly being plagued with anxiety-induced thoughts. Most teenagers develop some attitudes from peer pressure and trying so hard to fit in, these behaviors can be aggravated in social anxiety disorder.

Substance Use

Social anxiety can cause drug and alcohol use by teenagers to help reduce or shut out their thoughts as a way of boosting confidence level. This has temporary effects of feeling good that are usually short-lived, leading to worse conditions such as depression, suicidal thoughts.


Loneliness and depression is also an effect of SAD. Being isolated without friends, family, people to relax and just be yourself can be quite tough and increase self-doubts and criticism.

Ways To Help Teenagers With Social Anxiety


Early intervention in adolescent anxiety disorder is crucial as it can develop into chronic anxiety and last a lifetime, affecting adulthood and functionality. Treatment for anxiety disorder includes medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.


Psychotherapy is a series of techniques that find the SAD triggers and combats them with safe, natural, and effective techniques. Support and encourage your teen to get the help they need, register them in support groups, rehab, and get a therapist.


These can only be prescribed by your doctor and are not advisable in all conditions. Seek your doctor’s advice for treatment options available.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT is the most common and effective treatment method. It focuses on identifying, exposing, and challenging negative thoughts and worries that aggravate anxiety.

Talk to them

Notice a strange behavior in your teen? Do they seem withdrawn? Constantly zone out and lose focus?

If you noticed one of these or other related weird attitudes in your teenager, you might need talk to them. Do not pressurize them but let them understand you are always there whenever they are ready to talk and do not be quick to anger or judge when they do not open up.

Constructive Criticism

Each person responds differently to feedback and rejection. Don’t be too harsh on your teen if things don’t work out, they are already very hurt and you saying negative words to them will only worsen their condition. Be nice and firm, build a good relationship with, but know when to draw the lines between doing the right thing and doing too much.

Learn about your teen’s disorder to help support them.

Try as much as possible to be calm around your teen, getting angry or having mood swings around them will only worsen their conditions.

Learn to have empathy, your teen is constantly battling emotional breakdown and does not need you to be judgemental or criticize them for their flaws.

Take a step back sometimes and let them work things out, overprotection will not help but make your teen dependent on you to rescue him or her in every situation.


Social anxiety is a disorder that mostly occurs from teenage years to adulthood, its age of onset is 13 years with a higher prevalence rate in girls than boys. This disorder may precede other disorders or co-occur with other disorders. Most times, when this disorder originates in teens, it is usually seen as a normal occurrence which leads to lifetime prevalence and impact on individual productivity. Combat disorders early to avoid it resulting in chronic conditions, offer support and encourage your teens while they recover.



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