This article will serve as a comprehensive guide offering effective coping strategies and support mechanisms to aid teenagers in managing and overcoming social anxiety.
Social anxiety is a normal feeling that everyone experiences from time to time. Giving a presentation, walking into a party where you don’t know anyone, or asking for help in a public setting can cause fear of being judged by others. It’s no surprise, then, that teenagers struggle with social anxiety just as much, if not more, than adults.
According to the NIH, over 9% of teenagers have a social anxiety disorder, and of those, 1.3% have severe impairment because of their disorder.
And this refers only to qualifying social anxiety disorders, not just high levels of social anxiety.
Without help or treatment, social anxiety can cause diminished enjoyment, increased risks of secondary mental health disorders like depression, academic impairment, and an overall reduced well-being for teenagers.
How to Help a Teenager with Social Anxiety
Factors that contribute to social anxiety in teenagers can include:
- Social isolation
- Peer pressure
- Family strain
- Financial issues
- Extracurricular activities
- Technology in school
Common signs and symptoms of anxiety look different for every teen but can include:
- Not wanting to leave home
- Lots of negative thoughts are often manifested by phrases like “I’m too fat” or “No one likes me.”
- Headaches or stomach aches when they don’t want to go to school or a place that causes anxiety
- Shallow breathing
- Tense muscles
Learning how to help social anxiety in teenager situations is important, but equally important is early recognition and professional intervention where necessary. Given that there are several factors that can contribute to social anxiety and teenagers, it’s important that you learn the best ways to go about helping teenagers with social anxiety as well as some coping strategies that you can employ at home.
Ways to approach your teenager about their social anxiety
Figuring out how to help a teenager with social anxiety can be nerve-racking. You want to approach the situation carefully but also make sure your child knows they are loved, but of course, instinctively fix any false beliefs. This combination can make it hard to know where to start.
Initiating a supportive conversation
The best place to start is by initiating a supportive conversation. You can tell your team that you’ve noticed some changes in their behavior lately and ask if they want to talk about it, or you can even identify what you believe to be the source and say something such as, “ I know you have a big exam coming up. When I was your age, I used to get really anxious before an exam. How are you holding up?”
Listening without judgment
When you help teenager with social anxiety, what matters most is listening without judgment. It’s important to validate the feelings your teenager is having so they understand that there is no shame in feeling anxiety or that there is a need to hide their anxiety.
Validating their feelings
You can validate their feelings by accepting them.
When your teenager tells you that they don’t like how they look and they’re anxious about it, your instinct might be to immediately tell them that they are wrong and that they are beautiful, but instead say something to the effect of “I can tell that you’re feeling a little self-conscious about your looks. I don’t feel the same way about how you look.”
By first acknowledging how they are feeling, you validate their emotions and let them know that they have been heard. Otherwise, you risk an argument, which can cause your teenager to close up and avoid communicating their feelings of anxiety moving forward.
Encouraging open communication
When you learn how to help social anxiety in teenager situations, you will naturally begin to encourage more open communication through things like listening without judgment and validating feelings.
It’s best that you continue encouraging open communication by letting them know that you appreciate the fact that they shared how they felt and that they are welcome to do so anytime.
When to consider professional help
There are cases where you might listen to your teenager, and you might learn how to help teenager with social anxiety, but you don’t see improvement with the coping mechanisms you are using, or symptoms get worse.
In some cases, you might want to consider professional therapy. What’s the role of therapy? Professional therapy can provide an avenue for seeking treatment, especially for legitimate social anxiety disorders. Severe cases of social anxiety might be mental health disorders for which your teenager needs medication and therapy.
Types of therapy for social anxiety
Helping teenagers with social anxiety might be something you have to do as a family. There are several types of therapy for social anxiety, but the most common is cognitive behavioral therapy. If your child uses cognitive behavioral therapy, it can offer insight into customized coping skills that might be more effectively deployed by the family as a whole.
Coping strategies for managing social anxiety
There are several ways you can support your teenager with their social anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral techniques are things that you can start implementing in your home even if your child hasn’t participated in cognitive behavioral therapy.
These start with challenging negative thoughts. For example, if your teenager is struggling with anxiety because they believe nobody likes them or they aren’t good enough, you can help them discern between fact and fiction and recognize the falseness of those negative beliefs beginning with the fact that you, as a parent, love them and think they are good enough.
With social anxiety, you can help cope by gradually exposing your teenager to social situations as well.
Relaxation and stress-reduction techniques
It’s important to develop relaxation techniques and stress reduction techniques ahead of time so that these can be practiced at the moment when social anxiety strikes. These can include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, and meditation, as well as visualization of a peaceful place.
Social skills training
At home, you can work on social skills training by doing role-playing exercises where you might sit down with your teenager and have them act out their worst-case scenarios, and then they’re more realistic outcomes for a given social situation or use things like assertiveness training.
The role of creating a supportive home environment
A supportive home environment is particularly important when teenagers are struggling with school and social anxiety. There will always be challenges, but a supportive home environment can encourage teenagers to learn how to overcome them.
Long-term management of social anxiety can rely on techniques like developing a growth mindset, preparing for future challenges such as job interviews or college, and maintaining effective coping strategies.
Anxiety looks different for everyone, and that means the strategies and coping techniques you employ might work fine for one child but not for another. Thankfully, there are several options available. If coping mechanisms and support at home aren’t enough, it might be time to consider professional help.
The best way to figure out how to help a teenager with social anxiety is to encourage a collaborative and supportive approach, not just with the whole family but with other individuals like teachers and therapists.