6 Tips for Helping Teens Manage Social Anxiety

It is normal for teens to experience anxiety. But, do you know when it crosses the line to become something more? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

It is normal for teens to experience anxiety. But, do you know when it crosses the line to become something more? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

It is normal for teenagers to experience anxiety as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood.  From changing bodies to changing schools, teenagers can feel like everything in their world is in a constant state of fluctuation.  They worry about fitting in, making friends, getting good grades, being popular, and being accepted.  This kind of anxiety is normal and can be beneficial.  If a teenager is worried about making the basketball team, that anxiety can inspire them to practice more over the summer.  However, when the anxiety centers on social interactions or relationships it can impose unnecessary limitations on our teenager’s lives.  While some teenagers experience this kind of anxiety to such a degree that professional help is warranted, every teenager can benefit from parents who offer support and guidance to help manage these social anxieties.

Whether your teenager’s social anxiety is severe or not, here are some things you can do to provide a supportive environment.

1.     Know the Signs

In order to be helpful and supportive, parents need to be able recognize the signs of social anxiety.  After all, it is very difficult to help if you don’t know there is a problem.   Here are some of the most common signs:

  • Intense fear of social situations
  • Intense fear of having to perform in a social situation
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Experiencing significant distress when in social situations
  • Limited interaction with peers
  • Sits alone in social environments like the library, classroom, or cafeteria
  • Excessive concern about being embarrassed or humiliated
  • Difficulty speaking in public
  • Unwillingness to participate in class

2.     Know the Severity

While some social anxiety is normal for any teenager, this kind of anxiety can develop into a debilitating disorder.  If you feel that your teen’s social anxiety is significantly impacting their life and future, seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional to determine if additional support is needed.

3.     Work with the School

If your teenager is struggling with social anxiety, set up an appointment with their guidance counselor and/or teachers to discuss your concerns.  Since many of the social situations your teenager experiences happen during school hours, enlisting the support of their educators can make a significant difference in the outcome.

4.     Don’t Enable Avoidance

As parents, we hate to watch our children struggle but this can lead to unhelpful behavior on our part.  Don’t reinforce the anxiety by trying to help your teen out in uncomfortable social situations like ordering food in a restaurant or taking care of phone calls.  While it may seem like you are helping your child, you may actually be reinforcing the idea that they cannot handle the task.  Encourage your teen to participate rather than participating for them.

5.     Strategize

Help your teen brainstorm ways to handle situations that make them anxious.  Support them in developing their own solutions to the problems they are facing.

6.     Support Rather than Reassure

One of the ways teens seek to manage their social anxiety is to seek reassurance over and over again, especially from parents.  While it may feel like you are being supportive by reassuring your teen, you may actually be preventing them from developing the coping mechanisms they need to learn to manage their anxiety constructively.

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