Social Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, can be devastating to an adolescent or teenager. Social phobias can occur in response to speaking up in school, playing sports or meeting new people. Although symptoms can vary greatly, most children experience the classic anxiety responses of fight-or-flight syndrome: sweating, shaking and feeling dizzy. Parents and caregivers can help children learn coping skills to help mitigate anxiety, but in the case of diagnosed anxiety disorder, professional intervention offers the best chance for overcoming extreme fears and worry.
Performance-Based versus Interaction-Based Social Anxiety
Children typically suffer from one of two basic types of social anxiety, although some kids are plagued by both. The first type, performance-based anxiety, is characterized by a paralyzing fear of speaking in front of the class or asking/answering questions. It may also extend to walking into a crowded room, using the washroom, participation in sports, performing or even eating in front of others. Interaction-based anxiety can cause children to fear social events, dating, ordering a meal, talking on the phone, meeting new people or answering questions.
Social Phobia Symptoms and Side Effects
Children with social phobia feel as though others are always scrutinizing them. They fear being ridiculed and humiliated, so they may refuse to answer questions in school or speak when meeting a stranger. Symptomology differs based on the age of the child, however, common complaints include sweating, shallow breathing, shaking or an upset stomach. Younger children may act out, throw a tantrum or cling frantically to parents. Older kids may avoid social situations or express an unusually high level of negative thoughts or fears. They may sit on the sidelines, unwilling to join in sports or social activities. They may find excuses to miss school or have unexplained absences, known as school refusal. In cases of school refusal, your child may develop symptoms in the morning before school that disappear quickly once she is allowed to stay home. Many teens with social anxiety turn to drugs and alcohol in an attempt to overcome their fears, making substance abuse and addiction common comorbid conditions.
Helping Your Child Cope with Social Anxiety
Most people, including children and teens, suffer from social anxiety from time to time. When it becomes extreme, however, to the point that it begins to negatively affect their lives, a medical professional may diagnose this disorder. At home, parents can help kids understand that anxiety is normal and teach them some important coping skills. Deep, regulating breathing and progressive muscle relaxation are both helpful for relaxing the body. For adolescents and teens, talking through negative thoughts and fears can be helpful as well. If your child is unwilling to talk about her fears, suggest that she write down her thoughts in a journal. Because social anxiety disorder is a complex condition with roots in both environmental and genetic sources, professional intervention is often the best alternative. For obvious reasons, medication should be considered the last line of defense for children under the age of 18.
For adolescent and teenage girls, Havenwood Academy offers residential treatment interventions designed to help young women recover from all types of anxiety disorders. By combining experiential therapy techniques with a variety of traditional treatment modalities, Havenwood can help your daughter or other young woman in your care overcome the debilitating effects of social anxiety disorder.