4 Ways to Support a Teen with Social Anxiety

Medically reviewed by: Shane Trujillo, EdM
Tuesday, April 25 2023

Your teenage years are supposed to be some of the most exciting years of your life. But for teens who struggle with social situations, it can feel like there’s nowhere to turn. 

Social anxiety can affect anyone, however teens are particularly at risk. With teen social media use on the rise, teen self-esteem is at an all time low. As parents, your child’s well-being is one of your main priorities, especially in the age of rapidly declining mental health in children, but how do you best support them?  

If your teen is struggling with social anxiety, there are ways that you can help. Learn about what social anxiety is, its symptoms and causes, and how you can support your teen’s mental health.  

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is experiencing fear, discomfort, and extreme self-consciousness in any social setting, making it difficult to make friends and even enjoy daily activities. 

Social anxiety is a common type of anxiety disorder, affecting roughly 7% of the US population. 

Left untreated, social anxiety can produce an intense fear of rejection, judgment, or evaluation by others in social situations or in anticipation of upcoming social situations. 

What are the symptoms of social anxiety in teens?

Symptoms of any mental health condition can vary from person to person, but there are several common signs that can help you identify social anxiety in your teen:  

Behavioral and emotional symptoms 

  • Severe anxiety when around new people
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Anger or irritability before social events 
  • Intense fear of judgment  
  • Anticipating the worst-case scenario in social situations 
  • Anxiousness when anticipating a future event 

Physical symptoms 

  • Nausea 
  • Dizziness or feeling faint 
  • Blushing or skin-flushing 
  • Trembling 
  • Trouble speaking 
  • Sweating 
  • Rapid heartbeat

What are the causes and risk factors of social anxiety in teens? 

While the exact cause is unknown, a variety of factors contribute to a teen’s likelihood of experiencing social anxiety. Here are a few: 

Family history 

While it’s undetermined whether the link is genetic or learned, anxiety disorders tend to run in the family. This means someone is more likely to develop social anxiety disorder if their parents or siblings share the condition. 

Environment and negative experiences

Social anxiety can be a learned behavior, meaning it may develop as a result of having an unfavorable experience in a social setting, or even from living with others who model anxious behaviors.  

Teens who have experienced bullying, intense ridicule, humiliation, or rejection are particularly at risk of experiencing social anxiety. 

Brain structure

Those with an overactive amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for processing fear,  may experience higher levels of anxiety in social situations due to their heightened fear response.  

4 ways to support your teen with social anxiety 

1. Get educated 

Learning is a powerful tool. Take some time to seek out information on social anxiety, its symptoms, risk factors, and how it may impact the lives of those experiencing it. This will allow you to better understand what your teen might be going through and can help you to determine when it’s time to get help. 

2. Listen and support

Never underestimate the power of active listening. Taking time to listen to your teen and understand their experience with social anxiety can make a major difference. 

This doesn’t mean you have to offer any advice right away — just letting them know that they have someone in their corner willing to listen may push them to work through their mental health condition in the future.  

3. Offer self-soothing techniques 

Social anxiety can produce a number of emotional and physical reactions. One way you can support your teen is to teach them calming techniques so they can self-soothe when they start to feel anxious in social situations. 

Techniques like heart-focused breathing or the 5,4,3,2,1 method can be used as self soothing techniques to quell anxiety. 

4. Encourage therapy 

One of the best ways to support your teen is to encourage them to pursue talk therapy. Talk therapy is a common form of treatment for anxiety disorders and can help your teen understand the root cause of their social anxiety, discover new coping skills, and learn and practice new social skills.  

Supporting you and your teen’s mental health 

Knowing when to get help is crucial. With the right support, your teen can lead a life that isn’t controlled by social anxiety. 

Supporting a loved one with a mental health condition can be emotionally taxing, and if you are not taking care of yourself, you can’t put your best foot forward to help them. Practice self-care to help you prioritize your own mental health. 

If you or your teen need mental health support, SonderMind can connect you with a licensed mental health professional. 

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