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Identifying Social Anxiety in Teens

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Social anxiety can be difficult to spot, particularly in teenagers. Aren’t they supposed to be awkward and uncomfortable? How can you really tell when these feelings transition into the problematic territory? While a professional diagnosis may be required to determine that your child has debilitating anxiety, the symptoms tend to speak for themselves. 

Anxiety can hold your child back, not only making it hard to find friends but also limiting their ability to participate in necessary activities like schoolHere’s how you can identify anxiety in your teen, and what steps you should take next. 

A discomfort around new people

Who isn’t uncomfortable around new people, right? With the socially anxious teen, however, that discomfort escalates to unique, and usually readily visible heights. A “socially adjusted,” response to meeting a new person may involve the stiff and uncomfortable small talk we all know and look forward to so well, while the socially anxious teen might display a different set of responses. 

  • A fidgety disposition
  • An unwillingness or inability to make eye contact
  • A distant affectation

Or, to that last point, where does your teen go at, say, a family party where they don’t know many people? If they remain quiet but sit in the thick of things, they may be shy, but not necessarily socially anxious. 

If, on the other hand, they seek physical distance from people they don’t know well and are unable to hold a conversation when they present themselves, there may be other issues in play. 

An inability to have a conversation

A pretty straightforward sign. If your teenager doesn’t know how to speak with peers or adults, it is often an indication that they are suffering from social anxiety. The conversation may become stilted, or uncomfortable for both parties. 

As with the last symptom, social avoidance may also indicate that communication issues are taking place. A socially anxious individual will generally pursue situations in which they can be left to themselves. 

Worrying about social events

A little bit of anxiety concerning social events is pretty normal. An average teen might walk into a party with a head full of anxiety. Do I look ok? Did I wear the right thing? Did I arrive too early, or too late? And so on. 

But, if they are socially adjusted, they will still walk in and acclimate to the room quickly. Not so for someone suffering from social anxiety. 

The socially anxious individual may worry for weeks about what most people would consider routine social interactions. Most likely, they will avoid them wherever possible. When social interactions can’t be avoided, they may experience loss of sleep and other indicators of emotional distress. 

These may even manifest in the form of physical symptoms, including stomach pain, headaches, and so on. 

Treating social anxiety

Social anxiety is considered a treatable condition. Everyone responds differently to a treatment. For some, it may be a matter of therapy. Others could require pharmaceutical intervention. If you feel that your teen is suffering from social anxiety, speak with a medical professional right away. 

Not only can social anxiety make necessary activities, like school, harder, but it also deprives your child of enjoyable opportunities and fulfilling life experiences. 

Through treatment, they can live a well-adjusted life, comfortable in the company of their peers.


Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.

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