To the untrained eye, social anxiety can hide behind the symptoms of common shyness. The two mental states often manifest in similar ways, making it necessary to carefully analyze the signs of their presence. If you’re concerned that your child is struggling with a social problem, you may be looking carefully already. It’s a standard part of parenting to wonder whether some of your child’s behaviors are normal.
The important social skills that prepare a person for life’s many challenges begin to form in childhood. When a child or adolescent suffers from social anxiety, they don’t develop appropriate social behaviors they’ll need to succeed in adulthood. Growing accustomed to that anxiety can lead to a life of avoidance. Social anxiety can have a widespread negative impact on your self-perception, education, career, and relationships. If left unrated, social anxiety may also lead to serious conditions like depression or substance abuse. Understanding the difference between the two is imperative to helping your child succeed.
The Differences Between Social Anxiety and Shyness
A person struggling with social anxiety may find their problems written off by others as a simple case of intense shyness. As a result, they may not seek professional help, not realizing the severity of their condition. Although symptoms usually begin to appear in childhood, only about 50% of adults with social anxiety ever seek treatment; even then, the condition can hide in plain sight for decades before being noticed. Social anxiety disorder has the potential to intensely impair your child’s ability to function and hinder them in numerous ways.
In general, shyness is closer to a personality trait than a condition. While a shy person may not like being in the spotlight or having all eyes on them during a conversation, that preference won’t necessarily cause them significant or ongoing distress. Standard feelings of shyness or worry may fade away as your teen moves into the situation that causes them. By contrast, the symptoms of a social anxiety disorder may tend to get worse as the source of anxiety gets closer.
Although they may seem similar in appearance, the pitfalls of social anxiety have little to do with shyness. Social anxiety is more than just feeling nervous before speaking in front of a crowd. A person who battles with social anxiety might obsess over situations or interactions weeks or even months before they occur. It’s not uncommon to lose sleep as a result of prolonged anxiety. Your teen may have symptoms like shortness of breath, racing heart, sweating, or shaking. Social anxiety may cause your teen to experience a high level of avoidance that can make them lose focus at school and work or even struggle to leave the house.
Options for Treating Social Anxiety
One widely-used and effective treatment for social anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT. This entails changing the way a person processes their thoughts and deals with negative emotions like stress. CBT exercises are designed to train you to identify challenging situations and manage how you react to them. For example, it’s common for people who suffer from social anxiety to respond to stress with avoidance. CBT can help your child find other ways to cope with the stress so they can function at a regulated emotion more consistently.
Some studies suggest that roughly 85% of social anxiety patients who use CBT see a significant improvement. Unfortunately, part of the difficulty in treating social anxiety is that the condition makes it harder for a person to seek treatment. People who battle this condition may avoid treatment due to anxieties over having to sit in waiting rooms and talk about deep-rooted fears. Others still avoid getting help due to misdiagnosis or fear of acknowledging the problem. For these reasons, having access to a support group in a safe space can make a significant difference in the process of overcoming social anxiety.
Providing a Strong Support System
Childhood and adolescence lay the groundwork for our success in adulthood. Whether your teen is suffering from a social anxiety disorder or is simply shy, they need the right amount of support to flourish. As their parent, you are in the unique position to support your teen by helping them learn to handle their anxiety and providing them with unconditional love and encouragement.
This support can (and should) also come from anyone who cares for your teen, like family, friends, teachers, and counselors. Your child may benefit from participating in extracurricular activities like sports teams, karate, dance, or chess. Any pursuit that encourages them to interact with others at an early age can help acclimate them to being around groups of people and allow them to learn to solve problems on their own as they grow.
Whether your teen suffers from social anxiety or is consistently shy, they need support from the people who care about them. Adolescence lays the foundation for stability and success in adulthood; if you think you might see signs of social anxiety in your child, don’t hesitate to make sure that they get the help they need. Don’t ignore or dismiss symptoms of a social disorder, even if you don’t personally consider them to be severe. Keep yourself informed on what your teen may be going through, and reach out to a trusted professional to discuss options like support groups and cognitive behavioral therapy. While it’s never easy to come to the terms with the idea of your child having any kind of disorder, your goal is to help as much as possible, as soon as possible. HealthyU offers a plethora of effective treatment options for children and adults. Reach out to us at (619) 542-9542 to learn how we can help.