Social anxiety or social phobia are terms that describe an individual’s intense feelings of self-consciousness or fear of embarrassment triggered by social settings.
We all worry sometimes about what other people think of us, and teenagers and children are no different. This is why we might get nervous before a party or social event; it is part of the human condition for most of us. But social anxiety goes well beyond this healthy rush of adrenaline—it is a diagnosable anxiety disorder that can leave sufferers with a constant, paralyzing fear that they may do something to humiliate themselves in public.
Social anxiety is common amongst teenagers, perhaps due to the changes that are happening in their brains which cause them to become more socially aware and sensitive. Children and teenagers with social anxiety may refuse to take part in activities, become socially withdrawn or even refuse to attend school, which can lead to depression.
“Childhood and adolescence is the core risk phase for the development of symptoms and syndromes of anxiety that may range from transient mild symptoms to full-blown anxiety disorders.” Beesdo, K., et al (2009)
When working with children and teenagers with social anxiety, I draw on a variety of practices from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with psychodynamics as the root of my treatment. Helping them gain insight into their interpersonal struggles and avoidance behaviours prepares them to build up the strength to confront their fears at a safe pace. When the child is ready to take the next step, I introduce gradual exposure therapy, which helps him or her gently face and overcome their fears.
During these sessions, I share anxiety management techniques with the individual but also with the parents to ensure that the learning can be extended beyond therapy sessions and be employed in the child’s daily life.