teen social anxiety

Recognizing Social Anxiety in Teens

How to Know If My Teenager Has Social Anxiety

Does your teen struggle when put in social situations? Maybe you’ve noticed them staying on the edges when in large groups or really clamming up when meeting new people. You might be afraid they don’t have any friends, or that they don’t seem to know how to make eye contact when they talk to people. It could be that they seem to interact with people fine on a day-to-day basis, but then they panic every time they have to do something in front of a crowd.

Seeing your child struggle with social anxiety can be really difficult. Regardless of whether you also have a hard time with meeting people or you’re a social butterfly, you don’t want to see your child struggle to make friends and connect with others. Every parent wants to know that their child feels like they belong and have people around who care about them.

If your child suffers from a social anxiety disorder or SAD, they are not alone. In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, research from 2001-’04 showed 9.1% of teens suffered from SAD in the U.S. The social isolation that has become normal over the last couple of years has made socializing even more difficult, especially for young people.

At Bricolage Behavioral Health, we know that the kids in the Dallas/Fort Worth area have lots to look forward to and lots to offer our community. It is important to us that they have the tools they need to prosper.

What Is Social Anxiety?

SAD is an unreasonable fear of social situations. It often varies as to how severe it is. For some teens, it may be that they feel uncomfortable when interacting with strangers but are able to fight it most of the time. For others, SAD may be so overwhelming that they feel like they are in immediate danger every time they try to talk.

Depending on how severe their SAD is, some teens may be able to fight through their anxiety and make friends. For others, SAD can be extremely crippling, especially for teenagers who often struggle to feel like they belong even when they are not suffering from social anxiety. Being comfortable in their skin and finding their place in the world is already something many teenagers have trouble with, and SAD can make that feeling of not belonging even more difficult to overcome.

Sometimes social anxiety, like most mental illnesses, looks different for different people. Even if you or someone you know has SAD, the experience might be different for your child. Just because some people, maybe even people you know, have been able to overcome or grow out of SAD without treatment doesn’t mean you should ignore your child’s symptoms. Most mental illnesses do not disappear when left untreated. Instead, they often get worse and follow a child into adulthood.

What Causes Social Anxiety in Teens?

As with many mental illnesses, the causes of SAD are complex. They are typically considered to be a combination of genetics (traits passed down from generation to generation); and brain, environmental, and societal factors. As parents, it’s easy to often feel responsible for everything that happens to your child, good and bad. It is important to remember that your child’s mental illness is not your fault.

A few possible common causes of SAD include:

  • An imbalance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain) like norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine
  • A genetic makeup that leads to anxiety
  • Increased blood flow to the amygdala, a part of the limbic system in the brain that controls fear
  • Cultural practices or shifts regarding social interactions
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) involving bullying or other bad social experiences
  • Isolation in childhood that prevented a teen from socializing normally as a child
  • An overly critical or withholding caregiver or adult in one’s life from an early age
  • Witnessing adults or family members with SAD from an early age

Some people have one or more of these causes working in combination with each other. For some teens, it may be more difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of SAD, but it can be worked on through treatment. Depending on the causes of your child’s social anxiety, they may need behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

What Are Signs My Teen Has Social Anxiety?

SAD looks different for different people, and especially for teenagers. Some teens may come across as very timid and frightened, whereas others may respond to their anxious feelings by lashing out or being angry. Many teens get most of their socialization at school, especially if they are suffering from SAD and don’t make an effort to see peers outside of school. It can be difficult to know how your teen is acting at school because you can’t observe them directly.

If you are worried about how your child acts at school, it is important that you talk to them about it. If you’re afraid your child is struggling to tell you how much difficulty they are having, it may be appropriate to talk with an administrator or other professional who sees your child during the school day.

Some signs that your child may be suffering from SAD include:

  • Does poorly in school
  • Won’t raise their hand in class
  • Is afraid to ask their teachers for help
  • Won’t speak up in class
  • Sits alone at lunch or during other free time
  • Avoids classmates outside of class
  • May refuse to go to school or try to drop out
  • Avoids or worries obsessively about public speaking, like presentations for school
  • Won’t start conversations with others
  • Doesn’t talk about themself or their interests during conversations
  • Fears or avoids walking into classrooms (or other spaces) late or when others have already arrived

What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety in Teens?

Many of the basic symptoms of social anxiety are the same in people regardless of their age. But some symptoms are rather unique to teenagers and the emotional ups and downs of adolescents and high school all at a time when your child is still trying to determine where they fit in the world. They may have shown many of these symptoms earlier in life as well or done other things that indicated they were afraid of people beyond just being a shy kid.

Here are a few of the symptoms a teen with SAD might have:

  • Doesn’t make eye contact
  • Has few or no friends
  • Mumbles or speaks very quietly
  • Stutters when trying to speak
  • Is afraid of phone calls
  • Is afraid of asking people to spend time with them
  • Is very passive
  • Is very quiet
  • Extreme fear of embarrassment
  • Worried about negative evaluations beyond what is normal
  • Stays on the fringes during group activities instead of inserting themselves in the group

Your teenager may also have some physical symptoms, including:

  • Blushes during social interactions
  • Having tense muscles
  • Defensive body language like crossing arms and legs
  • Keeps their head down
  • Nervously fidgeting or playing with their hands or hair
  • Racing heartbeat when in a crowd or interacting with new people
  • Lightheadedness leading up to and during social interactions
  • Nausea or vomiting leading up to and during social interactions

What’s the Difference Between General Social Anxiety Disorder and Performance-Only Social Anxiety Disorder?

Some people can be completely fine in most social situations and then turn into a nervous wreck in front of crowds. This is what is considered performance-only social anxiety.

Performance anxiety may occur when your teenager has to do something smaller, like give a classroom presentation in front of a small group of peers. It may also occur when they have to perform with groups like in a band, show choir, or a sports team. The idea of having many people watching them while they do things that feel important to them can be overwhelming for many teens who do not want other people to see their mistakes and feel pressure to do well.

For some teens, performance-only SAD may not be about getting up in front of a crowd and performing in live time. In some cases, performance-only SAD can be about testing and turning in assignments, fearing that the teacher who sees and grades the assignment will have a negative opinion of them and their work.

People who have SAD may also experience performance-based SAD. But performance-only SAD also occurs in teens who do not otherwise have social anxiety.

Does My Teenager Need Medication for Their Social Anxiety?

Some people do receive medication that helps them relieve their social anxiety. Medication tends to be particularly helpful when SAD is caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters.

However, whether or not medication is appropriate for your child and their needs will have to be determined by a medical professional, like one of the psychiatric staff members here at Bricolage.

Some of the common medications used to treat SAD include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Beta-blockers
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)

Treatment for Social Anxiety Disorder at Bricolage

Bricolage provides mental health treatment that is specialized specifically for children and adolescents ages seven to 18 who have not yet graduated high school. We have trained, experienced staff that specialize in teen counseling treatment who are prepared to help your teen learn to overcome SAD.

We offer an intensive outpatient program or IOP that benefits many teens who are suffering from SAD. Your child will undergo a clinical evaluation to determine the level of care they need. Every child is different, and we understand that, so we make sure that every child’s treatment program is unique to them and their needs.

Our IOP is typically a good fit for teens who need structure and significant help developing day-to-day coping skills for their SAD. Our IOP typically focuses on cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy where your teen will learn to develop healthy coping skills, as well as how to identify and combat negative thought patterns.

Teens in this program usually also attend group therapy where they get to interact with peers who are going through similar experiences. We believe group therapy is important because it allows teens to develop their social skills, learn to work as a team, and see that they are not alone in their SAD.

We also believe that the whole family plays an important part in a teen’s lifelong recovery from mental health problems. When appropriate, we recommend family therapy as part of our IOP. Family therapy does not mean you have done something wrong as a parent. Family therapy simply helps family members learn to communicate, understand each other’s viewpoints, and learn healthy ways to interact with each other.

Members of our psychiatric team will work with your child to determine if medication is an appropriate step. This depends on many factors and will be determined by a qualified staff member. Medication can make it easier for people with SAD to navigate their daily life.

Get Your Child Into Treatment Today

When a child suffers from mental health and/or substance use issues, the entire family is affected. At Bricolage Behavioral Health, we believe that whole-family healing affords your child the best chance for good long-term mental health. To get your child, and your family, the help they need, call (469) 968-5700 today.


Can a 14-year-old have social anxiety?

People of any age can have social anxiety, including children and teenagers. Social anxiety can be common in teens, especially when they are going through a lot of changes in their social groups and environments. If you believe your 14-year-old has social anxiety, it is important you get them the treatment they need in order to feel better about themselves and more confident in their social interactions.

What are the signs of anxiety in a teenager?

There are many different signs of social anxiety in teenagers. Some of them include:

    • Fear of using the phone
    • Quietness beyond what is normal
    • Being overly afraid of judgment
    • Fidgeting or playing with their hands in social situations
    • Stuttering when trying to talk
    • Being passive or not sticking up for themselves
    • Defensive body language like crossed arms
    • Looking down and keeping head bowed in social situations
    • Struggling to make friendsWhat are three symptoms of social anxiety?

There are more than three symptoms of SAD, as listed above. Three very common symptoms of SAD that are displayed by teens include being uncomfortable in group settings, an extreme fear of embarrassment, and speaking softly or mumbling.

How can I help my 14-year-old with social anxiety?

There are lots of ways that you can be helpful to your 14-year-old who is suffering from social anxiety. It is important to approach the situation with care and understanding. Social anxiety can make it very difficult for teens to interact with people, and it is more likely that they are feeling nervous and unsure of themselves than that they are trying to be rude. If you believe your 14-year-old is suffering from SAD, it is important that you get them the treatment they need to take control of their life.


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