Therapists and medical professionals have often noted the increase of social anxiety in today’s teens. While adolescence has long been considered a time of social awkwardness, social anxiety goes beyond the stereotypes.
Social anxiety goes beyond bodies that are growing and changing too fast, beyond acne and cracking voices, and beyond romantic crushes. These factors, of course, can contribute to social anxiety or make it worse. But social anxiety can paralyze your teen to the point of extreme isolation and crushing hesitation.
Here’s how to help your teen navigate this condition.
Give It a Name
As with anything, putting a name to your teen’s symptoms can be a crucial first step to understanding. They likely feel frustrated and confused by their struggles to interact with others. Perhaps they don’t realize that many others struggle with the same issue.
Don’t Push or Preach
It’s so hard as parents not to push too hard when you see your kids in pain. While parents often do have the advantage of time and perspective, you can easily overwhelm them. Teens are moving toward adult independence and can resent feeling pressured by well-meaning parents. Rather than attempting to have big, serious talks about their issues, try to work it in naturally in small bites if they resist talking about it.
Set a Good Example
If social experiences as a family haven’t been a regular part of your life, consider easing into things you can do together. If there’s another family, you can invite over for dinner or games, or who would invite you to their home, consider doing so.
Find fun ways to get your teen out of the house and into public spaces, to get more comfortable with being around others. Send them on simple errands that involve a bit of social interaction, such as grocery shopping, post office, or library.
Encourage Their Interests
Your teen likely has passions and interests that may help them connect with others. Even if you aren’t crazy about those interests yourself (maybe it’s videogames, for example), encourage them to find others to team up with in person. If you can build relationships with kids who don’t attend school with your teen, that can be good. There may be less pressure or worry about peer comparison in such situations.
Build on Their Strengths
Along with encouraging their interests, build upon the strengths that they already have. If they’re good at art or robotics, look for opportunities outside of school. Help them spend time doing what they enjoy, even if it doesn’t involve a lot of social interaction. Boosting their positive experiences of themselves is so helpful.
Have Open Conversations About Social Media
Many experts suspect that the rise of social media has something to do with the increase in teen anxiety. The prevalence of social media means that teens are on display or accessible 24/7. Anything they do or say can be mocked by peers online in front of hundreds of others who know them. Cyberbullying is real.
It’s also common for teens to compare themselves unrealistically to what they see their peers presenting online. Social media presence is a curated representation. It’s not reality. But it can be hard for teens (and adults!) to remember this.
You want to do all that you can to help your teen find secure, stable emotional footing before they leave home and become full-fledged adults. Social anxiety can be a tricky, complicated topic. The reality is that many teens aren’t comfortable talking with their parents about personal issues. Sometimes they are more open to talking with a different adult.
If your teen’s social anxiety doesn’t improve with the steps you take on your own, finding an experienced therapist is an excellent option. They will be able to offer your teen a confidential ear, wisdom gained from working with other teens, and critical coping skills.
New Perspective Counseling is a group practice dedicated to emotional wellness and healing. Our caring therapists provide psychotherapy, individual counseling, marriage counseling and family counseling in our Highland, Michigan office. We are located conveniently near Milford, White Lake, Commerce Township, Holly, Hartland and Brighton, Michigan.