It might be hard to believe that any teen in the 21st century would have any kind of social anxiety.
It seems as if teens are nothing but social with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and various other electronic forms of communication.
However, sometimes, such things make it harder to detect true social anxiety; online associations are far less intimidating, and completely eradicate face-to-face interaction. Teens, like many adults, are petrified of such close and personal contact. Their social anxiety is real, and can often lead them into dangerous ways of hiding it such as drinking or using drugs.
Should parents decide that intervention is necessary for their struggling teen, the next concern is wondering: Can the teen who is so anxious around people receive proper treatment in an environment that is full of other people?
It’s definitely a challenge. As one article points out, “The fear of interacting and being judged by others can bring on serious self-confidence problems and breed feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, and inadequacy. It can also lead to depression and avoidance behavior, and it considered a co-occurring condition when addressed with addiction. All considered, it can definitely make traditional treatments that much more challenging.”
Still, it can be done. Maria Pagano, PhD, who is a psychiatry professor at Case Western Reserve, acknowledges that the initial thought of group counseling is quite terrifying to a teen with social anxiety. Group settings would be the last thing they would pick as a “safe” space to express their emotions. Surprisingly, a study that Pagano and her colleagues conducted demonstrated that the teens with social anxiety thrived in the group setting—and were even more involved in “service” activities than their peers without social anxiety. This could range from helping others get more comfortable and greeting them as they came to meetings, to preparing things behind the scenes, like making refreshments.
“For those with social anxiety,” Dr. Pagano said, “this was a way to get to know people and form new sober friendships in a natural way. They were not going to be put on the spot, and feel naked somewhat.” She also pointed out that such activities from those who are reaching out can be the ones that make the others feel encouraged to come back.
Social anxiety can be detrimental, but with the proper direction, should not at all interfere with the recovery of your struggling teen. They can thrive and become healthy again, while growing in their social confidence and comfort.