It’s common for young people to experience some level of fear and anxiety in certain social settings or situations. But for some adolescents, the level of anxiety is so great, it interferes with their everyday life.
If your teen is avoiding activities they once enjoyed and retreating from friends and family, it may be time to seek intervention from a mental health professional. Treatment for social anxiety can stop the progression of the disorder into adulthood and prevent the onset of comorbid mental health issues or substance use disorders.
What is Social Anxiety Disorder?
For people suffering with social anxiety, seemingly “normal” daily social interactions, such as going to work or school, shopping, or even using a public restroom can become debilitating. Their fear is so intense that they begin to avoid places, people, social events, and situations where they feel they will be scrutinized or judged. SAD can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life, from personal and professional relationships to school or work life.
For these reasons and the disorder’s effects on objective outcomes, such as the amount of workdays lost, SAD is ranked among the top 10 chronic disorders, mental or physical. That’s why it’s so important to treat teen social anxiety as soon as possible.
How Common Is Social Anxiety Disorder in Adolescents and Teens?
Studies show that social phobias originate in early adolescence, and typically peaks between the ages of 13 and 15. A recent study explored the prevalence of SAD among a population-based sample of 8216 adolescents aged 13–19. Among the sample, between 2 and 6 percent met the criteria for SAD. Additionally, the study found that twice as many females met the SAD criteria.
For adolescents diagnosed with SAD, early intervention is critical, as social anxiety symptoms can intensify and progress into adulthood. A study from the National Library of Medicine indicates that adolescents who meet the criteria for SAD have an increased risk for comorbid mental health issues, such as depression and substance use disorder. Early, effective treatment is key in preventing long-term negative effects and restoring the confidence teens need to move into a productive and thriving next chapter.
OCD and Teen Social Anxiety
For some teens, social anxiety is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Newport provides specialized programming for teen OCD that also addresses social anxiety related to this disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by disturbing and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges, accompanied by compulsive and repetitive behaviors. OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder, because the symptoms can create extreme anxiety, including severe social anxiety.
Why Do So Many Adolescents Experience Social Anxiety?
Adolescence can be a challenging time, as many physical, hormonal, and other developmental changes are taking place. During this stage, young people experience increased awareness of and concern about how others perceive them. Peer and social pressures begin to take hold, which can lead to comparison and increased feelings of self-doubt or self-consciousness.
With the prevalence of smartphones and 24/7 access to social media, comparison is at teens’ fingertips and coming across their social feed daily. These factors, coupled with the lingering effects and ongoing recovery from time in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, could explain why some adolescents and teens are more susceptible to developing social phobias.
Signs and Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens
Some teens are naturally shyer than others, especially if they are exposed to new or unfamiliar situations, social settings, or people. It’s also not uncommon for teens to have performance-based anxiety, when they’re giving a speech in front of the class or taking part in a play or musical event.
But for adolescents with SAD, the fear of being judged, embarrassed, or criticized is so severe, it’s all-encompassing—taking over every aspect of their lives. The anticipation and dread of such events can completely consume their thoughts for days or weeks in advance and lead to avoidance.
Here are some signs and symptoms of social anxiety in teens:
- Intense fear of social situations, especially where they think they will be judged negatively
- Constant worry about embarrassing themselves
- Poor self-image
- Overwhelming self-doubt and feelings of self-consciousness
- Negative self-talk
- Extreme fear of speaking up in class or participating in activities where the focus is on them
- Fear of meeting new people or talking to strangers
- Worrying that others will notice the physical symptoms caused by their anxiety or embarrassment, such as blushing, sweating, trembling or having a shaky voice
- Anxious feelings or sense of dread days or weeks in advance of a feared activity or event
- Constant thoughts and worry about the worst-case scenario resulting from a social event or interaction
The intense fear and anxiety can also trigger physical symptoms, such as:
- Blushing, sweating, trembling or shaking
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Shaky voice
- Feeling as if your mind has gone blank
- Avoiding eye contact
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Stomach discomfort or nausea
Is My Teen Just Shy or Is It Something More?
The difference between having social anxiety disorder and being shy comes down to three factors:
- The level in which the fear and anxiety interferes with day-to-day life
- The persistence and intensity of the fear and anxiety
- How much the person is avoiding certain social situations, interactions or events
As a parent, you know your teen’s inherent personality and you can sense when something feels off. Hence, is important to observe your teen for any significant shifts in behavior. Are they starting to avoid things they once enjoyed, such as extracurricular activities, time with friends, or romantic relationships? How are they doing in school? Do they refuse to go to school? Are they missing classes? Are their grades slipping?
Social anxiety in teens can have a negative impact on all aspects of their lives. If your teen is experiencing any of these anxiety symptoms, it may be time for a social anxiety assessment with a mental health professional.
What is the Root Cause of Social Anxiety?
While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of social anxiety, research links between 30 and 40 percent of anxiety disorders to genetics. Mental health professionals say that a history of abuse, bullying, or teasing can also lead to anxious behavior. Other environmental factors, such as having a controlling parent, can contribute as well.
Treating social anxiety in teens through individual or group counseling can be incredibly beneficial. Time with a caring, licensed therapist can help uncover the root cause of your teen’s social anxiety. Social skills training can also be helpful for teens with social anxiety.
Expressing feelings can be difficult and sometimes painful for teens. But building a trusting relationship with an individual therapist or sharing experiences in a teen support group for social anxiety can provide a safe place to begin the healing process.
The Impact of Social Anxiety Disorder in Teens
As adolescents become teenagers, it’s common for them to be more aware of and to care more about others’ perceptions of them. From the latest fashion trends, to the friend circles they hang out in, to which brand of smartphone is in their backpack, peer pressure becomes a strong reality.
For teens experiencing SAD, the negative thoughts and beliefs, avoidance of social interactions and situations, and feelings of unworthiness escalate to unhealthy levels. As a result, personal and family relationships are severely impacted. Teens with anxiety disorders often have trouble regulating their emotions, and therefore are easily triggered. This can lead to increased conflict or intense fights with friends and family.
Teens with SAD usually experience:
- Low self-esteem
- Excessive self-consciousness
- Extreme sensitivity to criticism
- Poor social skills
- Negative self-talk
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
The teen years can be an exciting time in life. As they move toward being young adults, they are discovering who they are by trying new things and making new friends. Crippling mental health conditions like social anxiety prevent teens from exploring new opportunities for growth and development. Social anxiety in teens can keep them from discovering hidden talents or passions, such as drama, music, or sports.
How Do I Talk to My Teen About Anxiety?
If you suspect your teen is experiencing social anxiety, open a dialogue and offer your support. The National Social Anxiety Center offers some “dos and don’ts” when it comes to parental support.
Things to do when talking to teens about social anxiety:
- Gather information. Get to the root of your teen’s biggest anxiety inducers by asking a series of questions, such as, “Do you worry what your classmates think of you?” or “Are you afraid of being embarrassed?” Use the list to set up specific strategies to alleviate anxiety symptoms.
- Model the behavior you want to see. Allow your teen to watch you as you confront a situation that makes you nervous or causes some anxiety. This provides a great teaching moment and lets your teen know they’re not alone in these feelings, and that avoidance will only make the social anxiety worse.
- Overcome negative thoughts and problem-solve. If your teen is expressing negative self-talk, help them examine whether there’s actually any evidence to support their thoughts. By introducing alternate explanations for those thoughts and making these conversations a regular practice, you can help them reframe their outlook and build confidence.
What to avoid when speaking with your teen about their mental health:
- Criticizing or shaming your teen’s social anxiety
- Labeling your adolescent or teen as “shy,” as labeling can encourage unhealthy coping techniques, especially avoidance
- Blaming your teen or yourself for their anxiety—instead, find strategies to move forward
Another critical “don’t”: Don’t accommodate their avoidance behavior. Allowing your child to skip school or avoid all social events will only reinforce their fears. The best thing you can do as a parent is to break the cycle and encourage participation in a gentle, non-threatening way. The more they begin to work through the fear, the more confidence they build.
Above all, communicating with your teen is important because it’s a way to feel more connected and assure them they are not alone.
What Are Some Ways to Manage My Teen’s Social Anxiety at Home?
As a parent, it’s difficult to see your teen sit on the sidelines, consumed with negative beliefs and retreating from things that once brought them joy. You can incorporate lifestyle changes and healthy practices at home to help manage your teen’s symptoms. These include:
- Healthy sleep schedule, which provides the foundation for starting each day with energy and a positive mindset
- Regular exercise routine to boost mood and self-confidence
- Mindfulness practices, like breathing exercises, to use throughout the day or in intense moments of anxiety
- Designated unplugged times, like meals and before bed, to encourage relaxation and decrease stimulation
- Ongoing family connection, through conversations as well as fun activities both parents and teens enjoy
There are several free online resources your teen can take advantage of, from guided mediations to yoga classes to positive mindset podcasts. Encouraging your teen to prioritize self-care helps them focus less on worrying and more on healing.
When to Seek Social Anxiety Treatment for Your Teen
Many parents don’t seek help for their teen because they aren’t fully aware of the extent of their social anxiety symptoms. Others may think their teen will simply grow out of it, or it’s just a phase. It’s important to know that social anxiety disorders only worsen with time. Left untreated, social anxiety in teens can lead to unhealthy self-coping mechanisms and co-occurring mental health disorders.
If your teen’s social anxiety is preventing them from living a normal life, and efforts to combat symptoms have been unsuccessful, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in psychiatric disorders. Anxiety disorders don’t just fade away with time, so getting your teen the professional help they need is critical to their long-term recovery. SAD is a highly treatable mental health condition, and with the help of specialized clinicians, your teen can overcome their fears and live the life they were meant to live.
How to Talk to Your Teen About Starting Anxiety Treatment
While introducing the idea of mental health treatment to your teen can seem difficult, keep in mind that the benefits far outweigh any discomfort in the short term. The good news is that the stigma around mental health is diminishing.
Mental health is a topic that is now discussed openly and brought to light by public figures, from pop stars like Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez to athletes like Simone Biles and Noami Osaka. Because of this exposure, and the message that “you are not alone,” many teens are more open to participating in therapy and sharing their experience with others.
Teen Social Anxiety Disorder Treatment at Newport Academy
Your teen can begin the healing journey today at one of Newport Academy’s residential or outpatient locations across the country. We offer a full continuum of care for adolescent anxiety, and our knowledgeable and caring clinical staff specializes in working with teens and young adults. Together, we’ll uncover the underlying causes of social anxiety to promote long-term, sustainable healing.
Treating social anxiety in teens at Newport Academy involves an integrated approach to care that keeps the individual in mind. No two treatment plans are the same, because no two adolescents are the same. Our team of medical and clinical experts removes the stigma around mental health and tailors a treatment plan to address your teen’s specific needs and history.
Teens may have a negative preconceived notion of what treatment looks like. To encourage teen engagement with treatment, our social anxiety program incorporates a wide variety of modalities, including experiential therapies like art and music therapy, Equine-Assisted Therapy, Mixed Martial Arts, yoga and mindfulness, outdoor Adventure Therapy, and more (depending on location).
Levels of Care and Types of Social Anxiety Treatment
Depending on the severity of their social anxiety symptoms, teens may benefit most from residential treatment, a Partial Hospitalization Program that incorporates therapy and academics each day, or an Intensive Outpatient Program after school. At all levels of care, each teen’s individualized treatment plan at Newport Academy includes a combination of the following modalities:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an evidence-based form of talk therapy that is considered the gold standard in treating social anxiety in teens. CBT looks at how thoughts, emotions and behaviors are linked. The goal of teen CBT is to help adolescents shift distorted thinking patterns, so that the emotions and behaviors become more positive rather than ridden with extreme fear and anxiety.
Therapists use CBT tools such as cognitive reconstruction, cognitive journaling, and relaxation techniques to help teens recognize and transform distorted thinking patterns. The short- and long-term benefits of using CBT for social anxiety in teens can be life changing. With time, young people can better manage emotions, while reducing the social phobias and persistent fears that overcome them.
Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT)
Opening the lines of communication with your teen isn’t always easy, but with the help of a mental health professional, parents can learn to build trust and develop meaningful relationships. Attachment-Based Family Therapy is an evidence-based treatment that is beneficial for treating social anxiety in teens as well as depression and other anxiety disorders.
The goal is to build a deeper connection between parents and teens, while repairing and strengthening the family unit. Hence, teens can turn to their parents for support when they are struggling with social anxiety symptoms. Using a five-phase framework, ABFT therapists facilitate conversations that support both parents and teens.
Psychiatric Care and Medication Management
Psychiatrists conduct comprehensive assessments at intake that inform possible medication recommendations for teen social anxiety symptoms. Especially when social anxiety is associated with OCD, medications can be helpful to support long-term recovery. Our psychiatrists closely monitor patients’ progress throughout their treatment stay, providing ongoing psychiatric evaluations, medication management, and psychoeducation.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) Therapy
ERP is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that helps to reduce compulsive behaviors. It can support teens with severe social anxiety associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In ERP therapy, clients gradually face their fears and obsessions without using compulsive behaviors to deal with their social anxiety. Over time, they learn to trust that the anxiety will lessen without the compulsions.
Experiential therapy is an effective approach for treating social anxiety in teens. Experiential modalities include recreational activities, music, art, Adventure Therapy, and other physical and emotional activities to help teens process negative emotions. Guided by a mental health professional, these hands-on activities encourage teens to access hidden feelings that are potentially causing pain.
We work closely with each child’s school and use tailored instruction and accredited curriculums to ensure that students continue to progress in their education while receiving treatment for teen OCD and anxiety disorders. Our specialized teachers and tutors support teens’ executive-functioning and organizational skills while nurturing their interests and talents.
Learn More About Our Teen Social Anxiety Treatment
Social anxiety in teens can lead to serious problems without intervention. Our medical and clinical staff are ready to help your teen and family by developing and facilitating a highly individualized, multidisciplinary treatment plan for teen social anxiety and other anxiety and psychiatric disorders.
Contact us today to find out how our social anxiety treatment can support your teen to reconnect with relationships, school, and family—and start thriving in life again.
Insurances We Accept
Our Team of Medical and Clinical Experts
At Newport Academy, teen social anxiety treatment is delivered by a team of experts with a range of clinical and medical expertise that is unparalleled in the behavioral health industry. Clients’ treatment teams include psychiatrists, family therapists, nurse practitioners, counselors, art therapists, music therapists, adventure therapists, registered dietitians, teachers and tutors, and more.
By combining their talents and areas of expertise—medical, psychiatric, clinical, experiential, and academic—our treatment teams create transformative care experiences with long-lasting impacts. In addition, every teen’s treatment plan is informed by research, including our own treatment outcomes studies, which show that our programming creates significant improvements in teen anxiety in a matter of weeks.
Newport holds the Gold Seal of Approval® from The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest healthcare accrediting body, and is affiliated with a wide range of national organizations and certification bodies.
Get Started Today
To find out more how we treat social anxiety in teens, contact us today. We provide teen mental health assessments at no charge, either in person or virtually.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes social anxiety in adolescence?
There is no single source for social anxiety in adolescence, but some studies show a genetic link. Social anxiety in adolescence can be due to environmental factors, such as a controlling parent, childhood trauma or peer pressure.
Is it normal to have social anxiety during puberty?
The onset of puberty initiates significant changes in hormone levels, as well as physical changes in the body and the brain. It’s typical to develop some level of anxiety as young people experience increased peer pressure and the desire to fit in becomes stronger. If your child is showing signs of social anxiety disorder, it is important to intervene with the help of a mental health professional.
Can parents cause social anxiety?
Parenting may contribute to the development of social anxiety. Negative parenting styles, such as being controlling or overprotective, can be a factor in social anxiety in early adolescence.
How can I help my adolescent with social anxiety?
The best way to help your adolescent with social anxiety is to communicate openly, show empathy. and let them know they are not alone. It’s important, however, that you do not support or enable their avoidance behavior. Your child may benefit from Exposure Therapy, an effective method for treating social phobias and social anxiety in teens. This therapy gradually exposes your child to feared social situations, and activities.