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8 Ways to Help Your Teen With Social Anxiety Face the World

Being a teenager comes with its fair share of changes and challenges. One that may go unnoticed is social anxiety disorder (SAD) or social phobia. While it is common to experience nerves and anxiety in new social situations, those with social anxiety have intense fears and anxieties that can disrupt their daily lives. 

SAD affects one in three adolescents (13 to 18 years old) and is the third most common mental health disorder in the United States. If you notice your child is fearful of social situations or perhaps is avoiding them altogether, they may be dealing with social anxiety. 

With the help of Alyssa Bowman, LMFT, a mental health counselor with Banner Health, we explore the ins and outs of this common disorder and steps you can take to help your teen navigate these turbulent social waters.

What is social anxiety?

While everyone may be shy or nervous in certain social situations, social anxiety disorder goes beyond typical shyness. 

“Social anxiety involves intense, ongoing fear, often leading to avoidance of social situations, anxiety and physical symptoms,” Bowman said. “Shyness tends to get better as a person gets more familiar with a situation, whereas social anxiety gets worse with time, usually lasts more than six months and impacts the person’s quality of life and functioning.”

Signs of social anxiety

If you notice your teen is struggling socially, there is a chance they may be suffering from social anxiety disorder. Knowing the signs and symptoms of social anxiety is the first step in helping your child get the necessary help.

Signs to watch out for include:

  • Physical: Trembling or shaking, headaches, sweating, blushing, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, nausea or stomach pains, muscle aches
  • Emotional: Intense fear of embarrassment or judgment, self-consciousness in meeting new people, overwhelming feelings of anxiety or panic, anxiety for an extended period of time before and after a social event, low self-esteem, depression
  • Cognitive: Negative self-talk and self-critical thoughts, catastrophic thinking about social situations, difficulty concentrating, irrational beliefs about being watched or judged
  • Behavioral: Avoidance of social situations or events, finding it hard to talk to others, limited eye contact, speaking softly in social settings, difficulty making and maintaining friendships, substance abuse

What causes social anxiety? Is there anything I could have done to prevent it?

As with most mental health disorders, there is no single cause for social anxiety. However, certain factors can increase the risk of developing it. 

“Genetics may predispose someone to anxiety, but often there is a combination of biological and environmental factors, such as painful life events, trauma or relational triggers that can lead someone to develop social anxiety disorder,” Bowman said.

Other factors may include peer pressure, friendships, financial issues, sports and extracurricular activities.

Tips for teens with social anxiety

It’s important to note that social anxiety is not solely the result of parenting practices. In fact, you can play a supportive role in helping your child cope. Helping your child with social anxiety involves support, understanding and encouragement. 

Bowman shared the following strategies that may help:

  • Listen and validate: If your teenage child shares with you about their feelings of social anxiety, allow them to express themselves without judgment. Validate their emotions by acknowledging that it’s okay to feel anxious. Avoid minimizing or dismissing their feelings.
  • Encourage coping skills: Support your child in developing coping skills to manage social anxiety. These skills include deep breathing exercises, positive self-talk, mindfulness techniques and listening to music.
  • Establish a healthy routine: Ensure your teen gets enough sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet. Encourage these habits to support their overall well-being.
  • Build a support network: Help them build a support network, such as friends, teachers and counselors, whom they can turn to when anxious.
  • Take small steps: Help your teen face their fears gradually. Encourage small, manageable social interactions and gradually increase the complexity of social situations as they get more comfortable. For instance, help your child come up with an activity with a friend or two or find a non-competitive group doing an activity that your child is interested in.
  • Model healthy social behaviors: Demonstrate healthy social interactions in your own life. Be a positive role model by showing how you manage stress, engage in conversations and build meaningful connections.
  • Monitor social media use: Keep an eye on your teen’s social media activity. Spending a lot of time online can contribute to social anxiety. Encourage healthy online habits, discuss the impact of social media on mental health and make sure your child takes digital breaks.
  • Find outside support: If you suspect your teen is struggling with social anxiety, consider seeking behavioral health services, such as cognitive behavioral therapy. 

“Cognitive behavioral therapy and some forms of exposure therapy are helpful therapeutic approaches to treating social anxiety disorder,” Bowman said. “Talking with your child’s provider or a psychiatrist may also be helpful.”

Bowman also recommended several apps and books that are helpful resources as you and your teen start the process of working on social anxiety:

  • Apps: Mindshift, Headspace, Finch
  • Books: “Social Anxiety Relief for Teens,” “The Social Anxiety Relief Guide for Teens,” “The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens,” “A Parent’s Guide for Teen Anxiety and Stress,” and “Helping Your Anxious Teen.”


While social anxiety can be a challenging journey for teens, with the right coping skills and support they don’t have to travel the road alone. By noticing the signs, taking the right actions and keeping communication open, you can be a big help.

If you have questions or concerns, contact your child’s provider, a therapist or a Banner Health specialist for help. 

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