How to Parent Teens With Social Anxiety

Teen sitting on steps alone
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If you're the parent of a teen with social anxiety disorder (SAD), it can be hard to know how best to help him or her cope. In addition to helping your child obtain a proper diagnosis and effective treatment, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medication, there are a number of steps that you can take to help your teen on a daily basis.

Expose Your Teen to Social Situations

Although it may be tempting to be overprotective or to shelter your adolescent, it's important to provide her with confidence-building experiences and to not let him avoid situations that make him anxious. Gradual exposure to new social experiences will help her build social skills and feel more confident in her abilities. This will inherently involve some pushing beyond his comfort zone, but that should, of course, be approached in a measured way. A therapist can guide this, and your involvement as a parent is key.

If you have a younger teenager, be sure to give her the opportunity to speak for herself in situations such as ordering in a restaurant or asking for movie tickets. Be sure to offer praise and rewards when your teen faces feared social situations.

Pick a Goal

Have your teen pick a realistic goal, such as joining a club or team or making a new friend, and work with her to take steps to achieve it. For instance, he could go to a club meeting and listen in before joining or you and he could walk over to the new neighbor's house together and invite them over to visit. Building positive experiences and practicing social interaction will help boost your teen's confidence.

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Make Sure Your Teen Relaxes

When you have an anxiety disorder, it's particularly important to have time to relax and unwind, to take a break from the anxiousness. Encourage your teen to exercise and participate in activities that she finds relaxing, such as drawing, painting, playing an instrument, yoga, journaling, or crafts. This will also help him be able to better manage his anxiety.

Don't Give Your Teen Special Treatment

Treat your teen the same as you would any child and keep your expectations the same, though you may need to be a little more flexible sometimes. Try to find activities at which she excels so she can build confidence and have her help out around the house so she feels like she's contributing to the family.

Listen and Offer Advice

If your teenager is comfortable talking to you about his feelings, listen carefully and offer advice. Let her know that feeling nervous sometimes is normal for all teenagers. Remind him of how he has coped well in the past with difficult situations, and let him know that you have confidence in his ability to cope.

If your teenager is suffering from extreme social anxiety that greatly impairs her daily functioning, has stopped her from attending school, or has posed a danger of self-harm or suicide, it's important to seek professional help immediately. Call your mental health care practitioner or your doctor.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If your loved one is in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."