Socializing is a huge part of being a teenager.
But what if your teen fears social situations, such as speaking in front of a group or being involved in any activity that makes them the center of attention?
And worse even, what if that fear becomes so debilitating that they shy away from any and all areas of their life that require them to interact with others?
Often, a teen with that much social anxiety would rather isolate themselves than suffer humiliation or ridicule from their peers.
The problem is, withdrawal is really not the answer. In fact, self-isolating usually leads to more problems than it fixes.
If not addressed, social anxiety can invade every aspect of your teen’s life and completely paralyze them.
As a concerned parent, what can you do to help your child deal with their social anxiety?
5 Ways Parents Can Help Combat Teen Social Anxiety
First, before you make any attempt to help your child, should be to educate yourself about social anxiety. Aside from doing research yourself, you should also consider getting a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional.
Second, which management techniques work best depends much on the severity of your teen’s social anxiety. For most cases, you can do the following:
1. Teach your child to regulate their breathing
When anxiety wells up, your teen’s breathing patterns will most likely be affected. Their breathing will become shallow, they may become light-headed and dizzy, and they may also experience heart palpitations.
You can teach your child a simple breathing exercise to slow down and regulate their breathing pattern. Have them sit down, breathe in deeply through their nose, hold their breath to the count of four, then slowly breathe out through their mouth. Repeat three times.
Make sure you repeatedly practice this technique together when your child is not anxious so they know exactly what to do when they encounter a situation that triggers their social anxiety.
2. Assist them to take the “me” out of the equation
Inadvertently, your teen is focusing too much on themselves. If you enable their unrestrained attitude of fixating on their own difficulties and hardships, you only make it easier for your child to lose confidence in themselves and say, “I can’t!”
If, however, you gently encourage them to work with or for others—visiting the elderly, cleaning a public area, or reading to young children—you can help boost their self-confidence. Granted, at first, their anxiety may increase, but eventually, their fears will become more manageable.
Keeping a log of their progress is a great way to measure each experience and how far they’ve come.
3. Help them to become desensitized to their fears
Having your teen face their fears by deliberately exposing them to a social anxiety trigger may seem cruel, but it equips them with a powerful anxiety-fighting behavior. As you allow your child to work through their fears, they will begin to see that there is, in effect, nothing to fear.
Ask them to make a list of activities and places that cause them social anxiety. Sort the items from least to most anxiety-inducing. Then begin with the least troublesome activity on the list. Assure your child. Be patient. And don’t try to tackle too many triggers at once.
The more your child practices, the better will be prepared. Remind them that setbacks are normal. What’s important is that they’ll continue moving forward.
4. Join a support group together
Some think that it may be best for the teen to join alone. But if they’re agreeable, you can both benefit from joining a support group together. Your child will learn to freely express themselves amidst others who suffer the same disorder. And you will find it enlightening to realize you’re not alone in your struggle to help your child.
While it may seem odd to put your teen into a situation where they have to be with so many others, these support groups have a unique way of recognizing the difficulties your child has and know how to put them at ease. The knowledge and skills you can both gain by attending a support group are invaluable.
5. Enlist the help of a therapist
When you come to a point where your help isn’t enough anymore, it’s important to seek out the assistance of a skilled professional. A therapist practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for example, can take those desensitization exercises to another level.
CBT can also help your child to learn more breathing and relaxation techniques. It can also teach them to regulate their thought patterns, recognize their triggers, and have a more balanced view of the world around them. In the end, it can be the key to making your teen more happier and self-confident.
Fear is natural. It can actually protect your teen from getting into a dangerous situation. However, when their worries become so irrational and paralyzing that they turn into social anxiety, it can lead them into self-isolation and continuous emotional pain.
Think about it. Your child’s healthy adolescent development is at stake. You have it in your power to help them combat their fears and emerge from that isolation a stronger person.