Social Anxiety in Teenagers


Teenagers  with social anxiety disorder are often unaware that there is an actual diagnosis to explain their behavior and that there is treatment for their problem.

In teens, social phobia is often undetected. It can cause you great distress and unhappiness in their lives.

If you are a parent of a teen, and are aware that your child has unreasonable fears around social situations, consider asking your child to take this social anxiety disorder test to determine if  he or she meets some of the criteria. If they do you might consider seeking professional help.

These are also symptoms of adult social anxiety. If your teenager has it, someone else in your family may too. Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder that seems to have a genetic component.

Social Anxiety in Teenagers: Anxious Feelings and Thoughts

  • Are you nervous or self conscious when in social situations or thinking about social situations?
  • Do you worry that these feelings are not normal?
  • Do you worry that people will judge and scrutinize you?
  • Do you think about about being singled out, criticized or embarrassed
  • Do you think you will do something when in social situations to embarrass him or herself

Social anxiety in Teenagers : Physical Symptoms

When in social situations or thinking about social situations:

  • Does your heart race?
  • Do your palms sweat?
  • Do you feel shaky or nervous from the fear?
  • Do you feel queasy or sick to your stomach?

Social Anxiety in Teens: Behavioral Symptoms

  • Do you avoid social situations because of the thoughts or fears above?
  • Has your behavior impaired your ability to have friends?
  • Has your behavior impaired your ability to do your job or go to school?
  • Do you fail to take steps to advance in your life because of these thoughts and fears?
  • Are you arguing and having problems with your parents because they don’t understand your social anxiety?
  • Has your behavior caused your current relationships to suffer?

This is not meant as a medical profession diagnosis; however, it can help you to figure out what may be happening with you. If you feel you may be exhibiting these symptoms, it is important to seek professional help and assessment.

It is always helpful to look at anxiety as consisting of the separate components of : thoughts, feelings, behavior, and physical sensations. That is why the quiz is outlined in the manner.

These areas work together to reinforce your social phobia and any interventions must consider targeting all of these areas.

If you have another diagnosis that may explain your disorder, a medical condition, or substance abuse problem, then these answers may not be helpful.

Social Anxiety in Teenagers: Facts

  • After depression and alcoholism, social anxiety is the third most common psychiatric disorder.
  • It affects approximately 17 million people.
  • It is more common in women than men and is usually present by adolescence.
  • Rarely does an adult suddenly develop social anxiety disorder, almost always the disorder began in teenage years or in childhood.

POORLY RECOGNIZED in Adults and in Teens

Social anxiety in teenagers is poorly recognized by professionals and frequently misdiagnosed.

Unfortunately, many people with social anxiety disorder are unlikely to seek help. This makes sense considering part of this illness consists of fear of evaluation by others. The prospect of going to a therapy session with a stranger can be particularly daunting even for someone without social anxiety!! Teens in particular are even less likely than an adult to recognize that they are struggling with this.

This  means many people who have social anxiety disorder feel like they are crazy and don’t understand why they are struggling! It puts teens at risk for depression, substance abuse and academic difficulties.

Social Anxiety in Teenagers: A SERIOUS ILLNESS

Social anxiety disorder was first recognized in the DSM in 1980. It is also often called social phobia. It is a persistent and severely debilitating kind of mental illness. However, when recognized and appropriately treated the quality of life of someone with social anxiety disorder can increase dramatically!

 Case Example

Harry is a seventeen year old male who has recently become depressed after his girlfriend , Nancy, broke up with him after the prom. He came to therapy describing symptoms of disrupted sleep, hopelessness and sadness. Harry is concerned because has been drinking more lately than he would like.

Harry is a perfectionist and has always struggled with anxiety over academics. He has done well in school most years but doesn’t want to go anymore. He has one or two friends but not a very good social network. Both of his friends smoke pot. He wishes he could make more friends but doesn’t really like to go out. He feels frequently very self-conscious in front of people or afraid he might do something to embarrass himself. He considers himself shy and always has been.

His girlfriend first became angry with him because she felt he didn’t want to ever hang out with her and her friends. They would frequently fight about these situations and that just seemed to make things worse. The most recent fight, and the one that caused the breakup, was over Harry’s rude behavior at the prom dinner with Nancy’s friends. Harry excused himself from the table several times, and eventually after dinner told her he was feeling sick and didn’t want to go out after the prom. She felt that was proof he did not like her friends and was too selfish to try.

Areas of Impairment

Social anxiety disorder causes impairment in employment and academic functioning and can seriously limit one’s ability to succeed. Specifically, in the year leading up to college and the first year of college, I see social anxiety in teenagers cropping up more frequently. It interferes in the anxious person’s friendly and romantic relationships, academic success and sense of self-esteem.

In this example, after a complete assessment it became clear that Harry’s social anxiety was perhaps responsible for the failure of his relationship. If his girlfriend had understood his disorder she may have been more likely to work through these issues with him. With proper treatment and education, Harry may be able to get his academics together and to repair his relationship with Nancy. He also would be less likely to use marijuana and alcohol to relax and self-medicate.

Its often misdiagnosed

It is easy to see from this example how people around Harry, and even a professional, may see Harry as depressed or lazy. In fact, it is likely that if Harry went to see a professional that her would receive a diagnosis of depression. Harry actually does seem depressed, but if the depression is a result of social anxiety, as it so often is, then treating the depression is not enough.

Social anxiety in teenagers is often misdiagnosed as depression, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and even as Asperger’s Disorder. Frequently people with social anxiety disorder will go to their primary care physician for help, as opposed to a psychiatrist or other professional. Often, they present with secondary issues such as depression or substance abuse and the social anxiety is missed entirely. Unfortunately, primary care doctors are usually even less qualified than therapists or psychiatrists to make these diagnoses.

Treatment of Social Anxiety in Teenagers

Treatment of social anxiety disorder consists of education about the disorder from the therapist who may recommend self-help materials. Each person who has social anxiety disorder is different and so treatment is tailored individually after a thorough assessment. Carefully planned activities are utilized therapy to reduce anxiety around social situations. The therapist will also examine the beliefs and ideas that are driving the behavior, and will teach new skills to help the adult or teen who is struggling to interact with others more comfortably.

Social anxiety disorder in teens is amenable to treatment and most teens I work with are tremendously relieved to know what is happening with them. It is extremely important, if you are a parent with a teen with social anxiety to get them some help because the consequences of not getting help are secondary depression, substance abuse, and at times the failure to achieve their goals.

Learn about social anxiety disorder from the NSAC


Canadian Psychiatric Society. (Jul2006). Social Anxiety Disorder Clinical Practice Guidelines. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 51 Suppl , p35S-41S. Markaway, B. M. (2003). Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life. New York: St Martins Griffin

Learn more about social anxiety:


Cbt and social anxiety

Depression and social anxiety disorder

social anxiety and a bad temper

the definition of social anxiety disorder

social anxiety disorder in children

Overlap with generalized anxiety

valerian root and social anxiety

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.