Socially Anxious Teens

Cathi Cohen, LCSW

Socially anxious teens desperately want to interact and connect with their peers. Sadly, “wanting” is not “doing.” These teens struggle with a challenging and painful irony: the desire they have to belong, to fit in, to be more in-sync with their peers leads to the very feelings of anxiety they are trying to avoid.

With family gatherings, holiday parties and New Year’s Eve get-togethers just days away, support your socially anxious teen with these strategies.

Step 1: Make a commitment to overcome your social anxiety

Changing your social anxiety will be difficult.  You need to be ready, willing, and able to take action even when you need to confront situations you fear.

Step 2: Expect fits and starts

Be kind to yourself when your progress is not linear.  Rather, you can expect to take two steps forward, one step.  This is how change of any kind takes place.

Step 3: Focus on personal benefits of overcoming social anxiety

Based on your own values and goals, identify your own reasons for changing.  Perhaps your goal is to have closer friendships, rather than being more comfortable in a crowd.  You are more likely to succeed if the goals are yours.

Step 4: Set one small, specific, measurable goal at a time

Not only is it easier to measure whether or not you are succeeding by setting one goal at a time, but it is also less overwhelming to lay out baby steps to achieving your objective.  For example, you might have a specific goal of “decreasing my fear of an oral presentation in front of the class from a level 10 out of 10 to a level 6 out of 10.

Step 5: Be more aware of your negative thoughts

Awareness is power.  Just becoming more cognizant of your beliefs and thoughts creates a distance from them. Being mindful allows you to see thoughts and feelings as passing events rather than truths.

Step 6: Consider alternative explanations for negative interpretations

Consider keeping a log to record your anxious thoughts, countering them with more realistic predictions or understandings.  As you become more comfortable with the process of thinking more realistically, you won’t need the journal any more.

Step 7: Gradually expose yourself to situations you fear

It is only through direct experience that you will be able to gain confidence by tolerating anxiety provoking situations.

Step 8: Have confidence in yourself

Know that you can and you will overcome your social anxiety.  Being optimistic is imperative to your success.  Remember The Little Engine That Could, “I think I can. I think I can. I know I can. I know I can.”

At In Step, we offer both individual and group therapy for teenagers who struggle with shyness and social anxiety.

In individual therapy, a teen is able to talk about relationship issues in the presence of a nonjudgmental, caring adult who offers needed support and guidance. In group therapy, a teen not only talks about interpersonal issues that arise outside of group, but he/she is able to play out these issues within the group itself.  The group may provoke some anxiety, especially initially, but as the group unfolds, its members develop feelings of safety and trust.

We are happy to discuss both alternatives with you to find the right solution for your shy or socially anxious teen.