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Social Anxiety Therapy for Teens

by Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D., Director of San Jose Therapy and Counseling

In teenagers, social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is characterized by an intense fear of social or performance situations, including communication with friends, family, and authority figures. It can also involve fear of speaking in public speaking or attending social gatherings, such as parties or social activities. Teens with social anxiety often experience panic attacks when they are confronted with a feared situation. As the anxiety grows, many people with anxiety disorders begin to find ways to avoid feared situations.

Signs of social anxiety in teenagers can include the fear of embarrassment or humiliation in social, academic, or performance situations, anxiety in social situations, fear of being judged by peers or authority figures, avoidance of activities, problems making or keeping friends, and extreme self-consciousness.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses social anxiety in teens by examining the way in which the teenager places an inordinately high value on impressing others and on being judged. Due to these fears, teens with social anxiety tend to feel that are deficient in some way and inferior to others. Teens with social anxiety typically exaggerate their mistakes especially in social situations and believe that these errors are the reason they will be rejected by others. Additionally, teens with social anxiety disorder may partake in other damaging behaviors such as substance abuse or eating disorders.

The goal of CBT in social anxiety treatment is to modify the beliefs and behaviors that maintain the teen’s fear of social and performance situations. The CBT therapist first addresses the nature of anxiety and how the teen is maintaining the social anxiety with their negative beliefs about themselves. Once the teen’s thoughts and behaviors are identified, the therapist focuses on teaching them new skills for managing social situations and creating new coping mechanisms for dealing with anxiety. Once a teen has the skills from CBT, he or she will is able to use them in social and performance situations along with the new techniques for managing anxiety.

The typical goals of CBT and social anxiety therapy for teenagers include learning what social anxiety is and what the thoughts and behaviors are that support it, developing more realistic beliefs and self-perceptions, and increasing self-confidence with regards to social and performance situations. The CBT therapist working with a teen with social anxiety is trying to increase self-esteem in spite of the anxiety the teen feels due to self-consciousness. Therapy can also help the teen to learn healthy and age appropriate social skills and develop positive and fulfilling peer relationships.

Of course, it is somewhat normal for a teen to feel self-consciousness. It can help for parents to explain that their teen’s anxiety symptoms are not as noticeable as they may think. When a teen is suffering from social anxiety, it is important for friends and family to try to support the teen and tell them about the things they do well. After talking with them, it may be time to get some professional help if the social anxiety symptoms don’t get better.


Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D., is an author, researcher, and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (#47803) in San Jose, California. She works with teenagers and adults with anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders. To learn more about Dr. Fredricks' work, visit www.drrandifredricks.com or www.SanJoseAnxietyCounseling.net.


Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.
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