Back to School Social Anxiety (page 2)

Back to School Social Anxiety

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Updated on Aug 27, 2013


Volunteering is an excellent way for teens to join a structured activity that takes the focus off of them. They can interact with other people for the good of the community or another individual, and with prolonged involvement, they can develop a level of comfort that will allow them to socialize with others involved in the effort. Zucker says it’s important, however, for preteens and teens to be in a community service environment where they have to interact with peers—not just with adults.

 Get a Job 

Whether teens get a job at the local movie theater or at an ice-cream shop, working will invariably lead to socializing as this is almost always a part of the experience. Some kids have less anxiety about socializing when they’re not in a classroom environment, when they’re not expected to perform. Getting some practice socializing in the workplace can boost kids’ confidence and prepare them for when they return to the classroom. (Parents of teens with social anxiety might encourage their children to avoid jobs in libraries or other environments where socializing is discouraged.)

 Go to Camp 

Camp, particularly overnight camp, is an excellent way for children to reinvent themselves and practice their social skills. Nobody at camp knows that they’re nervous and shy at school. Here, at camp, they can play the role of the confident kid or the funny kid. The sky’s the limit at camp. Parents shouldn’t, however, coerce their kids into a camp experience. If the teen is open to it and excited by it, great. If not, don’t lay on the pressure because that could lead to a difficult and embarrassing situation.

Visit the School

Finally, for students who will be attending junior high or high school for the first time, visiting the school, maybe meeting one or two of the teachers, and getting a sense of where the cafeteria and other spaces are can put the child at ease. Perez-Edgar says it’s a good idea for parents to try to get a copy of a typical schedule and then accompany their preteens and teens to the school over the summer to explore with them. Another possibility is to have children spend an afternoon with a neighbor or other peer they feel comfortable with and just talk about what school is like. “The unknown, uncertainty, is one of the main issues that really provoke their worries,” Perez-Edgar says. “It’s most effective for parents to deal with this issue.”

The other most common issue that provokes a socially anxious child’s worries is the idea that they will be negatively evaluated—that people will judge them harshly. Perez-Edgar and Zucker both stress the importance of behavioral cognitive therapy for children diagnosed with social anxiety. The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) can help find a therapist in the local area.

There are many other resources for parents and teens with social anxiety or just general back-to-school anxiety. For more information, contact the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA).

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