Social Phobia (or Social Anxiety Disorder) is an extreme fear of being judged or criticized by others. This often leads to the child avoiding situations where he or she may be exposed to new people, or to large groups of people. Children and adolescents with social phobia may experience excessive fear in social situations (e.g., meeting or talking to people) which causes significant distress and interferes with functioning. The disorder can be selective in that some children have significant difficulty in particular social situations but may be perfectly fine in other, seemingly similar, situations.
It is important to note that this is not “shyness,” which is a normal developmental challenge for all kids, and which typically resolves itself by the age of two. Social Phobia has a typical age of onset at 13 years old. However, early symptoms such as excessive clinginess and selective mutism (i.e., the failure to speak in certain situations, despite speaking in other situations) may initially appear in younger children.
Some of the most common things that the socially anxious child avoids include:
- Reading aloud in front of class
- Musical or athletic performances
- Starting or joining in on a conversation
- Speaking to Adults
- Writing on the blackboard
- Ordering food in a restaurant
- Attending dances or birthday parties
Social phobia is a severe, disabling form of shyness and can cause problems in people’s lives. Sometimes the problems are minor, such as not being able to speak up in class. Sometimes, however, the problems can be very serious. Children and adolescents with severe social phobia often have very few friends, feel lonely and have trouble reaching their personal and academic goals.
Social phobia is very common in that it affects one out of eight people at some point in their lives, and it is twice as common for girls as for boys. However, males are more likely to seek help for the problem. Social phobia usually starts when people are in their early teens, but it can begin much earlier. If people do not get help, the problem can last for years.
The Tarnow Center offers a variety of approaches to the treatment of childhood anxiety disorders.
- Individual Therapy: Individual work focuses on developing specific skills for managing anxiety, while also addressing the struggles with daily stressors and low self-esteem that often accompany a diagnosis of anxiety.
- Biofeedback: Like individual therapy, Biofeedback works by teaching specific anxiety management skills to the client. Biofeedback employs the use of technology to make the client more aware of the internal processes that contribute to anxiety, and in doing so, teaches the client to better control these processes.
- Family Therapy: Family work is important in the treatment of anxiety in that it focuses on developing open communication and expression of emotion, while teaching parents techniques to utilize at home with the anxious child.
- Group Therapy: Groups provide safe and appropriate social training where the child can get feedback from peers and adults about how to regulate their behavior.
For more information about resources in your area, go to: Treatment Programs