For adolescents with social anxiety the pandemic could be described as, for lack of a better word, a rollercoaster. As a child and family therapist, I have had an up close look at the many peaks and valleys.
When lockdown began for some the pandemic was seen as a reprieve from the ever present triggers of school and nagging social nerves. For many of my client’s that cringe at the idea of turning red during a speech, being called on, or someone noticing their acne, this transition to an at home learning felt like a break from their most avoided fears. Virtual classes created new challenges like having a screen zoomed into your pores or an up close view into your personal space, but there was always an option to turn the camera off. Fast forward to the return of in person learning, and what I and many colleagues noticed was an uptick in kids with emerging and intensifying social anxiety.
The New York Times, re-iterates these themes, outlining how the pandemic has worsened anxiety for those already impacted. The article cites that already 9 to 10 percent of young adults have a social anxiety diagnosis and the pandemic is predicted by psychologists to grow more severe.
As a parent, it’s hard to watch your kids struggle with something that can maybe feel like a distant reality. For others the pandemic may have reignited their own social anxieties and it could be more challenging to model confidence.
Below are some helpful tips to begin supporting an adolescent who is experiencing the impacts of emerging social anxiety. If challenges persist, seeking the support of a licensed therapist is recommended.
Reminding kids that it is normal to experience more social anxiety after living through a global pandemic. Normalize with your kids that social anxiety is already common with adolescents and that the pandemic has intensified these challenges.
For many teens, talking about the anxiety with an adult will decrease the intensity. Asking your adolescent what is causing their nerves and listening to their worries is a great way to get to the root of the problem. Hot tip: Walking, driving or doing an activity while talking can increase participation.
Social media platforms like tik tok, Instagram and snapchat can intensify anxiety. Engaging in the material that your kids are viewing could give you more insights into where these anxieties stem from. Rather than monitoring, explore what your children are hearing from these messages and provide an another perspective. Alternatively many therapists are creating social media accounts that are run by actual licensed professionals and could be a helpful tool for your teen. Users like, @lindsay.fleminglpc and @drnortontherapy can provide helpful tips that are more accessible to the teen viewer.
Whether you talk about the anxiety you experienced when you were a teenager or share some of your current anxieties that come up in social settings, relating to your child’s experience could increase their desire to open up. Modeling your own experience with anxiety and how you work through your anxiety could also support your child’s ability to seek help or think of their own coping strategies.
If your child is nervous to be in big groups, creating positive associations with group activities could help. Encouraging your child to pick activities that are exciting to them could encourage their experience with being with others. Be sure to not pressure your child into doing activities and try using gentle encouragement instead.