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Childhood Social Phobia

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Social phobia disorders almost always start before the age of 20 and the age of onset can be lower than 10 years of age in a substantial percentage of cases.

Teens and adults with social phobia tend to recognize that the fear and anxiety they experience is unusual and problematic, yet children often do not come to this same conclusion on their own – it is up to parents, teachers and caregivers to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of social phobia in children and to intervene when necessary.

What Is Social Phobia?

Social phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an excessive anxiety about social interaction and or activities. Kids with social phobia often fear being embarrassed or “looking stupid” in front of strangers of classmates. While all kids feel anxious or shy sometimes, children with social phobia feel anxiety with an intensity that affects their ability to function normally.

  • It is normal for a child to feel a bit nervous when called to write on the blackboard in front of the class.
  • It is not normal for a child to avoid going to school because they so fear being called to the blackboard

Read a description of social phobia/social anxiety disorder for a complete overview of the condition.

Examples of activities that commonly provoke anxiety in children with social phobia include:

  • Writing on the blackboard in front of the class
  • Speaking to adults (strangers)
  • Performing in front of people
  • Talking to a waitress in a restaurant
  • Reading aloud in class
  • Going to social events, such as birthday parties

Signs of Social Phobia in Children

There is no single tell-tale sign of childhood social phobia, but children with the disorder will often behave in the some of following ways:

  • Often try to stay home from school, or even refuse to go to school
  • Avoid making eye contact
  • Prefer to spend time alone
  • Having few or no friends – spend time at recess alone at the edges of the playground (these kids are lonely. They would like to have friends, but can’t behave in ways that create friendships.)
  • Look very anxious when forced to perform socially
  • Prefer to avoid social performance situations, such as writing on the blackboard or presenting to the class
  • Prefer to spend time alone playing computer games
  • Being very soft spoken

These behavioral symptoms don’t necessarily indicate social phobia (avoiding school could be a sign of bullying, for example) but signs of the disorder merit investigation, preferably an evaluation from a mental health professional experienced in working with children and anxiety disorders.

Although most people with the disorder will endure some degree of social anxiety for a lifetime, treatments that include medications and psychotherapies can help a great deal to reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Left untreated, childhood social phobia can lead to:

  • Co-occurring mental health conditions
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • An increased risk of suicide
  • Poor academic performance – a decreased probability of high school or college graduation
  • Unhappiness

Contact a mental health professional if you worry about the social functioning of a child you love.

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Page last updated 08/12/2015

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