Mark stood at the edge of the birthday party and watched as his peers began to sing the chorus of Happy Birthday. His chest squeezed and his heart raced as if he had just run a marathon. He stood, trying his best to breathe but it had become exceedingly difficult. Mark’s stomach turned. As people crowded around the birthday girl and she blew out her candles, Mark slipped out the front door.

When social anxiety in teens occurs, many may simply label it as “shyness.” But what your teen experiences could be much more than simply being shy.

What is social anxiety disorder? 

Social anxiety disorder is a form of anxiety that causes fear in social situations. The thinking pattern of social anxiety creates an intense fear of being judged or watched by others. This fear is different from being shy because it can deeply affect school, activities and social interactions for your teen. Though this anxiety disorder can be debilitating, it does not have to stop your teen from reaching their full potential.

Symptoms of social anxiety

Symptoms caused by social anxiety disorder can look different for each person, but here are some of the most common symptoms:

  • nausea
  • excessive sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • difficulty speaking
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • rapid heart rate
  • blushing

If your teen expresses these symptoms alongside an intrusive thinking pattern of fear, you may consider scheduling a doctor’s visit, seeking out a medical professional or setting up a counselling session.  

How to help your teen

If your child has social anxiety disorder, it is important to be proactive in your approach to helping them. For some severe cases, you may need to consult a professional counsellor to help your teen. Below are some specific tips on how you can help your teen who is struggling with social anxiety disorder.

Tips for your teen with social anxiety

Be understanding of your teen’s experience. We are living in a broken world, and symptoms of that brokenness are mental health struggles. If your teenage son or daughter approaches you with these feelings of social anxiety, be understanding and present. Listen to them as they explain what they face. Turn their eyes to truth as you walk through this with them.

The social anxiety thinking pattern

Help teach your child that social anxiety is a thinking pattern. As you learn more about social anxiety, you can help direct your teen’s thoughts to what is true. Since anxiety alone is rooted in the fear of the unknown, speak truth over them when they express anxious thoughts. Help your teen learn different thinking patterns. By doing so, they can start to see past the anxiety that plagues them in social settings.

Being proactive with your teen

Taking proactive steps with your teen is the best way to help them handle social settings. Help them practice staying present in the moment while at the grocery store or when you visit a neighbour. Give them a bit of pressure. For example, allow for moments when they can practice speaking to others in small stressful situations. If you go to the mall, encourage them to speak to the cashier while you are standing there. 

These small stressful moments show them they are safe. By gradually exposing your teen to these environments, your teen will slowly realize that they are safe in social settings. 

Though taking proactive steps is important, take into account your teen’s emotional and spiritual well-being. If a social setting becomes too difficult, be willing to take a step back in order to give your teen a moment to decompress. To learn more about how to be proactive in your teen’s mental health journey, get in contact with a local counsellor.

Give a sense of control

Provide your teen with a comfortable sense of control. Anxiety is often formed as a “what if” sentence. This mentality is concerned with the future, as opposed to the present. This makes your teen feel out of control, especially in social interactions. By training and teaching them to stay grounded in the present moment, their brain can begin to feel safe in social environments.

Ways to help your teen have a sense of control and stay grounded can vary. For example, you can ask them to do the five senses checklist. Have them tell you five things they see, four things they hear, three things they can touch, two things they can smell and one thing they can taste. When they do this exercise, it reinforces the present moment and allows their brain to get away from the “what if.”

What is

The antidote to “what if” is “what is.” In the moment of a social setting if your teen is facing anxious thoughts, help them remember what is. Have them point out things that are happening in the current moment. They may not have control over the situation, but they have control over themselves. 

There are different ways you can help restructure your teen’s thinking pattern. It is possible to be free of the intense anxiety that comes with social anxiety disorder.

How to help in the moment

Keep in mind that you won’t always fix your child’s social anxiety in the setting. In most cases, your teen will be in hypervigilant mode. In moments of social anxiety attacks, have a clear plan for how long you plan to stay and if need be have an emergency exit plan. 

When you help give a clear plan for your teen as they go into a social setting, you can help them gain a sense of control. Help them come up with conversation questions. This sense of preparation will keep them from wandering into the “what if’s.” Encourage them to know spaces where they can go to take a breath should the situation become too overwhelming. 

Encourage your teen with the Word

Staying grounded in the present moment is an important way to help your teen when they are facing anxiety. Turning to the truth found in the Word can help remind your teen they are safe and the Lord is with them. The Lord sees your teen and cares deeply for them. Remind your teen of these truths and encourage them with the Word of God as they face their social anxiety.

Bible verses for social anxiety

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

“I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

“When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy” (Psalm 94:19).

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

Final thoughts on social anxiety in teens

Facing a mental illness is difficult, and as parents we want to take the burdens from our children. Rest in knowing that there is hope. There is hope in professional counsellors, community and different thinking patterns. Ultimately, there is hope in our Saviour Jesus who understands our pain. Know that the Lord is with you and your teen as you continue to understand and combat social anxiety. 

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© 2022 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at

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