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What Are the Symptoms of Social Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teenagers?

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Updated May 31, 2014

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) in kids and teens shares many of the same characteristics as the disorder in adults. The diagnostic criteria for the disorder are the same as for adults with a few exceptions:

  • for youth under 18, they do not need to recognize that the fear is unreasonable
  • the symptoms must have been present for at least 6 months
  • the youth must demonstrate the capacity for age-appropriate interactions
  • the anxiety must be present in interactions with peers, not just adults

Some children with the disorder may have speech/language problems, or a disfiguring medical condition that makes them more self-conscious, however the majority do not.

The situations that children with SAD fear differ slightly from those feared by adults and are also dependent on the age of the child.

Pre-school Children

If your child is a pre-schooler, some symptoms to watch for are:

  • fear or lack of interest in new things
  • cries, whines or appears irritable
  • freezes up or clings to parent
  • shy around new people
  • refuses to participate or speak

In young children, SAD may co-occur with two related disorders:

Separation Anxiety Disorder. Separation Anxiety Disorder is the fear of being separated from parents which is more than would be expected for the child’s developmental stage.

Selective Mutism. Selective Mutism is the inability to speak to anyone outside of a specific social circle (such as immediate family).

School-Aged Children

If your child is in elementary school some of his or her common fears may be:

  • reading aloud or answering questions in class
  • starting or joining a conversation
  • writing on the blackboard
  • speaking to adults
  • music/athletic performance
  • ordering food in a restaurant
  • attending birthday parties
  • inviting a friend over

A child in elementary school may display some of the following symptoms:

  • sits alone at lunch
  • doesn’t join in at recess
  • worries excessively about being evaluated or judged
  • does not participate in after-school activities
  • does not like school or refuses to go
  • is uncomfortable being the center of attention
  • mumbles or avoids eye contact

Teenagers

If you have a teenager, watch for the following additional symptoms specific to the teenage years:

  • skips school and/or uses drugs or alcohol
  • fears performance situations such as public speaking
  • difficulties dating or problems with a job
  • fear of using public restrooms
  • fear of signing name in public

It is important to seek help if you believe your child may be suffering with SAD. Unfortunately, because these children do not usually display behavioral problems, their problems tend to go undetected by parents and teachers. Earlier onset of the disorder typically means a more severe and chronic course so early intervention is particularly important.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. (1994) Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Hales, R.E., & Yudofsky, S.C. (Eds.). (2003). The American psychiatry publishing textbook of clinical psychiatry. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric.

Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia. (2007). Social Anxiety Disorder. 31 July 2007.

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