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Social anxiety is the third largest mental health problem rampant among school-going adolescents. It can get carried forward in later years of life if not handled right, says Dr Roma Kumar, a Clinical Psychologist with over 30 years of experience. She is a senior consultant at Max Hospital Gurugram and the Institute of Child Health at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi.

Being a shy or quiet child is not the same as having social anxiety. “Social anxiety is characterized by intense self-consciousness and fear of embarrassment that goes beyond common shyness, causing a child to go to great lengths to avoid social interactions,” says Dr Roma Kumar, senior psychologist at Max Hospital Gurgaon. Too much stress can cause teens to go into a physical state of distress. “As the stress depletes their brain of essential chemicals needed to regulate emotion, they begin to feel physical and mental symptoms that can disrupt the enjoyment of everyday life, adds Dr Kumar.

Childhood Anxiety

Young children as old as four-year-olds and teenagers with social anxiety have an excessive and persistent fear of social and performance situations such as school, parties, athletic activities, peer-group hangouts and more. They are apprehensive that they may do something embarrassing or that others will think badly of them, and they start feeling judged and opinionated. “These children constantly feel “on stage,” which can lead to a great deal of self-consciousness, distress, and avoidance. Some children are only afraid of speaking or performing in public, while others fear and avoid a wide range of social situations,” explains Dr Kumar.

Some of the problems associated with social anxiety can be vague, including poor school performance, excuses for not going to school, low self-confidence in social situations, weak digestion, inability to make friends, depression, and alcohol or substance use.

Social Media Web

 This can be daunting for a teenager because, at their age, his self-esteem and desire to be ‘the best is very high. Teenagers want acceptance from their peer group and to be in the limelight.

Teenagers in a volatile social fabric compare their lives with their friends- whether in living standards or academics. Their life is like an open book on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Hangouts, Snap chat and other “new-age” modes of communication. Update by the minute only adds to their stress levels, allowing more distractions and less time to unplug. There’s a fair amount of social pressure around brands, expensive parties and eateries.

Common causes of stress among teens

* Pressing academic demands

* High expectations from parents and teachers

* Competitive sports

* Being overscheduled

* Peer pressure

* Physical changes

* Family dysfunctions, such as abuse or alcoholism, separation, or divorce 

* Social and academic pressures

“Social anxiety can develop suddenly after an anxious, stressful or embarrassing experience, or slowly over time. Research also indicates that social anxiety runs in families so that other members may share similar difficulties,” says Dr Kumar. Often, parents demonstrate unhealthy coping mechanisms and live full-blown, stressed-out lives. Teens also grow up with this attitude and unconsciously identify with such behaviour.


 Parents should also work towards raising their children’s self-esteem to such a level that they stand tall even if they don’t match up to others regarding material possessions. This has to begin at a young age and should be well established by the time they are in their teens. Parents can do this by providing unconditional love, take out time for their children, celebrating the positive, resist comparison. Appreciate your child for the unique individual that he is and help him to grow his self-esteem.

        Tips for teens to reduce stress

  • Exercise and eat at an appropriate time 
  • Avoiding excess caffeine intake 
  • Do yoga and breathing exercises. 
  • Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet, reduce stress levels 
  • Taking frequent breaks during stressful activities

 Expert speaks: Parents must respect their children’s space and needs; refrain from providing unsolicited advice. Teens need to be listened to rather than told what to do. The key lies in not judging their seemingly little dreams or pestering them to fulfil their parents’ goals. As Khalil Gibran said, “They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, they belong not to you.”

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