Teachers, peer pressure, mountains of homework, confusing schedules, bullying – whether you’re in your first year of middle school or your last, the list of challenges goes on and on! For many pre-teens, middle school can come with accompanying social anxiety, which is most likely to emerge in late childhood or early adolescence (Beesdo, Dipl-Psych, & Pine, 2009).
The primary feature of social anxiety disorder is the fear of doing something embarrassing in front of others, or something that will result in negative judgment from others (Albano & DiBartolo, 2007). Other notable symptoms of the disorder include avoiding social situations, and anxiety interfering in everyday life. Put simply, social anxiety occurs when kids learn to feel anxious in and avoid social situations often, and it gets in the way of doing things that are important to them.
According to the National Comorbidity Survey performed by the National Institute of Health (2011), 12% of adolescents in the United States meet criteria for social anxiety. Many more children and adolescents are considered subthreshold, which means they experience some but not all of the symptoms required for the diagnosis.
The good news is that social anxiety can be un-learned through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)! Research has shown that children and teenagers who engage in these strategies through individual or group CBT significantly improve (Spence et al., 2000; Herbert et al., 2009; Garcia-Lopez et al., 2012).
Because of PHC’s commitment to both collaborative care and evidence-based treatment, one study in particular has inspired our social anxiety treatment program – that of Australian researchers Spence, Donovan, and Brechman-Toussaint (2000). These researchers built upon existing social anxiety treatment studies by adding a “parent involvement” condition. In this treatment condition, parents were taught to reinforce coping skills, encourage social participation, and model socially proactive behavior. Meanwhile, their children met with another group leader and engaged in social skills training, relaxation techniques, social problem-solving, positive self-talk, and gradual exposure to social situations. At the end of treatment, this group of children were less likely than children in the non-parent CBT group or waitlist group to meet criteria for a social anxiety diagnosis. Furthermore, treatment gains were maintained one year after the group ended.
At PHC, we are incorporating parent involvement into our social anxiety and social skills groups. Facing social anxiety takes practice and support, and we feel the parent-therapist collaboration is key for success. If you think your child could benefit from therapy for social anxiety, don’t hesitate to give us a call.