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Help for Shy Adolescents

Adolescence is a time when your child should be broadening his or her social circle. Itís a time when teens begin to form their own identities. This includes relating to others. If your adolescent is painfully shy, he or she is not alone. Approximately one of every two Americans claims to be shy, according to Bernardo Carducci and Philip Zimbardo (1995).

If your teen is missing out on social interactions due to his or her shyness, here are some things that you can do to help.

(1) Positive self-talk. Many teens have a negative monologue running through their heads that acts as a perpetual destructive reinforcement tool. Thoughts like: No one likes me; I always stick my foot in my mouth when I try to start a conversation; I donít have anything worthwhile to say. These kinds of thoughts produce anxiety and often stop the individual from interacting. As a parent, you can gently help your teen become aware of these self-defeating thought patterns and dispute them with positive ones. This type of cognitive-behavioral modification supports self-confidence when positive messages are substituted: I do have a good sense of humor; I know how to be a good friend; Lots of people enjoy talking with me.

(2) Explicit social skill instruction. Although non-shy teens pick up these skills through various permutations of social interaction, it is possible that a shy adolescent has not been exposed to or participated in enough social situations for such skills to become habitual. Parents can role play with their teen to help them learn how to effectively enter a conversation; how to be an active listener; and how to make eye contact during conversation. Once acquired, these new skills will help to increase confidence in social situations.

(3) Relaxation techniques. Often, due to past negative experiences, shy individuals experience anxiety or panic in social situations. This reaction then negatively impacts any current interaction. Helping your teen to breathe deeply and relax the muscles of his or her extremities will enable him or her to calm down enough to move past the initial foray into the social interaction. With each successful encounter, self confidence will increase and displace the negative memories of past interactions.

(4) Drug therapy. In extreme cases where social anxiety is debilitating, drug therapy can be very effective in helping to ease the onset of panic attacks in order to function in social contexts.

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