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Just about everyone feels a twinge of nervousness when entering a new situation, and the first day of school can be especially nerve-wracking for teens and pre-teens. For teens with social anxiety, worries over not knowing their way around, social demands and the fear of appearing foolish in front of peers can be the cause of deep anxiety.

Teens with true social anxiety are ruled by a fear of being the focus of attention, holding back from social encounters or anything which might make him or her an object of ridicule. The thought of going back to school at the end of summer is a common source of worry for these kids.

If social worry is an issue for your teen there are some things you can do this summer to help smooth the return to school:

  1. Give them the opportunity to experience positive social interactions like conducting bank transactions, order at restaurants or paying at the grocery check-out.
  2. Encourage your child to participate in a volunteer project. Keep in mind that the best practice for the socially anxious teen is the kind that involves interaction with peers, not just adults.
  3. Working a part-time job forces shy and retiring teens to interact with people of all ages as well as complex situations, which will serve them well when they eventually enter the workforce.

Anxiety is partly inherited, but it can also result from an overly-critical environment. Parents should focus on speaking positively, not only to their teen but to others when in front of their teen. A great deal of their anxiety is worry over rejection – parents need to shore up the teen’s sense of acceptance and ability. This isn’t being false; it’s a matter of shifting focus onto what is being done well. Teens can tell if mom and dad are worried about their social abilities and that concern will only reinforce their sense of anxiety.

While anxiousness over social demands can lead some kids to fake illnesses to avoid going to school, others find escape by bullying others, refraining from participation in classroom discussions or even using alcohol, marijuana and harder drugs. Some teens may be willing to talk through situations with their parents, but others won’t be able to be quite so vulnerable. Still, communication is always key, especially when trying to steer kids clear of substance abuse.

A good exercise may be to go with them to school before the first day of school, helping them to find their locker, see their classrooms and if possible interact with teachers in order to reduce tension.

Social anxiety mostly affects teens between the ages of 11 to 18 and, in most cases, dissipates in early adulthood. In addition to the above suggestions, parents may consider engaging the help of a counselor trained in cognitive behavioral therapy who can help identify negative thinking. The counselor can suggest new ways of thinking about social engagements and suggest a variety of practice encounters to help your teen build confidence.

If your teen experiences above average anxiety about heading back to school, use these last few days of summer to work on social skills. Don’t hover – instead, allow them the freedom to learn and let them feel your confidence in them. And don’t hesitate to tell them the great things you see for them as they move through high school and out into life.

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