Don’t shy away

Don’t shy away

Is your child awkward with social graces and a bit of an introvert? Well then, it’s not really something to panic about, it’s just a phase that needs to be weathered with counselling and patience

By Oksana Tashakova

Published: Fri 15 Feb 2013, 2:12 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:38 PM

A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that among 10,000 adolescents and teens, one in 10 met the criteria for social phobia, that your moody or self-conscious teen may have a serious disorder.

It can be hard to differentiate between shyness and social phobia. Shyness is defined as “the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people,” reports Shyness “means being quiet, introverted, introspective, and sometimes self-isolating”. While shyness can be a normal part of someone’s personality and while there are many stages of development in which children become shy, many kids outgrow their shyness as they develop peer groups and make friends.

Social phobia is said to lead to anxiety and mood disorders and troublesome behaviour such as substance abuse. 
Social phobia can interfere with children’s ability to excel in school, to pursue careers and to live within society.

Psychologist Jeff Gardere admits that shyness as a personality trait shouldn’t be treated as a disorder and medicated, that parents and therapists should take care not to over-diagnose our children.

In Shyness: How Normal Behavior 
Became a Sickness, Christopher Lane claims social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder are examples of how normal emotions are becoming medicalised. Lane writes about his findings in a November 2007 article in The Wall Street Journal. He claims that diagnoses like these have soared because there is such a hazy list of symptoms; doctors may diagnose someone with social phobia because there is a fear that something embarrassing may be done in public. Which of us haven’t felt avoidant or self-conscious — especially as adolescents?

Lane claims that shyness became a disorder because of deliberate efforts on the part of psychiatrists, drug companies, DSM writers and a marketing blitz. He spoke to a number of doctors including Robert Spitzer. Spitzer described meetings in which he and his colleagues created new psychiatric problems. Dr Issac Marks, who was the first person to use the term social anxiety, now considers the scientific literature concerning the disorder an “advertising ploy”. Pharmacologist David Healy told Lane that he’s been unable to make the public aware of the side effects of drugs used for social anxiety and social phobia.

Lane worries we are now uncomfortable about experiencing any normal emotion, that we take a pill when we feel a little down, give our kids Ritalin because they behave like kids, that we want a pill for feeling self-conscious or irritable. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that something’s wrong if we’re not always happy. Many doctors today think widespread antidepressant use is blunting our ability to feel deeply, to concentrate, to connect with others and even to fall in love.

Feeling shy doesn’t mean that you have a chemical imbalance in the brain that needs to be rectified with dangerous drugs. The Royal College of Psychiatrists claims that five in every 100 people have some degree of social phobia. Whether or not this disorder exists, if your shyness affects your quality of life, if you’re not happy with how it 
affects you or if you’d like to lessen its degree, then you can seek help from a therapist or a life coach.

There are plenty of people that are naturally introspective and feel fine about not being party-goers. And the self-consciousness that colours adolescence serves a purpose. This is the age when kids are trying on different identities and trying to figure out where they belong in the world. Take care not to make too much of your child’s occasional withdrawals or reluctance to eng-age with others; they may outgrow this. If this is something that your child claims is a problem for him or her, there are ways you can help him/her without branding him/her damaged goods and giving him/her medication.

Anxiety itself is a normal human 
condition but if your child seems to be depressed because of shyness or feels panicky in social situations, you can get help in terms of changing negative 
expectations and thoughts to more 
optimistic and positive ones. An assertiveness course may help, as can relaxation exercises. Your child can learn how to anticipate and deal with troublesome situations and can learn communication and social skills. Changing how your kids think about themselves is your best bet for long-term and positive change.

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