Social phobia is the intense fear of becoming humiliated in a social setting. Children who suffer from this will appear to be excessively shy because they fear that they will say or do something in front of others that will cause them embarrassment. They may believe that others are more competent than they are. Commonly, children with social phobia will avoid social situations like parties or speaking to people in positions of authority, or having to speak in public. These situations are so frightening that the child will become anxious just thinking about them and will attempt to avoid the situation altogether. This is very different than simple shyness because while a child who is shy may feel uneasy around others, they don’t necessarily go to drastic lengths to avoid these situations. Social phobias are intense enough to interfere in the daily life of the child.
The main symptom of social phobia is a persistent fear of situations that may expose the child to people that they are not familiar with or to being scrutinized by others. This can cause the child to begin to avoid school related events. One of the most common complaints among children suffering from this disorder is a fear of appearing foolish or doing something that will cause them to be ridiculed. Less common fears associated with social phobia include fears of using a public restroom, eating out, ordering food, talking on the telephone, or having to contribute to class discussions in front of others. Since the child begins to avoid social situations, this phobia can severely interfere with his normal development and quality of life. Another symptom of social phobia is that the child may experience intense worry, days, weeks or even months prior to an event, such as the first day of school. The child may suffer some physical symptoms of anxiety like a pounding heart or a tight chest, shaky voice, rapid breathing, dry mouth, and sweating and/or hot flashes. They could also suffer from nausea, dizziness or feeling faint, trembling, and clammy hands.
Social phobia may look different in children than it does in adults. While an adult will recognize that the amount of anxiety they are feeling is excessive, a child often lacks that ability. Younger children may protest when they have to leave a parent’s side; have a tantrum when facing a social situation; refuse to play with friends or complain of a physical illness at the time of a social event. Social phobias are often diagnosed around the age of twelve, which is an age where children are typically expected to increase their social activities and time spent with friends. Children who suffer from social phobia may often have more than one anxiety disorder.
As a parent, it’s important to realize that symptoms will vary over time. Other anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder or separation anxiety disorder, may appear to be social phobia, and depression often accompanies this disorder. Children may have trouble discussing the fears that they experience and be unaware or even unwilling to admit that their anxiety may be a symptom of a disorder.