Generalized social phobia is the most common type of anxiety disorder in the population at large (Blair et al., 2008), and is one of the most prevalent sources of anxiety for children as well.
The definition of social phobia
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-IV) issued by the American Psychiatric Association, social phobia is defined as “a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which embarrassment may occur.”
What is social phobia in children?
Social anxiety in children is very similar to that found in adults. (Beidel & Turner, 1998) For example, youth with social phobia tend to fear speaking, reading, eating, or writing in public. They are generally uncomfortable talking with unfamiliar people, or interacting with people in general. They don’t like to be around large crowds.
The different degrees of social anxiety
Social anxiety can be expressed in a number of different ways and to different degrees. Researchers Rapee and Heimberg (1997) suggest that social phobia can be best understood on a continuum where shyness is at one end of the spectrum (indicating mild social anxiety), social phobia is in the middle (moderate social anxiety), and avoidant personality disorder is at the extreme end (severe social anxiety).
At what age does social anxiety emerge in kids?
Social phobia has been diagnosed in kids as young as 8, though it generally emerges in middle to late adolescence. Early onset for social phobia is typically around age 16. (Curtis, Kimball & Stroup, 2004) The condition is generally not diagnosed in kids younger than 7, primarily because many social development milestones don’t take place until around this age. Since children are not seen as possessing a full social capacity in early childhood, therapists avoid a social anxiety diagnosis, though younger kids may still exhibit many of the same symptoms typical of social phobia.
The effects and consequences of social phobia
When a child’s social anxiety goes untreated, it can have a number of severe consequences that impact just about every aspect of their life. Since social skills are an important part of daily functioning, everything from their susceptibility to mental health disorders to their ability to find and hold down a job can be affected. For example:
A) Approximately 60% of people with social phobia experience other troubling disorders, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Schneier et al., 1992)
B) Those with social phobia are less likely to marry and more likely to receive disability or welfare assistance. (ibid)
C) Approximately one-fifth of individuals with social phobia reported missing school and/or work because of their condition, and 24% reported diminished work productivity. (Wittchen et al., 1999)