Despite the increasing awareness and understanding of the term social anxiety—according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada (ADAC), it’s actually the most common anxiety disorder—it too often remains under-recognized and as a result, under-diagnosed. Why is this? Ottawa counselling professionals point out that with adolescents in particular, it simply is not the most obvious conclusion a parent might draw regarding a teenager that one might more easily characterize as being shy. The desire of all parents is that their children will grow up not only physically healthy, but emotionally healthy as well, so how can parents know if the confidence they seek to instill in their child is being undermined by the more serious problem of social anxiety disorder, rather than just a more typical challenge of common shyness? Ottawa counselling services identify some of the following signs or characteristics a parent can look out for in order to determine whether a child is just shy, or struggling with social anxiety.

Excessive Self-Consciousness: Most teenagers will feel self-conscious from time to time in particular or new situations. Teens with social anxiety, however, worry excessively—even obsessively—about being negatively judged by others to the point of terror that they might do or say the “wrong thing.” This is a very common issue in high school environments where some teens can suffer from anxiety when they fall victim to bullying and the harsh judgements of fellow classmates.

Out-of-Proportion Fear: Therapists offering Ottawa-area counselling note that, in the same way all teens can feel self-conscious, they also can feel fearful. However, the degree of fear is what is key in pointing to social anxiety disorder. Fear that is persistent, and out-of-proportion to actual or reasonable risk of consequence or judgment should be concerning.

Extreme Dread: While a shy teen might feel uncomfortable about an imminent social situation or gathering, a socially anxious teen will be filled with dread about it, even days in advance, as well as often experience such physical symptoms as trembling, nausea, or sweating.

Desire to be ‘Invisible’: A teen with social anxiety ultimately desires to avoid doing anything that might draw attention to him or herself. “Invisibility” protects an adolescent from the unwanted attention; an extremely quiet, withdrawn teen in social settings can unfortunately be overlooked, yet it’s critical to not miss these clues.

Shyness can make life challenging, but social anxiety can paralyze it. Sometimes teenagers are unable to articulate what often can be such overwhelming negative and fearful feelings. In Ottawa, counselling professionals are available to help parents navigate the waters of knowing the difference between discomfort, and extreme anxiety.