It’s no secret that teenagers suffer from frequent mood swings, some of which include withdrawing from both parents and friends. But where is the line between normal adolescent moodiness and a potential psychiatric disorder? According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, adolescent shyness could be a marker of something more troubling – a psychiatric disorder called social phobia.
The study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, analyzed the results of a previously conducted in-person survey of more than 10,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 18. Researchers found that those who self-identified as shy in the original face-to-face survey, about one in 10, also met the diagnostic criteria for social phobia.
Shyness, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “the tendency to feel awkward, worried, or tense during social encounters, especially with unfamiliar people.”
“It means being quiet, introverted, introspective, and sometimes self-isolating,” Jeffe Gardere, clinical psychologist says. “But a shy person can still be drawn out by others and, if needed to, can interact socially, albeit uncomfortably. Many of our children outgrow their shyness and become much more socially interactive as they make friends, associate with peer groups, and mature through life.”
Social phobia takes this shyness to a level that can interfere with daily functioning.
“Social phobia is a real psychiatric condition, especially when it interferes with the social, occupational, and academic functioning of our children. It’s a condition that can be intensely difficult to live with and can be crippling with regard to social situations and the intense fear of interacting with others,” Gardere says.