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As many as 97% of teens actively use at least one form of social media.[1] If your tween or teen has social media, help them become informed, safer consumers with our Social Media Readiness Course. Our online course includes mastery quizzes after each lesson and can be done at your own pace. We think it’s the best way to help kids avoid the many sources of digital injury and help them integrate critical psychological wellness tools. Today’s article is all about social media and psychological wellness. Is social media use contributing to your child’s social anxiety disorder?

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a debilitating disorder that impacts children and adults and is characterized by an intense fear of being judged by others in social settings.[2] Since the stay-at-home orders from COVID19, Dr. Bennett says that many of kids, teens, and adults developed social anxiety due to the stress and loss of practice due to isolation. People who suffer from SAD avoid social situations that require peer conversations, giving speeches, and being among unfamiliar people.

What are the signs of SAD?

Although we all may go through bouts of shyness or anxiety when doing social things like making speeches, SAD is a heightened and debilitating version of these same fears. Studies have shown that children have with SAD often struggle with peer friendships, academics, and even family life.[3]

Here are typical characteristics of SAD:

  • Excessive fear regarding social situations
  • Agitation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Avoidance of social engagements
  • Excessive worry
  • Poor eye contact

These are things you can be on the lookout for when observing your children. Are they struggling to keep up academically? Are they complaining that they don’t have friends? Do you notice that they lack confidence to initiate conversations or speak up for themselves?

If you feel concerned, reach out for professional assistance from a therapist or licensed psychologist. The sooner a child gets assistance with SAD, the sooner they can start working on it and find resolutions to their fears. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is particularly effective with SAD.

CBT is a form of therapy that focuses on changing thinking patterns and gaining insight into behavioral reinforcers in the environment. Unique treatments plans can be altered for each patient. One of the things that make CBT unique is the emphasis on teaching the patient about the disorder and allowing them to create their coping skills and ultimately be their own therapist.[4]

Social Media’s Impact on SAD

Studies have shown that children with SAD tend to have lower interpersonal trust and are more prone to hurt feelings. For some kids who have a hard time building peer relationships in person, using social media can help them make friends and feel included. Talking to peers on social media allows children to think before they send a message which may lessen their fear of judgment. Also, online conversations take out the tough-to-interpret facial expressions that sometimes cause people with SAD to overthink and freeze up.

A great example of where this could come in handy is during a lunch break. Children with SAD may have a hard time interacting during lunch and stay quiet due to fear of being judged. This same child can go home and message their friends on social media about something that was discussed during lunch without having to worry about others watching them. By messaging their thoughts to their friends, they can compose their words and it lets them be involved and part of the conversations.

On the other hand, studies have shown that children with SAD worry more about being judged on what they post more than others.[5] Since a child with SAD is already more prone to hurt feelings, they may get more upset by comments and feelings of exclusion. They may also overthink about posted content wanting to make sure others enjoy it. A balance between offline practice and online practice is key to psychological wellness and social skills mastery.

Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Avoid SAD

Enjoy the support of weekly coaching.

Our GKIS App is a great first step to learning about screentime, and it grants you access to videos, workbook pages, and even an exclusive Facebook group where you can speak with other parents like you. Dr. Bennett knows that maintaining a healthy screen time balance can be challenging. That’s why she has done the research for you!

Set screen time limits.

Most phones have parental control options to limit the amount of time spent on social media apps. The Screen Safety Toolkit explains the amount of screen time recommended for your children and gives you the tools you need to set up the controls, track usage, and filter unwanted content for safe browsing.

Offer opportunities to practice social engagement.

Sometimes kids need extra support when they are feeling socially anxious. If your child opts out of social interactions, provide a series of opportunities to practice social engagement with your help. Start by encouraging your child to order on their own in restaurants. Continue the same tasks until the child feels comfortable doing them. Once they’re comfortable with the first task, move on to slightly more challenging task like small talk when purchasing groceries or waiting in line. Mastering increasingly challenging social tasks can help your child learn social skills and build self-confidence.

Consider CBT Therapy.

If your child’s symptoms are getting in the way of school, friendships, or overall happiness, CBT therapy treatment can help them learn coping skills and face their fears head-on.

Thanks to CSUCI intern Tara Meizel for researching social media and its effects on children with Social Anxiety disorder and co-authoring this article.

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

[1] Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2019, December 21). Teens and social media use: What’s the impact? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/teens-and-social-media-use/art-20474437.

[2] Seedat, S. (2013). Social anxiety disorder (social phobia). South African Journal of Psychiatry, 19(3), 192+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A343258868/AONE?u=csuci&sid=bookmark-AONE&xid=5e09250d

[3] Khalid-Khan, S., Santibanez, M.-P., McMicken, C., & Rynn, M. A. (2012, August 22). Social anxiety disorder in children and adolescents. Pediatric Drugs. Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.2165/00148581-200709040-00004#citeas.

[4] What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? (2017, July). Apa.org. https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral#:~:text=What%20Is%20Cognitive%20Behavioral%20Therapy%3F%20Cognitive%20behavioral%20therapy

[5] Shabahang, R., Arguete, M. S., & Shim, H. (2021). Social media posting anxiety: Interpsonal trust, fear or negative evaluation, and hurt feeling proneness as predictors. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods and Applications. https://doi.org/10.1027/1864-1105/a000300

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