My daughter used to love to talk to people. She made friends easily and whenever I picked her up from elementary school, she was always with her “girls.” At a young age she wanted to do gymnastics, play basketball and lacrosse, and she volunteered at the local animal shelter with her father because she loved animals.
My daughter changed in seventh grade
Something happened when she entered seventh grade. It was gradual, like a transformation of her very soul. Instead of being aggressive while she played sports, she’d hang back. You could see the look on her face–it screamed, “I don’t want to be here so please don’t pass the ball to me.”
Every time I asked her about it she’d say, “Everyone is looking at me and I hate it.”
I assured her that no one was really looking at her, that they were way more focused on themselves and how they looked. My daughter went from being able to confidently ask for what she wanted to not being able to make eye contact with people when she spoke to them. Sometimes she just doesn’t answer at all.
I thought she was just being rude and I didn’t understand why she couldn’t answer people or look at them when they talked to her. She would crumble and go up to her room.
I thought my daughter was being rude
I chalked it up to being a teenager who had no regard for other people’s feelings but deep down I knew my daughter. She was sweet, caring, and personable. I’d heard that description of her from family members, teachers, and her friend’s parents.
They’d say she was a joy to have in class and was always helping others. One mother tell me she wanted my daughter to live with her because, “This was the first time in forever my kids didn’t fight when one of them had a friend over. “ As I stood in this mom’s kitchen sipping tea, she confided in me that my daughter “…found a way to include everyone without making anyone upset.” She was one of those kids who’d get up and help a stranger if she saw them struggling.
My daughter began to retreat more and more
Her shutting down grew worse. Her teachers told me they saw a drastic change in her and instead of participating in class, she’d put her head down or look at her phone. She stopped asking for help if she needed it, telling me it was “too hard” for her.
She’d convince her brother to order for her if we went to a restaurant. Once, she was telling me her complicated order as we pulled up to the Starbucks drive-thru, so I asked her to just order it herself because I had no clue what she was saying. Instead of relaying her order from the safety of the car, she decided to go without food and a latte–something she’d been looking forward to all day.
At some point I realized something was really wrong
That’s when I knew something was really wrong with my daughter. Not in the sense that she’s flawed, but that something was bothering her deeply. As an extroverted person with extroverted kids, I had not recognized the problem or dealt with it appropriately. I thought her social anxiety was an excuse to stay home and stare at her phone. I figured it was a stage and that her ‘attitude’ would return to normal.
But I was wrong. Every day is hard for her. And as her mother, it’s painful to watch my child go through this. Right now, she claims there’s only one person who likes her at school and she too has social anxiety.
I still have a lot to learn but things are getting better. I will not punish her or tell her she’s rude. I also don’t force her to do something she’s not comfortable with since she’s not a young child any longer and she is not purposely being difficult.
I have found some ways to help her
However, I’ve found some way to help her feel confident. I remind her every day how wonderful she is. I tell her that she can do really hard things and the more she practices the easier they will get. I also want her to know she can have anything she wants in her life but she has to do the work. Her brother won’t always be there to order for her, and her teachers won’t always be there to hold her hand.
She got a job a few weeks ago as a dishwasher after I had a talk with her. At almost sixteen years old there are a lot of things she wants: new shoes, a car, lots of bling for her room. I told her that it was time to get a job and that she’d love the freedom that comes with making her own money. I was shocked but she agreed and we came up with something she could do without having to face a ton of people.
She wanted me to contact them for her but I let her know that no one would hire her if her mom was applying for her. She did it and I was so proud. Then, her first night of work I dropped her off and she froze. She couldn’t get out of the car for a while. She wanted me to come in and I said, “Do you really want your mother to go into work with you honey?”
I told her walking in there for the first time would be the hardest part of her job. “After that, it will get easier and easier. I know you can be uncomfortable for a few minutes. Think of something happy like the clothes you’ll be able to buy and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
If you are a mother with a child who has social anxiety, every day is a struggle. It’s heartbreaking and I pray every day that I’m handling this right.
The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.
This is just one mom’s experience. If your teen is suffering, please get help. See resources below.