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Anxiety & Panic Disorders Health Center

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Can Kids Blame Their Parents for Social Phobias?


She will, however, hazard a guess. "It's possible that it's a genetic mechanism, and it's also possible that it's behavioral modeling, [that is] children learn how to act in social situations by watching their parents." Because anxious parents might not encourage social activities in their children, the children never learn how to behave in such situations. "Finally, we can imagine complicated interactions between genetic and environmental factors," she says, although the nature of that interaction remains unclear.

But according to Debra A. Hope, PhD, who reviewed the study for WebMD, Lieb's team has "overreached their conclusions a little bit." For one thing, she says, the parental interview responses were inconsistent with those of the teenagers. So what the study tells us "is that adolescent perception of parenting style is related to social anxiety." This may be important, but "it is very different from saying that the actual parenting style is to blame," she tells WebMD.

"Another really important point is that this study was not about parenting," says Hope, "it's about mothers. They interviewed very few fathers, which is a poor design." Hope is a professor and director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Still, Hope tells WebMD that the data has a hopeful message for concerned parents. "It's important for the public to know that social phobia has both family environment and genetic components. Not all anxious parents have anxious kids, and not all anxious kids have anxious parents. It does run in families, but that's not the whole picture by any means. Parents with anxiety disorders shouldn't be excessively worried about passing it on to their kids. "

Lieb tells WebMD that future work will "look deeper into parts of the puzzle in very early childhood that might [lead to] developing social phobia in adolescence."

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