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Teen Emotional Problems Go Unnoticed

Clinical Depression, Anxiety Disorders, PTSD Found in Many Adolescents
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Enemy Within: Social Anxiety Disorder

For many kids, social anxiety disorder (SAD) -- it used to be known as shyness -- creates emotional turmoil that can lead to all sorts of adjustment problems in adulthood.

In fact, upwards of 15% of adolescents face SAD, which has a strong genetic link, reports James D. Herbert, PhD, director of the Anxiety Treatment and Research Program at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

His paper, which appears in the Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, outlines the research thus far on how this disorder affects teens.

Among his findings:

  • Although onset of SAD typically is age 15, shyness may be evident as early as 21 months. Children are inhibited, fearful, and uneasy around novel situations and people.
  • Only 34% of adolescents classified as behaviorally inhibited toddlers go on to develop SAD.

"These results suggest that other factors may lead to the expression of the disorder in otherwise predisposed individuals," writes Herbert. "Specific life experiences are often theorized to represent just such triggers."

Some of those triggers: Overly critical and controlling parents, peer rejection, victimization, and trauma in a social situation. "Each of these experiences has the potential to set in motion negative feedback loops involving anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and potential deficits in social competence," Herbert says.

It's a vicious cycle that can seriously hinder dating, employment, and independent living in adulthood, he says.

Get Treatment: It Works

"Many adults just don't realize that kids are suffering," says Delamater.

Bottom-line message: Parents need to talk to their kids, and not just about superficial things, and not just when trouble's afoot. "It sounds trite, but it's not," he tells WebMD. Tune in to your kids, be open, and listen without judgment.

Start when they're young. You'll form the basis for a good relationship when they're teenagers.

Signs of trouble:

  • Sudden changes in behavior or mood
  • Sudden disinterest in favorite hobbies or people
  • Drastic change in appearance
  • Becoming withdrawn
  • Obvious changes in grades

Parents, ask your kids what's wrong, Delamater says. "It's unlikely that kid will just open up about using drugs. They're not likely to give that up right away. But families that provide lots of support to kids -- not money for a therapist, I'm talking emotional resources like acceptance, letting them talk -- those kids learn to cope better.

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