Anxiety in Teens: Eye Contact Avoidance Could Help Identify It Earlier

anxiety in teens

Anxiety in Teens: Eye Contact Avoidance Could Help Identify It Earlier

“Eyes are the window to the soul”–a saying that has been passed around for hundreds of years, with no known origin, but seems to resonate. The eyes are critical for making decisions, understanding another person’s emotions, and helping others understand yours. New research suggests that we may even be able to use the eyes to identify anxiety in teens and children.

It’s well-known that when adults are nervous, they avoid eye contact–but what about youth? There’s much less research done on why they make or avoid eye contact, but a new study sought to change that.

How eye-contact avoidance could point to anxiety issues

In a new study conducted by the University of California, Riverside, researchers discovered that anxious children have a tendency to avoid eye contact, which can lead to other effects on how they experience fear compared to others.

anxiety in teensThe researchers sought out to answer three questions:

  • Do children spend more time looking at the eyes of a face that’s paired with something threatening, but not expressing an emotion at that moment?
  • Would children who were more anxious avoid looking at the eye region, similar to what has previously been observed in adults?
  • Would avoiding eye contact affect how afraid children were of the face they saw?

The participants in the study–82 children, ages 9 to 13–were put in front of a computer screen that was setup to track eye movements. First, they were shown two women’s faces a total of four times. Next, one of the pictures was combined with a loud scream and an expression of fear, the other was not.

At the end, the children were shown the photos of the faces again without any sound. The important part was whether the children’s eyes lingered on the eyes of the face with the scream or the one that wasn’t.

Afterwards, they compared the anxiety scores alongside eye contact to see if there was a correlation between the two.

Here were the study’s final conclusions:

  • All children spent more time looking at the eyes of a face that was paired with the loud scream than the face that was not paired with the scream, suggesting they pay attention to potential threats even in the absence of outward cues.
  • Children who were more anxious avoided eye contact during all three phases of the experiment, for both kinds of faces. This had consequences for how afraid they were of the faces.
  • The more children avoided eye contact, the more afraid they were of the faces.

This gives us deeper insight into anxiety in teens and how it begins in the early teen years. It seems that avoiding eye contact can relieve a child’s anxiety in the short-term, but leads to them not learning essential social information that allows them to read others correctly in the long-term.

If you believe your child is struggling, it’s critical to reach out to a professional for further guidance.

ViewPoint treats anxiety in teens

ViewPoint Center is an assessment center for teens, ages 12 to 17. At ViewPoint Center, we provide treatment through superior assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and stabilization–all in a personalized environment for your child in crisis. We strive to provide the best help for troubled teens through the most efficient and effective methods available. Our goal is to help your child through this hard time.  

Before ViewPoint, families are often frustrated and lost. Varying doctors and therapists with a range of advice, diagnoses, and plans leaves parents and children unsure of where to turn. At ViewPoint, we centralize all of the different diagnoses, and create a comprehensive report for you and your family to get back on track. Let us help you.

For more information about how we treat anxiety in teens at ViewPoint Center, contact us today at 801-825-5222.


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