How to Reduce Social Anxiety and Bullying Among Youth

social anxiety and bullying

How to Reduce Social Anxiety and Bullying Among Youth

Social anxiety has almost become normative in our society. Canceling plans, awkward interactions, and shyness are all described as signs of being “socially anxious.” While rates of social anxiety are increasing across all age groups, the average onset is much earlier than in previous generations. Signs of social anxiety rise beginning in elementary school and escalate quickly during the middle school years. As bullying tends to peak in middle school, it’s no surprise that social anxiety may be a conditioned response to social rejection. Reducing social anxiety and bullying among youth involves increasing positive social interactions.

The Importance of Peer Culture

When people talk about peer influence, it is generally in reference to negative peer pressure. Throughout adolescence, teens begin to look to their peers’ values to determine social norms more than their household values.

The attitude of a social group may be competitive and exclusive or it may be emotionally supportive. Cultivating a positive peer culture doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone in a group must be friends with each other. However, it can discourage conflict and bullying by promoting positive social interactions

The Bystander Effect

Often, people believe the most effective way to stand up to bullying is to teach teens who have been bullied to advocate for themselves. While this is an important skill, the responsibility is not entirely on them. Watching another person being bullied can have a huge impact on bystanders. Although they may feel uncertain about how to respond or worry about being targeted themselves, witnesses are essential to bullying prevention. One person witnessing an event may be more likely to help an individual, but in groups of three of more, individuals are slow to respond because none of them believe it is their responsibility to step in. This is referred to as the bystander effect. 

When it comes to bullying prevention, sometimes all it takes is for one person to reach out and say, “you are not alone”, “I am here for you”, or “let me help.” This suggests that helping teens with social anxiety build social skills is a collaborative effort based on developing meaningful relationships that challenge fears of social situations.

Building Positive Social Networks

Teens who have been socially rejected benefit from trying to build positive support networks, although they often struggle with poor social skills or overwhelming anxiety that interferes with trust in relationships. In a study led by Princeton University, they organized anticonflict interventions in schools in groups combining socially rejected teens with their peers that had more social power. While only offering these activities to rejected teens may have taught them how to advocate for themselves, integrating the group changed the attitudes of the more social students by encouraging them to be more empathetic and open-minded. 

Changing the school climate is a more effective way of preventing bullying than addressing the emotional impact of social rejection. When following up, researchers found that teens who were struggling with social anxiety disorder that participated in the intervention were indistinguishable from the other teens regarding their extraversion, performance anxiety, and impairment in daily life.

Social Effectiveness Therapy (SET) incorporates:

  • Social Skills Training. As social norms change frequently, even in different settings, social skills aren’t necessarily spelled out for teens. 

The educational component of SET involves teaching teens the basics of interacting with others, like:

      • starting mutually satisfying conversations
      • remembering social details
      • strategies for joining groups
      • assertive communication
  • Exposure to feared situations. Typically, anticipatory anxiety tends to be more intense than anxiety when exposed to a feared situation. The more exposure one has, the more their anxiety lessens. Exposure training begins by identifying social fears and the level of distress they cause and testing. Starting small, teens practice facing their fears and sitting with the presence of anxiety without letting it control them. 
  • Production of positive social events with peer leaders. Socially anxious and isolated teenagers have fewer opportunities for positive social events unless forced by well-intentioned teachers and parents. When socially skilled teens participate in positive social activities with socially anxious teens, teens find it easier to engage and worry less about being judged. Following recreation activities, teens have a space to reflect on what they may have learned and where they felt successful. 

ViewPoint Center Can Help

ViewPoint Center is a short-term residential Crisis and Assessment Center for suicidal teenagers ages 12 to 17. Our students struggle with emotional and behavioral issues, such as depression, anxiety, conduct disorder, and substance abuse that puts them at a higher risk of suicidal ideation. ViewPoint teaches students to talk about suicidal ideation, reach out for support, use positive alternative coping skills and create realistic short-term goals to help them plan for healthy, productive lives.

Contact us at 855-290-9682. We can help your family today!


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