Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Social Anxiety and Shyness as an Invitation to The Great Unknown

Girl sitting on her cabin bed journaling.

Every month I receive calls from concerned parents whose teenagers have been diagnosed with social anxiety. They see their teenager spending too much time alone, having trouble making friends, seeming depressed, etc. It’s easy to understand why parents are very worried. I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life, and I know it can feel painful and constricting to live with. However, when teens diagnosed with social anxiety spend time at camp, it’s evident these wonderful, kind, sensitive, vulnerable, and generally very shy teenagers can find their way.

Tending the fire

I’ve read that social anxiety is a commonly diagnosed disorder and 15 million people suffer from it, which makes it the third most common mental health disorder. Social anxiety is characterized by fear of being rejected, criticized, judged, or being perceived unfavorably. It’s a fear of humiliation or embarrassment. Not surprisingly social anxiety becomes more prevalent with the onset of puberty and the powerful physical and emotional changes that come with it. While social anxiety can feel overwhelming, and even debilitating, it seems very human to me.

I’m pretty sure teenagers have always been shy and plenty anxious. They are experiencing so many new and unexpected desires, emotions, and physical changes, it is completely natural to feel confused, awkward, helpless, and hence, anxious. Teens today live in a world where what they do and say can be instantly seen via social media to a vast and sometimes unforgiving audience, it must feel very different than when I was a teen, fifty years ago.

David Whyte, the wonderful poet, said that …

“Shyness is the sense of a great unknown, suddenly about to be known. It is the exquisite and vulnerable frontier between what we think is possible and what we think we deserve.”

I remember reading this passage from a book, the main character is reminiscing about his past (paraphrasing) “When I was a teenager I felt like I was on fire. I remember there were plenty of kids who could happily help me let that fire get out of control, and there were plenty of adults who seemed available to extinguish the fire, but I remember feeling, why is there no one here to help me tend this fire?”

Seeing through a different lens

Having to deal with powerful feelings and discover new ways of being in the world is daunting, but what if instead of feeling shame around our shyness and social anxiety, we could look at it as healthy, natural, and even necessary. Uncomfortable feelings are needed as we explore the great new mysteries life is offering us. I will try to view my own social anxiety through that lens.

How does teen camp help teenagers lessen their social anxiety? Well, if our camp is about anything, I think it is about connection. Teenagers recognize fairly quickly at camp that they are not going to be judged harshly, if at all. I believe this helps them relax, let go of some defenses, and share their gifts with peers, sometimes for the very first time.

We create a space where teenagers talk openly about things they are trying to figure out.

Teens in discussion at camp.

We offer group discussions on topics like gender, sexuality, race, parents, politics, etc., and teenagers can express themselves in a real, and honest way. While we are not a “therapy camp,” I’ve seen how therapeutic these discussion groups are.

We leave kids alone to read a book when that is what they feel like doing, and they don’t have to always put on a happy face, or act happier than they feel. Finally, if social anxiety is a fear of being rejected then it just makes sense that being in a community where you are seen, accepted, and loved can go a long way towards reducing some of those social anxieties and shyness, and maybe more easily accept that invitation to the great unknown that is our life.

Summer Camp Online 2020 now in session!

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we had to cancel camp for 2020 but we now have an online program where teens can jump in any time. It may be the perfect way for shy or anxious teens to test the waters and meet the community. Watch the video to find out more.

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

The Link Between Technology & Social Anxiety: Why Face-to-Face Engagement is So Important

 

In video 5 my 8 part discussion with Amy Frisch, a wonderful therapist who has been leading teenage girls groups for twenty years, she had some truly helpful things to say around social anxiety.

She talks about how stimulating technology can be and how we need to help our teens learn to quiet their central nervous system. I think we sometimes forget that we are human animals and that when it comes to fear and anxiety our reactions are often not much different than other animals.

My takeaway

My favorite takeaway from this short video is when Amy says that today teens consider “hanging out” what they do on Skype or Snapchat. They don’t call each other on the phone and say “come over to my house, hang out, no one’s home.”

I imagine with so much of our communicating being done through our phone, the idea of sitting face to face feels like too much. Too much pressure, too much stress, and maybe even too much intimacy.

“Consciously Parenting Teens” Video Series

I hope you enjoy the video above. If you haven’t opted in to see the full 8 part series, I do encourage you to see it. Amy has a really unique way of presenting ideas. Here’s the form to subscribe.

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An invitation

I would love to continue this discussion with you in the comments below. If  you feel inspired to share your stories or insights, I would love to hear them.

Veteran Camper Turned Counselor Reflects on 15yrs at OTC

Veteran Camper Turned Counselor Reflects on 15yrs at OTC

Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios Tsangaris

Adam Simon on “the Georgios effect”

One of the highlights of going to camp for me is getting to work with Georgios Tsangaris. Georgios came to camp when he was 15 for our first summer, and now he’s 31. He has only missed two years of camp during those sixteen years.

Georgios knows our camp culture as well as anyone because he created so much of it. At camp he is what we call a pod leader, (other camps might call it a division head), for the 15 and 16 year old boys. He brings so much heart, patience, humor, honesty, fun, and originality to everything he does. I asked him if he would write something to tell people what OTC is all about. Here’s how he describes our camp.

From the eyes of Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios Tsangaris

Georgios at 15

“At Odyssey Teen Camp we are a temporary intentional community, organized around making teens feel safe and supported as they experiment with new ideas, challenge their own assumptions, and make new friendships.

The staff and programming at Odyssey Teen Camp is eclectic and changes a little every year, but the mission of camp remains the same: OTC creates a space that temporarily ends and challenges the uglier parts of life: judgement, bullying, materialism, and division, to name a few.

Almost all teenagers can thrive in an environment that discourages judgement and encourages sincerity. It’s pretty common for a sporty and popular high schooler to come to OTC and open up like never before, make lots of friends, play a lot, and grow as a person. Lots of teens who feel trapped in playing the game of being cool and popular blossom in a situation where those social expectations and rules are suspended.

But often the teens that get the most out of camp are the kind that don’t quite fit in at school, the teens that are too weird to be popular, the teens whose fashion choices seem bizarre (but will probably be trendy in 10 years), the teens that are already searching for something more fulfilling than just an ordinary life.

There are a lot of unhealthy ways that teenage rebellion and experimentation can be directed – here at camp we focus on channeling that energy in positive directions. We foster a sense of community that honors every kind of camper. At OTC friendships develop between different kinds of teens that would almost never interact in a normal high school social scene.”

Find out about Odyssey Teen Camp

A great place for teens to be exactly who they are in a community that celebrates diversity. 

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Come play with us this summer. Join Georgios, and the hundreds of young people who call Odyssey Teen Camp “home” for part of the summer, register now while space is available.

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3

Setting Screen Time Limits For Teens Without Starting World War 3


 

In this two minute video Lauren Muriello, LPC of  Well Being Therapy Center offers a few strategies for setting screen time limits for teens so that they can do the things they’re supposed to do, like  studying, eating dinner with the family and sleeping at night. 

When setting limits doesn’t work

Once you have clear guidelines about when phones need to be turned off and put away, (say 5:00-7:00 each night for homework and once they go to bed), if your child is not following the guidelines you’ve established, then it may be time to use technology to your advantage.

Rather than spending time arguing, debating, and nagging your teen to get off their phone, Lauren recommends using an app that allows you to turn your child’s phone off. It’s quick and easy. They may not like it, but if you stick to it they will learn to keep the agreements you’ve made around cell phone usage.

Using the app Lauren recommends eliminates the battle. If used consistently and fairly during the agreed upon hours, your teen will “get it.”They may not like it, but they will get it.

Get the phones out of the bedroom

“I recommend talking as a family about when it’s important to have no technology. You should definitely have a clear time at night where the phones are turned off and are charging out of the bedrooms.“ -Lauren Muriello Click To Tweet

Lauren mentions one study which showed that 30% of teenagers wake up in the night to check their phone. In a BBC article, that number is stated even higher at 45%. That’s crazy. What good can come of that? They can potentially read upsetting texts and end up laying in bed when they could be sleeping.

This is all tough stuff stuff to implement, but the key is consistency and walking your talk. That means it’s equally important for us as parents to model the behavior we want our children to follow.

If we want our kids to turn their tech off during family time then we need to do the same. I realize it’s tricky because sometimes parents have real needs to have their technology on, but I do feel that children copy what they see us do more than what we tell them to do. That is a fact.

“Parenting and Digital Technology” Video Series

I do hope you get a chance to watch the video above and opt-in for the whole series. I think there are some some good takeaways sprinkled throughout. If you missed the opt-in form at the end of the video, here it is again.

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Why is It So Hard For Teenagers to Feel Good About Their Appearance and How Parents Can Help?

Why is It So Hard For Teenagers to Feel Good About Their Appearance and How Parents Can Help?

 

In this video Lauren Muriello, LPC of Well Being Therapy Center discusses why it can be so difficult for teenagers to feel o.k. about their physical appearance. She points out the illusions society continually feeds us regarding what people should look like, and reminds us how important it is for parents to help their children understand what’s real and what’s not real.

Look in your own life. Who are the real people in your life? … Your parents, your grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, teachers, friends. This is what real people look like.

 

Teenagers, will always be comparing themselves to others to see how they measure up, but by getting them to think differently about who they are comparing themselves to, maybe we have a chance to help have a more realistic assessment about what people look like, and ultimately help them feel a little better about their own physical being” – Lauren Muriello

Realistic self assessment in adolescents

I love her advice to tell our kids that if they have to compare themselves to anyone, they should choose real people in their lives rather than compare themselves to people they see in the movies or advertisements.

Lauren also stresses the importance for parents to try to deemphasize physical appearance and reemphasize our children’s talents and who they are on the inside. Help them spend more time doing things they enjoy, rather than staring in the mirror picking themselves apart.

I don’t know why it is so hard for anyone, particularly teenage girls, to feel o.k. about their appearance, but we know that advertising companies are not going to help, and Lauren has some practical advice to help parents help their teenagers to give themselves a break when judging their  appearance.

The impact on girls

Today teenage girls are being taught that they can be anything they want. Studies show that today girls feel more empowered to be anything they want more than ever before and they are seizing opportunities closed to previous generations .

They believe they have equal opportunities at school to be leaders, top students, get the jobs they want, etc. but, (and this is a very big but), somehow they are still getting the message that what they look like matters more than anything else they might do. This message is not unique to the U.S.

In an article written by Claire Cain Miller and published in the N.Y. Times on 9/14/18, Miller sites a new nationally representative poll of 1,000 children and adolescents age girls 14 to 19, that showed that while girls feel equal to boys in just about every way, it’s not true when it comes to their bodies.

Three-quarters of those polled felt judged as a sexual object and unsafe as a girl. By far, they felt that society considered physical attractiveness to be the most important physical trait for a girl. It should be noted that surveys have found that not just teenage girls, but adult women also feel the same way.

Deborah Tolman, a psychology professor at the City University of New York who researches adolescent sexuality, said …

This is the contradiction we put in front of girls: You should be confident, and do well in school and do athletics, but your supposed to also be a good sex object at the same time. -Deborah TolmanClick To Tweet

What about boys?

I don’t think boys get a free ride when it comes to their bodies and physical appearance. Teenage boys feel pressure to have the “perfect body,” which is to be both lean and have large muscles.

The number of teen males dissatisfied with their bodies has tripled in the past 25 years and men now account for 1 in 4 eating disorders , 95% of which begin in adolescence.

So, I think everything that Lauren recommends parents do to help their teenage children goes for boys as well as girls.

“Parenting and Digital Technology” Video Series

I do hope you get a chance to watch the video above and opt-in for the whole series. I think there are some some good takeaways sprinkled throughout. If you missed the opt-in form at the end of the video, here it is again.

Enter your email to see the entire 9 part video series with Lauren Muriello, LPC

One short segment will be delivered to your inbox each day for 9 days. Occasional notifications for new videos will follow. Your info is sacred and will never be shared.

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