Dating and Social Anxiety: How to Support Your Teen
Dating is stressful even for emotionally healthy adults. For teens with anxiety and social disorders who are new to romance, dating can seem totally overwhelming or downright terrifying. The fact that teens are often uncomfortable talking about dating with their parents only compounds the problem. Although you might face some resistance, there are a few ways you can support an anxious teen through this process.
Line Up Professional Help
If your teen does not currently see a therapist, she may not have anyone she feels comfortable talking with about dating. Even a few appointments with a counselor who has experience treating anxious adolescents could help your teen summon the confidence to try dating – and get some coping strategies to deal with the anxiety that will inevitably pop up. Families with limited resources may be able to access low-cost or free treatment; talk to your pediatrician or school counselor for help.
Encourage Opportunities to Socialize
A lot of the social cues and habits that are a typical part of dating – like maintaining eye contact, flirting, making small talk, holding hands – are tough for people with social anxiety. Your teen will have an easier time with dating if he gets comfortable with those skills. Encourage him to try social activities where he'll interact with new people, like joining a sports team or taking an art class. If there's a cafe or club where area teens hang out, offer to drop him and a friend off there with some spending money. Even something as simple as asking him to handle the grocery store checkout process while you hang back will give him more experience talking to unfamiliar people, which is hugely important in dating.
Model a Positive Attitude
Rejection is a natural part of dating, but the first sign of disinterest from a potential date is enough to send some anxious teens into panic mode. Help your teen get some perspective on dating. When she's nervous about talking to someone or is preparing for the date itself, remind her not to think about what could go wrong and think about what could go well instead. If she's feeling discouraged, ask questions like "If [x] doesn't like you back, does that mean no one will ever like you?" and "What's good about you going on this date, even if it doesn't work out?" These kinds of conversations should help an anxious teenager realize that, even though dating seems like a very big deal, the stakes are still low at this age – and as long as she dates safely, there's no harm in trying it.