Just shy? Or social phobia disorder?

How do you know whether your child is shy…or if it is something more?

A new study to appear in the November issue of Pediatrics found that twelve percent of youth who identify themselves as shy may in fact have a form of social

Shyness is a universal human trait. Click on the photo for tips for helping shy kids from Australia's KidsSpot

phobia. Study authors questioned whether or not there was an overlap between shyness and social phobia, how often social phobia is diagnosed, and the degree to which shyness and social phobia differ.

They also took a look at the differences in prescribed medication use among youth with shyness and/or social phobia.

Researchers conducted a face-to-face national survey of more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 18, as well as more than 6,000 of their parents, on a series of mental disorders including social phobia.

While 62.4 percent of parents stated that their adolescent was shy, only 46.7 percent of the youth reported themselves as such.

The children with social phobia displayed significantly greater social impairment. They were more likely to experience a multitude of psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, mood and behavior disorders as well as substance abuse.

But the kids with social phobia were not any more likely than their same-age counterparts to be taking prescribed medication.

Researchers concluded that social phobia is an impairing psychiatric disorder, beyond the range of normal, and that medication may be necessary and helpful in easing symptoms.

Yet debate has recently surfaced over whether the diagnostic term social phobia “medicalizes” normal human shyness, resulting in unnecessary treatment, especially in youth. So how do you know?

One approach to understanding anxiety disorders is to use functional brain imaging (fMRI) to explore how the brain responds to different types of social signals.

Parents should share concerns about a child who seems painfully shy with a primary care provider. Children’s Hospital Boston offers a simple Q & A that can help detect social anxiety disorders. Read more here.

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