Phobias Many fears of younger children are mild, passing, and considered within the range of normal development. Some teenagers develop exaggerated and usually inexplicable fears called phobias that center on specific objects or situations. These intense fears can limit a teenager's activities. The fear generated by a phobia is excessive and not a rational response to a situation. The objects of a phobia usually change as a child gets older. While very young children may be preoccupied with the dark, monsters, or actual dangers, adolescents' phobic fears tend to involve school and social performance.
Several studies have revealed an increase in school avoidance in middle-school or junior-high years. With school avoidance, excessive worries about performance or social pressures at school may be at the root of the reluctance to attend school regularly. This leads to a cycle of anxiety, physical complaints, and school avoidance. The cycle escalates with the worsening of physical complaints such as stomachaches, headaches, and menstrual cramps. Visits to the doctor generally fail to uncover general medical explanations. The longer a teenager stays out of school, the harder it becomes for him to overcome his fear and anxiety and return to school. He feels increasingly isolated from school activities and different from other kids.
Some youngsters are naturally more timid than others, As their bodies, voices, and emotions change during adolescence, they may feel even more self-conscious. Despite initial feelings of uncertainty, most teens are able to join in if given time to observe and warm up. In extreme cases, called social phobia, the adolescent becomes very withdrawn, and though he wants to take part in social activities, he's unable to overcome intense self-doubt and worry. Gripped by excessive or unreasonable anxiety when faced with entering a new or unfamiliar social situation, the adolescent with social phobia becomes captive to unrelenting fears of other people's judgment or expectations. He may deal with his social discomfort by fretting about his health, appearance, or overall competence. Alternatively, he may behave in a clowning or boisterous fashion or consume alcohol to deal with the anxiety.
Because so much of a teenager's social life gets played out in school, social phobia may overlap with and be hard to distinguish from school avoidance. Some teens with social phobia may try to sidestep their anxious feelings altogether by refusing to attend or participate in school, Classroom and academic performance falls off, involvement in social and extracurricular activities dwindles, and, as a consequence, self-esteem declines.
Some teens may experience such a high level of anxiety that they cannot leave the house. This disorder, agoraphobia, seems to stem from feelings about being away from parents and fears of being away from home rather than fear of the world. In fact, a number of children who demonstrate severe separation anxiety in early childhood go on to develop agoraphobia as adolescents and adults.
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