Phobia is an intense fear related to some specific person, thing, or event. Teens who struggle with phobia usually do so due to a traumatic event earlier in their lives, although some cases of trauma are unexplained. The fear that characterizes trauma is so overwhelming that it can lead to panic attacks. Because of this, teens with phobias will make great efforts to avoid any situation or context in which they’ll have to face or address their fears and triggers. This makes it difficult to lead a normal life.
Specific Phobias - Where anxieties reveal fears and insecurities, phobias are debilitating fears so powerful that they leave someone physically and mentally paralyzed in the face of a certain trigger. There are no general phobias – rather, all phobias correspond to a specific thing or fear. There is a long list of specific phobias, but some of the most common are:
Two very severe phobias associated with human interaction are:
Fear of Open Spaces - This phobia, known as agoraphobia, is an extreme fear triggered by being in a space where escaping, in the case of an emergency, would be difficult. For instance, a crowded event, such as a concert or sporting event. This phobia is most commonly characterized by panic attacks. The anxiety can become so overwhelming that it causes a person to avoid leaving their house. People with agoraphobia can also feel anxious around smaller crowds, even in places where exits are numerous. The fear doesn’t necessarily stem from open spaces, but from feelings of embarrassment, vulnerability, and being trapped and wedged between strangers. Other places where agoraphobia may be triggered include public transport and shopping centers.
Social Phobias - This is a phobia characterized by an extreme sensitivity to and fear of what others might think or how they might be judged. Whereas all of us have thoughts and worries about how others perceive us, this phobia is characterized by such intense worry of others’ opinions that a person avoids being around other people entirely.
There are some known causes of phobias, but research is ongoing. Sometimes, a teen can have a phobia due to a traumatic incident earlier in life that produces an anxious reaction in the brain when brought back into contact with a related person, object, or event. Other times, there may be a genetic link, wherein a phobia is shared between a parent and child. There are other instances where the cause of the phobia is unknown.
of shy teens have a social phobia
of people with phobias seek out treatment
of people with phobias develop depression
Listen to what they say – your teen will give you every clue you need to identify that something’s wrong, and in the case of something as serious as a phobia, listening to your teen can help you navigate what’s okay and not okay for them. Before they can overcome their fears, they must understand what it is that they fear, and what the parameters are for their phobia.
Empathize with their fear – don’t joke or ridicule your teen. There’s a fine line between a good joke and the kind that makes your teen feel worse about themselves, and it’s best to avoid comments or statements that may be misconstrued as a form of criticism regarding their fear.
Learn more about their phobia – little is known about why some people develop such incredibly powerful fears, but there is a lot of information out there on how to help people cope with them, and how to better communicate with a teen whose struggling with a phobia. Learn more about the specific phobia your teen is fighting.
Help them seek treatment – teens with phobias might be reluctant to get treated for their mental health condition, out of anxiety or fear that “facing your fears” might mean being subjected to a form of emotional torture for weeks and weeks. Phobia treatment does not work that way. Talk to them about how therapy is meant to help, not hurt, and won’t make them do anything they don’t want to do. Mental health treatment facilities can help your teen be more comfortable in their own skin, and in this world.
For phobias, identifying the cause can sometimes help a teen move beyond it. However, teen phobia treatment most often involves a teen learning other strategies to allow them to react differently to the fear, regardless of when it occurs. Therapy can also help a teen learn to see the irrational nature of their fears, learning to discern what is and is not reasonable in reaction to oncoming feelings.
Talk therapy is excellent for helping a teen tackle their fears rationally – but that does not mean they will be able to completely control their feelings. It may take a while before they can conquer their phobia, despite cognitively understanding that it makes no sense.
This is a type of therapy that focuses on gradually and slowly increasing your teen’s exposure to the fear they have. It is important to understand that there is a difference between a rational fear and a phobia. While it is normal to be freaked out by spiders or snakes, it is irrational to misidentify a stick on the road as a snake, and to avoid going outdoors at all due to a constant nagging fear of creepy crawlies. Exposure therapy usually relies on digital or printed imagery, used in a controlled and safe environment. It may also involve slowly addressing social triggers, in cases of agoraphobia or social phobia. In cases of claustrophobia, it may involve a step-by-step plan to eventually enter an elevator, crowded a little bit more each time.
Exposure therapy is extremely varied, depending on the severity of the phobia and what kind of fear it is. But it can be very effective.
There are medications that can be used in conjunction with therapy for teen phobia treatment. Usually, the prescribed medications for teen phobia are anti-anxiety meds (sedatives like benzodiazepine, and beta blockers), as well as antidepressants, and medication to help with sleep issues or other coexisting mental health issues.
Because phobias are a type of anxiety disorder, it’s important to learn to relax. Several stress relief techniques can help a teen recover after a panic attack, and prepare for a therapy session, especially in cases where it’s recommended that a teen tries exposure therapy. Some of these practices include:
Teen phobia treatment primarily involves helping a teen manage the worst and most disruptive symptoms of their condition, and then explore how they can diminish the condition, learn to live in the world without experiencing extreme adverse symptoms like panic attacks, and learn to enjoy a life without overwhelming fear.
This process can take time, depending on how the teen responds to their treatments. However, by working with Paradigm Malibu, parents can afford their teens several advantages.
Away from Fear
In a controlled and safe environment, teens can be convinced that they’re away from their triggers and fears and can begin working on their phobia in a calm and relaxed manner. It will take time to completely comfortable with the new environment, but a place away from their usual day-to-day can help teens struggling with phobias.
Step by Step
It’s important for parents and teens alike to understand that teen phobia treatment doesn’t force anything onto the teen – it’s a step-by-step process, and therapists are careful not to subject their patients to something that might amount in a massive setback.
The love I have for each and every member of the Paradigm Malibu staff is too great to express. Their knowledge, compassion and love for my son has made all the difference. Highly recommend
- Tommy J.
How long will my phobia last if I don’t get teen phobia treatment?
It’s hard to say how long your phobia will last if you don’t get treatment, because this differs for everyone. However, among the people who do seek treatment, those who do so earlier rather than later tend to have quicker relief from the symptoms.
What if I’ve already learned to deal with my phobia?
If you’ve learned to deal with your phobia, then you don’t need treatment. But it’s important to consider what “dealing with it” means. If you’ve already gone through exposure therapy or overcame your fears in some other way, then you’ve effectively gone through treatment already. But if your coping mechanism is maladaptive – such as simply avoiding the fear and letting it fester – you will eventually run into a greater, more menacing issue.
We recommend thorough treatment as an empowering way to deal with the phobia and overcome it, rather than just avoiding it.