Helping Your Shy Child


Our 13-year-old son has been shy all of his life but as he gets older it seems to get worse.  Our 15-year-old son is highly outgoing and this seems to make things even harder for him.  He seems unsure of himself, has a hard time making new friends, and avoids new situations.   How can we help him?


Shyness involves a fear of being around other people, especially non-family members, strangers or authority figures.  It creates an anxiety that manifests itself in either a hesitancy or an inability to join in new activities and make new friends, especially of the opposite sex.

Research suggests that the percentage of shy teens is about the same as it is for shy adults, around 40%.  Shyness occurs on a continuum from healthy to unhealthy.  It becomes unhealthy when it impairs a persons ability to engage and cultivate healthy relationships.

Shyness intensifies during times of transition, and adolescence is one of  the most dramatic developmental transitions every young person faces.  While almost every emerging adolescent experiences some shyness, for the 40% who are shy the impact can be much more pronounced.

One of the dangers for adolescents is that they will retreat, avoid people, become more isolated and lose themselves in video games.  It can cause others to pursue “artificial courage” or “liquid extroversion,” also known has alcohol.

What might be contributing to his shyness?  Shyness can be caused by such factors including negative family interactions, frequent parental criticism, shaming experiences, stressful life events, major moves, public embarrassment for poor performance, an experience of being bullied, or major emotional losses.

How can you help him open up and make friends?  It’s vital that you gain a better understanding of his shyness so that your well-intentioned attempts to help him “open up” don’t increase his pressure for social performance and drive him to retreat even more.

Make sure he continues to know that he is loved and valued and not made to feel any more “weird” than he might already feel.  Take a lesson from Barnabas and look for opportunities to encourage him.  When you pray with him, thank God for his uniqueness and strengths.  Compliment him.  Engage a couple of trusted friends to pray for you as you seek to help him grow.

Learn all you can about shyness.  Talk with other parents of shy teenagers and discover what they learned.  Ask yourself what’s different about the times when he exhibits less shyness.  Encourage him to share some of his daily relational interactions and how he felt about them.  Make your home a safe place to discuss awkward or painful emotions.

If you don’t see some improvement you may find it helpful to have some sessions with a licensed counselor with special training dealing with shyness.  Pray hard, get wise counsel and then take one step at a time.  With care and prayer the prognosis is good.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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