The high-school sophomore overcame a crippling case of social anxiety as a patient in the Child and Adolescent Anxiety Disorders program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Therapists there use an innovative approach early in treatment, gradually exposing children to things they fear most and teaching parents to act as “exposure coaches” rather than enable their children to avoid things and situations as a protective measure.
Georgiann Steely, 16, is developing confidence doing things she once would have avoided, such as ordering in a coffee shop.
When parents help children to escape from feared situations, anxiety symptoms may worsen and children frequently become more impaired, says Stephen Whiteside, a Mayo pediatric psychologist.
“Kids who avoid fearful situations don’t have the opportunity to face their fears and don’t learn that their fears are manageable,” he says.
Anxiety disorders, comprising a dozen diagnoses including phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, are among the most common mental health issue in youth yet they often go undetected or untreated, experts say. They can prevent a child or teen from developing skills necessary for success later in life.