Teens’ fear of social rejection is exceptionally high. The most severe concern that adolescents have is rejection from their friends. Furthermore, studies show that this can lead to teenage isolation. According to a study from the University of Michigan, social rejection triggers the same brain areas as physical suffering.
Consequently, an increasing number of teenagers are turning to teen isolation to cope with peer rejections and grief. After a traumatic social interaction, some teenagers prefer to withdraw themselves. To help you deal with a teen isolated from their peers, here are some concepts you need to understand regarding social isolation and avoidant personalities.
The Effects of Social Isolation in Teens
Although social isolation may seem like a common problem among teenagers, it may cause severe physical and mental health risks. They may not always be evident, but here are the most common health effects of social isolation in teens:
- Anxiety, panic disorders, depression, and suicide.
- Heart failure, with a 68% risk of hospitalization and a 57% risk of getting admitted to the hospital’s emergency department.
- Addiction to other vices such as alcohol, drinking, and smoking.
- Decrease of physical activity, leading to obesity or malnutrition.
- Increased risk of dementia to about 50%.
- Other heart diseases and stroke.
Both the use of smartphones and social media addiction is common among socially isolated teenagers. According to studies, scrolling through a social feed and getting “likes” on these platforms releases dopamine, stimulating the same areas in the teenage brain as consuming sweets. Continuous use of cellphones and social media apps rewires the teen brain to want instant satisfaction. As a result, it may lead to other addictive habits. Research has revealed that the Internet and smartphones have a comparable impact on the brain as heroin, marijuana, and other substances.
What Causes Teen Social Isolation?
Note that a teen must not necessarily be classified as an introvert to experience social withdrawal or isolation. If you feel that your teen has become disconnected from you or their friends, there are various signs to look out for, such as the following:
- Domestic violence
- Teens who suffer from abusive households tend to avoid contact with anyone. They do not want to reveal their current situation or are afraid of being asked about what is happening. Sometimes, teens get threatened not to speak up.
- Death of a loved one
- Mourning varies from one person to another. Some people divert their attention to recreational activities, while others stay home for a long time. Losing close friends, colleagues, or family members can cause people to isolate themselves.
- Relationship breakups
- Not all teenage romantic relationships have a fairytale ending. The first breakup often hurts them the most, so most teens going through heartbreaks isolate themselves from friends and family.
- Mental health issues
- Social isolation and mental health concerns are often correlated. Isolation in teens may be caused by mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
- Physical disabilities
- People with disabilities often find it challenging to interact with other people. They might feel ashamed of their appearance or disability, fearing that other people will insult or make fun of them. Also, those with hearing impairments have difficulty communicating because not everyone can understand and use sign language.
- Social media use
- Social networking sites, such as Facebook or Instagram, foster communication between people worldwide. However, they can also affect one’s mental health. Cyberbullying is prevalent among teens using social media. It can also become a substitute for meaningful relationships, making people think that it is healthy always to use social media when communicating instead of socializing in person.
- Going to university or transferring schools
- Teens who transfer schools or move into university might feel like they don’t belong. It may take them weeks or months to adjust, so they often spend time alone or with few people.
- Losing a job or unemployment
- The shame of losing a job or financial difficulties can cause a person to self-isolate from their friends and family, fearing insults and discouragements.
- Substance use
- Teens who use substances such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, spend time away from most friends and family members. They know that their actions are inappropriate. They might not want to get forced into a teen drug rehab center, so they avoid getting noticed and reprimanded by parents.
Avoidant/Antisocial Personality Disorders vs. Social Anxiety Disorder
According to the American Psychiatric Association, social isolation can be linked to two types of personality disorders: antisocial and avoidant.
Antisocial personality disorder falls under Cluster B, also called the “dramatic, emotional, and erratic cluster.” People with an antisocial personality disorder often lack remorse for their hurtful actions and tend to lie and deceive others.
Meanwhile, avoidant personality disorder falls under Cluster C, the “anxious and fearful cluster.” It is characterized by constant shyness and extreme feelings of rejection. People with avoidant personality disorders are often unwilling to talk with anyone due to the fear of getting rejected, criticized, or judged. They also tend to avoid doing tasks that require talking and social interactions.
On the other hand, there is a type of anxiety disorder called social anxiety disorder or social phobia. People with social anxiety disorder usually have trouble meeting new people and socializing. They are often afraid of being judged or criticized by others. Most of these teens know their fears might be irrational, but they still feel powerless to overcome situations such as:
- Public speaking.
- Making eye contact.
- Talking to strangers.
- Dating or meeting new people.
- Attending parties.
- Initiating conversations.
- Using public restrooms.
- Getting interviewed.
- Attending classes for the first time or in a new school.
- Starting a new job.
Social anxiety and avoidant personality disorder share common traits, but they are mental illnesses independent from one another. They are both characterized by an intense fear of embarrassment or judgment in social situations. People describe someone with these conditions as socially awkward, timid, or fearful.
According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), social anxiety and avoidant personality disorders are often diagnosed together. But while the avoidance disorder includes avoidant tendencies in most areas of life, social anxiety only includes avoidance in some specific situations; thus, the DSM considers them different. Note that someone being shy does not necessarily mean that they have either mental health issue.
Experiencing abuse, trauma, bullying, or other negative events in childhood can increase the risk for social anxiety and avoidant personality disorders. However, avoidant personality has significant risk factors, like physical neglect. According to a 2015 study that compared the two conditions, researchers found that having disinterested babysitters or caregivers, feeling rejected by guardians, or not having enough affection in childhood were common causes of avoidant personalities among children. This issue can develop and remain well into adulthood if not treated properly.
What To Do When Your Teen is Socially Isolated?
No medications can cure social isolation tendencies among teens, so therapy is the best way to treat it. Qualified therapists and mental health professionals can diagnose a teen with social anxiety or teen avoidant personality disorder and prescribe the most effective and suitable treatment method. The clinical professionals at Key Transitions offer several different programs for adolescents struggling with teen isolation. Our programs often combine individual teen therapy and teen group therapy which helps adolescents see their issues from different perspectives.
Anxiety caused by social isolation can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Using this method, your teen’s counselor or doctor helps them pick out the negative thoughts that cause them stress and affect their emotions. Afterward, they teach them how to change those thoughts into positive ones. These sessions may be done individually or with a group, whichever the doctor thinks is more suitable for your child. Learn more about our Los Angeles Adolescent Anxiety Treatment Program.
One of the approaches is called exposure-based CBT, wherein teens are gradually and carefully exposed to situations they fear the most. This incorporates role-playing techniques that eventually teach them how to handle worry, fear, stress, and panic. It also helps teens feel comfortable sharing their emotions during the therapy sessions.
Humans are naturally social, so meaningful socialization is essential to one’s overall well-being. Creating and maintaining healthy connections is especially important during adolescence, so you should watch your teen’s relationships with peers.
It’s normal to feel the need to be alone when thinking or working, but prolonged isolation may mean a more severe issue like depression. When teens find it challenging to deal with their problems or reach out, they often retreat and hope that everything passes. If this situation persists and they disconnect from their closest friends, they might need parental or professional intervention. Learn more about our Los Angeles Depression Treatment for Teens.
Be aware that clinical services are readily available if you need assistance. Key Transitions can help your child regain a healthy social life. Reach out to us today if you believe your child may be experiencing mental health issues brought on by social isolation.