Shyness in Teens

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Shy, miserable 12-year-old daughter

Nov 2008

Our 12 year old daughter is very shy, and she looks miserable most of the time. Because she is so shy, her body language gives off signals about how uncomfortable she is, and I think other kids (and adults, too) find her standoffish and glum/sulky. She is never the first to smile, but longs to be included in groups, smiled at, and befriended.

As she gets older, her shyness is impacting her involvement in groups, such as her softball team (where she feels like she does not totally belong, and where she is not included in some events that the other girls have, such as b- day parties and such), her singing in the school choir (the conductor says she cannot hear her, and she does not smile), and school (where she is neither popular or unpopular, but does not seem to be on anyone's radar, including her teachers').

Her days are frustrating for her, and she feels sad about her inability to ''be seen'' at school or softball or chorus, and then she comes home and explodes at her two younger siblings. I guess my question is: Are there strategies or classes that she can take to help her deal with her shyness? I think many people are shy, but have learned to cope or mask their shyness so that it does not impeed on their life. Where can she learn these skills? Sad Mama

I had an extremely shy girl for a piano student a few years ago. She was so painfully shy, she could barely answer questions, give eye contact or smile even though I knew her for years. She saved her angry outbursts for her family, which is really typical of shy people. Her wise parents enrolled her in a program that utilized both one on one and group counseling sessions called the ''Shyness Clinic'' through Stanford University. The girl made a total transformation and is happy and successful at college. You may be able to find something closer to you if you contact them. The website is: Best of luck to you - it really can be helped! Nancy

My very shy daughter was very upset from the age of ten on about her ''invisibility''. She faked being sick to stay home from school, and had headaches and stomach aches throughout 5th and 6th grades. By the time she was in middle school she was desperate for attention. In high school she was drinking and throwing herself at boys.

She managed to graduate from high school and even to get into UC Davis where she crashed during her first semester. She is now 19 and in an expensive treatment center in Houston. I wish I had intervened at an earlier age as you are doing. I do not have very startling advice - except get her into long term therapy now. She needs to learn to love herself as she is. She may believe as my daughter did that getting attention is the most important thing in her life. My daughter saw several Bay Area therapists who were very good: Virginia Keeler-Wolfe; Preston Parsons; and Alison Trules - all in Oakland. Lori Katzburg in Walnut Creek also is very good. I wish you and you daughter the best! Katrina

Your daughter sounds more sad than shy to me. I would recommend that she be evaluated for therapy. After the sadness is better there may be a good group that teaches social skills if your daughter is still shy when she is not sad. Judy

Have you considered a social skills group for your daughter? It might be really helpful in terms of teaching her how her body language and affect are perceived by her peers and she can practice new skills in ways that feel comfortable to her in a safe environment. My daughter attended Dr. Kathryn McCarthy's social skills group and received really valuable feedback on how some of her behaviors (for example interrupting others) were affecting her relationships. Dr. McCarthy is at: (510) 649-3399. Good luck! anon

Dear Sad Mama, You are not alone. My soon to be 13 year old has had similiar social problems in that she didn't seem to understand how to send social messages that were congruent with what she wanted to communicate, both verbally and nonverbally. She had no friends.

Fortunately, we got her into a social skills group of several other teen girls who met weekly and, with the direction of their amazing counselor, learned how to do, think and project what was intuitively obvious to most other kids. My daughter has blossomed as a result, and we are now ready to move on so I think they may have a space open. This place is truly wonderful. You can learn more and contact them by gong to their website at Good luck! Now a Happy Mama

My now 15 year old son went to the Shyness Clinic (Stanford U) when he was 13. Although I had high hopes, it was less than successful, mostly due, I think, to my son's reluctance to fully participate. One big problem was that there was no group for his age when he went, so it was only one-on-one. The approach, if I remember correctly, was Cognitive Behavioral. There was a little progress and I liked the therapist. He is now participating in a social skills group that seems to be having more success. He actually likes going. This more pracical approach seems to work better for him. He is learning about body language, and non-verbal communication, and conversation, and considering others, and all those other aspects of being sociable that most of use never even think of explicitly. I think we are on the right track.
Mom to another shy kid