Shyness is a behavior that can cause problems for children and adults. But adolescents, who experience elevated emotional turmoil, are more vulnerable to the symptoms of extreme shyness. “Although they might be easy to overlook, they probably experience much private unhappiness, as adolescent shy behavior is linked to loneliness, having fewer friends, and other internalizing problems such as anxiety, low self-worth, depression, social phobia, and eating disorders among women,” said Neira van Zalk of the Center for Developmental Research at Orebro University in Sweden. Shyness has also been shown to cause stress in social situations, leading to social anxiety that can result in negative thoughts, impaired job performance and general dysfunction. These symptoms can be caused by a number of factors, but recently, researchers have begun to examine how parenting styles influence the development of shyness in children. “As a number of reviews show, different forms of socially fearful behaviors, such as shyness, behavioral inhibition, social anxiety, social withdrawal, and reticence, are associated in young children with two forms of parental psychological control: intrusive control and criticism or rejection,” said van Zalk. Parents who are over-controlling, although their intentions are good, may shield their children from stressful life situations, thus prohibiting their ability to develop coping skills and self-regulation. Another factor linked to childhood shyness is the amount of warmth exhibited by parents. Studies suggest that children who receive praise and warmth experience less anxiety, stress and loneliness than children who receive little parental warmth.
Van Zalk and a team of researchers analyzed data collected from several waves of a larger study conducted on Swedish adolescents. The teens were interviewed for symptoms of anxiety and shyness, and reported how they perceived the parenting they received. “In this study,” said van Zalk, “We found that the more shy adolescents were, the more intrusively controlling, rejecting, and less emotionally warm they perceived their parents to be over time. There was also some evidence that the more youths perceived parents as intrusively controlling, the more their shyness increased over time.” Van Zalk added that the teens with the most severe shyness received the least parental warmth. “Why would shyness elicit these behaviors from parents? One possible explanation is that parents mistakenly see the adolescent’s social isolation as intentional and that they tend to do this more as youths age,” said van Zalk. “Their lack of warmth and rejection might reflect frustration or concern that is not expressed properly. Another possibility is that some correlate of shyness helps to explain parents’ critical, rejecting reactions.” Van Zalk added, “Maybe parents whose children show shy behavior can help by being aware of their children’s oversensitivity and their own responses to their children.”
Van Zalk, Nejra, and Margaret Kerr. “Shy Adolescents’ Perceptions of Parents’ Psychological Control and Emotional Warmth: Examining Bidirectional Links.” Merill-Palmer Quarterly 57.4 (2011): 375-401. Print.
© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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