A phobia is a fear that is out of proportion to the object or situation involved. While everyone has fears, some people, particularly those with anxiety disorders, have phobias. The difference is often the reaction the fear produces. For example, you might be nervous about crossing an old wooden bridge, but since it’s leading to a place you need or want to go, you take a deep breath and drive across without incident. Someone with a phobia, however, might go out of their way to avoid crossing the bridge. They might not make plans that involve needing to go to that location or they might find another way to go, even if it adds an hour or more to their travel time. Both children and teens can develop phobias which can begin to seriously impact their lives if not treated.
Here are 7 of the most common teen phobias as well as tips on how to handle a phobia in your or your teen’s life.
Agoraphobia is somewhat common among those who suffer from panic disorder. It’s sometimes called a fear of crowds, but really, it’s a fear of being in a public place where they might find themselves helpless or unable to escape easily. Crowded public venues are a place that those with agoraphobia will commonly avoid. A teen with this phobia might have specific places they do not want to go; conversely, a teen with a severe form of agoraphobia might refuse to leave the house at all.
Many times, agoraphobia begins with a panic attack. If your teen has an anxiety attack while in a particular place, they might subconsciously associate that place with the attack and avoid it. They might also avoid places that are similar to the original place.
For example, if your teen has a panic attack while on a subway, he or she might avoid all public transportation, including the school bus. If they were on their way to a festival, they might begin to avoid festivals, fairs, and theme parks. Over time, this can lead to your teen not wanting to go places with the family or with friends.
Claustrophobia is an intense fear of being confined. While many people would be fearful of being confined in a very small space, those with claustrophobia might fear places like airplanes, buses, rooms without windows, and elevators. Some people with claustrophobia might also feel panicked when they are in congested traffic or even when wearing a shirt with a snug neck. The victim often feels like they can’t get enough air and that they can’t escape the situation.
Nomophobia is a one of the newer types of teen phobias; it’s the fear of being without a cellphone. The name of the phobia is based on the fear of having “no mobile” phone (nomo).
In today’s always-connected world, it’s very common to feel uneasy when you leave home without your phone or when your battery is about to die and you have no way to charge the phone. For most people, this discomfort is mild and wanes as some time goes by. For those with nomophobia, however, panic symptoms might begin to set in. While many teens seem to be addicted to their devices and might get upset if they can’t use their phones for some reason, their discomfort is usually overcome. If your teen seems to panic in this type of situation, it might be worth investigating whether nomophobia is the cause.
4. Social Phobia
Many teens suffer from social anxiety. When the condition progresses, it can become a true social phobia. It is similar to agoraphobia in the sense that afflicted teens might begin to refuse to go out with friends or to go to public events.
Social anxiety consists of negative feelings when with other people. A lot of people have mild anxiety when they have to get up in front of a crowd to give a speech, for example. You might experience a faster heartbeat or sweaty palms. For someone with a social phobia, however, the symptoms can turn into a full-blown panic attack. If this happens in front of others, your teen might simply refuse to be in the situation again. Their phobia can negatively impact not only their social lives but also their success in school and their ability to hold down a part-time job.
5. Medical Teen Phobias
Does your teen consult with Dr. Google every time he or she has a medical symptom, such as a headache, an upset stomach, or a twitching eyelid? While it’s not exactly a phobia, hypochondria, which is anxiety revolving around an imagined illness or nonsignificant symptoms, is becoming more common in the Internet age. Anyone can type their symptoms into Google, and search engines tend to give worst-case scenarios. Your teen could be very fearful that their nosebleed (likely caused by dry air) was caused by leukemia, for example.
Another type of medical-related phobia is the fear of doctors or hospitals. This includes dental phobia and an intense fear of having blood drawn or vaccinations. If you’re having to cajole and drag your teen to the doctor, they might have one of these medical teen phobias.
6. Cynophobia (and other animal phobias)
While many teenagers love animals, others have fears of various creatures, whether they’re creepy-crawly or warm and fuzzy.
Cynophobia is the fear of dogs. A teen who has been bitten by a dog might develop this fear. Other teen phobias of animals include:
- Arachnophobia – the fear of spiders
- Ophidiophobia – an abnormal fear of snakes
Many people can relate to fears of spiders and snakes; you might shudder or head in the opposite direction when you see a large spider or a slithering snake. A teen who is very fearful of other creatures might not want to go outside at all or might have a panic attack when they see an animal unexpectedly.
Finally, one last common phobia among people of all ages that might affect your teen is aerophobia, or the fear of flying. Since flying is not something that most people need to do frequently, this fear might not affect your teen’s everyday life. If a teenager is trying to get out of going on a family vacation or won’t attend a school trip that includes an airplane ride, though, consider whether treatment for the fear of flying is in order.
Getting Help for Teen Phobias
No matter what your teenager is afraid of (and there are many teen phobias that do not fit into the above categories), it’s important to remember that he or she is not afraid on purpose. If they could control it, they’d choose not to be afraid. Blaming your teen or ridiculing them for their fear is cruel and can just make things worse. Instead, see a mental health professional who can guide him or her through the process of overcoming the phobia. In many cases, this includes psychotherapy (talk therapy) and desensitization. Sometimes, medication is also needed, either for a little while or for the long term.
Work with your child’s mental health professional to get to the bottom of teen phobias. Having it treated during the teen years can help ensure a healthier and happier adult life. No one wants to be afraid all of the time, so it’s essential to have the phobia identified and treated as soon as feasible.
If you think that your child suffers from one of these teen phobias, it’s best to have it evaluated sooner rather than later. With systematic desensitization therapy and other types of counseling, your teen could overcome the fear and get on with his or her life without being burdened with the discomfort and panic associated with a phobia. Learn more about the treatment for phobic disorders in teens and young adults offered by Paradigm.