Help a Shy Teen Build Self-Confidence

Shy teen girl looking down at ground

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There’s no need to try to force a quiet teen to become the life of the party. Being shy isn't a bad thing. But sometimes shyness can stem from low confidence, and it can interfere with a teen's ability to communicate effectively, join activities, or meet new people. If your teen's shyness gets in the way of doing things they want to do, these strategies can help.

Why Some Teens Are Shy

Teens may be more likely to have unhealthy coping skills. So whereas an adult who feels shy may still greet someone or may force themselves to attend functions, shy teens may be more likely to avoid people or steer clear of optional social gatherings.

Studies show that in general, adults are more likely to be shy than teenagers. This may be because teens are usually surrounded by peers much of the time.

Genetics can play a role in why some teens experience moderate or severe amounts of shyness. Teens whose parents grew up being very shy may be more likely to experience shyness.

Life experiences can also be a factor. A teen who has had negative experiences when trying new things, speaking up, or when approaching people, may become less outgoing over time. Teens who grow up with overprotective parents may also be more likely to be shy.

Passive Communication and Behavior in Teens

Passive behavior often accompanies feelings of shyness. Passive teens don’t speak up for themselves, even when their rights are being violated. That passive behavior can lead to an even bigger decrease in self-esteem, along with relationship problems, educational issues, and mental health concerns.

For example, a shy teenager may stare at the floor when others speak to her. They may find it difficult to make eye contact because the are so shy.

If someone points out that they don't look at people, they aren't likely to explain why. They may worry that others are judging them harshly, which could make it even more difficult for them to speak up or make eye contact. 

In addition to lack of eye contact, slumped posture is also characteristic of passive behavior. A passive teen may prefer to blend into the back of the room and may struggle to be in large crowds.

Shy teens have difficulty making decisions and making their opinion known. They may try to please everyone by saying things like “I don’t care,” when asked simple questions. 

The Challenge of Shyness

Extremely shy teens can experience several types of problems. For example, a teen who doesn’t dare speak up to ask a teacher a question may fall behind in school. Instead of seeking help when they don't understand an assignment, they may stare silently at their paper. Consequently, they may get poor grades because they are too shy to ask for help. 

Passive teens are also likely to experience relationship issues. If a teen doesn’t tell their friends that their feelings have been hurt, the friends can't respond and the teen may grow angry and resentful toward them over time. The issue isn’t likely to be resolved if they won't say why they are upset.

Over time, a shy teen may feel increasingly helpless. They may think they don't have control to improve their life and they may avoid tackling problems they encounter.

Build Your Teen’s Self-Confidence

There are several things you can do to help your teen feel more confident. These strategies can help banish self-doubt.

  • Provide opportunities to practice speaking up: It may be tempting to make calls on your teen's behalf or order for them in a restaurant. But doing too much for them will make things worse. Coach them how they can do those things on their own.
  • Help them discover their talents: Encourage your teen to get involved in a variety of sports, clubs, organizations or other opportunities that will help them learn new skills and uncover hidden talent. 
  • Encourage them to meet new people and get involved in new activities: Although attending events and activities can be difficult for shy teens, over time their comfort level will increase when they enjoy positive interactions.
  • Praise your teen’s efforts: Normalize that it can be difficult to meet new people or try new activities when they feel shy. But the more they do it, the easier it will get.
  • Teach assertiveness skills: Help your teen learn how to speak up so they can feel more comfortable expressing their emotions in an appropriate manner.

When to Seek Professional Help

Seek professional help if your child’s shyness causes educational or social problems. Talk to your child’s pediatrician or seek help from a mental health professional. A professional can help rule out other mental health issues and can determine whether or not therapy could be helpful in building your teen's confidence.

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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.