Helping Your Shy Teens With Self-Confidence

Shy teen girl looking down at ground

Olivia Bell Photography / Getty Images

There’s no need to try and 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 she wants to do, these strategies can help her come out of her shell.

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 found 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 rights are being violated. That passive behavior can lead to an even bigger decrease in self-esteem, relationship problems, educational issues, and mental health problems.

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

If someone points out that she doesn't look at people, she isn't likely to explain why. She may worry that others are judging her harshly, which could make it even more difficult for her 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 she doesn't understand an assignment, she may stare silently at her paper. Consequently she may get poor grades because she's too shy to ask for help. 

Passive teens are also likely to experience relationship issues. If a teen doesn’t tell their friends that they’ve got hurt feelings, they 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. She may think she doesn't have control to improve her life and she may avoid tackling problems she encounters.

Build Your Teen’s Self-Confidence

There are several things you can do to help your teen feel more confident. Here are several strategies that will help banish your teen's self-doubt:

  • Give them opportunities to practice speaking up: It may be tempting to make calls on your teen's behalf or order for her in a restaurant if she's shy. But doing too much for her will make things worse. Coach her how she can do those things on her own.
  • Help them discover their talents: Encourage her to get involved in a variety of sports, clubs, organizations or other opportunities that will help her learn new skills and uncover hidden talent. 
  • Provide opportunities 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.
  • Provide praise and positive reinforcement for your teen’s efforts: Normalize that it can be difficult to meet new people or try new activities when she feels shy. But the more she does it, the easier it will get.
  • Teach assertiveness skills: Help her learn how to speak up for herself so she can feel more comfortable expressing her 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.

Was this page helpful?
7 Sources
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.
  1. Smith M. Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails: Boys and Behaviour in the USA. Can Bull Med Hist. 2019;36(1):51–79. doi:10.3138/cbmh.236-112017

  2. Kwiatkowska MM, Rogoza R. A Measurement Invariance Investigation of the Differences in Shyness Between Adolescents and Adults. Personality and Individual Differences. 2017;116:331-335. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2017.05.012

  3. Davies PT, Cicchetti D, Hentges RF, Sturge-Apple ML. The genetic precursors and the advantageous and disadvantageous sequelae of inhibited temperament: an evolutionary perspectiveDev Psychol. 2013;49(12):2285–2300. doi:10.1037/a0032312

  4. Rubin KH, Coplan RJ, Bowker JC. Social withdrawal in childhood. Annu Rev Psychol. 2009;60:141–171. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.60.110707.163642

  5. Richfield S. Helping Children Overcome Shyness. J Psychol Clin Psychiatry. 2015;3(5):00164. doi:10.15406/jpcpy.2015.03.00164

  6. Gazelle H, Spangler T. Early Childhood Anxious Solitude and Subsequent Peer Relationships: Maternal and Cognitive Moderators. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2007;28(5-6):515–535. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2007.06.006

  7. Penela EC, Walker OL, Degnan KA, Fox NA, Henderson HA. Early Behavioral Inhibition and Emotion Regulation: Pathways Toward Social Competence in Middle Childhood. Child Dev. 2015;86(4):1227–1240. doi:10.1111/cdev.12384