How can I help my 12-year-old son deal with social anxiety when he is in large crowds of people? He is fine in setting with a small number of people but in large crowds he gets very stressed to the point of tears. He also gets rude when people try to speak to him. When I try asking him what is wrong, he just gets more upset and shuts down. The most recent example was at a church function. We were having a homecoming meal so there were more people than usual. He was getting very upset while we were in line for the food and as we went through the buffet, he seemed like he wasn't able to make decisions on what to eat. By the time we sat down he was in tears. A couple of people tried to speak to him, and he wouldn't say much and came across very rude. He always comes to me later and apologizes for his behavior. Later in the day I tried to ask him what he was feeling, and he just said he was annoyed. We've tried taking away a game he really likes for being rude but that does not help.
I don't think I'd call this "social anxiety." Sounds to me like a low tolerance for frustration, but I'm simply going on what you've provided here. Also, I don't know the history of this, so I'm inclined to think that perhaps some if not most of the problem is related to the hormonal changes taking place at this age. Some kids slide through puberty with ease. Others do not. If I was "on the ground" here, I would simply make it a practice of sitting down and having a "discussion" with your son about his meltdowns and rudeness (which seem related?) before going into any public or social situation where they might be triggered. I'd say words to this effect: "We're about to go into a situation of the sort you have seemed, in the past, to have difficulty with. Specifically, as we've already told you, you become dramatic and rude to people who are trying to be helpful. I need to know that you realize you have these problems and I need to know what YOU are going to do and want us to do if you begin having problems tonight." Get him to tell you what his "solution" is going to be. That sort of proactive conversation is essential to turning this around. I don't think punishment is going to move the dial. You're going to need to help him come up with a "solution." The conversations in question are going to need to happen before any and all situations that might be triggers, and for at least six months or until you see that he's developed awareness and self-control. Let me know how things go.
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