Prevalence and characteristics of significant social anxiety in children aged 8–13 years

Van Roy, Betty; Kristensen, Hanne; Groholt, Berit; Clench-Aas, Jocelyne
May 2009
Social Psychiatry & Psychiatric Epidemiology;May2009, Vol. 44 Issue 5, p407
Academic Journal
Social anxiety has been frequently studied in both population- and clinical-based adult and adolescent samples. Corresponding research in children is scarce and is dominated by clinical studies. The aim of the present population-based study was to examine the prevalence of significant social anxiety (SSA) in preadolescent children and compare their characteristics with those of children without SSA. The spectrum of social anxiety is explored by comparing children with different levels of social anxiety, as defined by 1–2 versus 3–5 social situations feared. The sample consisted of 14,497 parents and their 3rd–7th grade children (8–13 years old) who participated in a health profile study, including questions covering DSM-IV criteria A–D for social anxiety disorder (SAD). Socio-demographic data, social and school functioning, somatic complaints, parent–child relationships, and use of health services were added to a logistic regression model to explore characteristics associated with children with, and without SSA. Associated emotional and behavioural problems were measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) using parent and self-report. Parents described 2.3% of all children as significantly socially anxious and 0.9% feared at least three social situations. The majority of children with SSA managed their everyday life well. However, compared with children without SSA, children with SSA struggled more often in different areas of life and showed a significantly higher prevalence of associated emotional and behavioural symptoms. Our findings also support the notion of social anxiety as a spectrum concept. Social anxiety problems start in childhood and can be impairing, even in non-clinical populations and in reasonably young age groups. Increased awareness of different aspects of social anxiety is needed to identify children who are at risk and to devise appropriate interventions to improve the immediate and long-term outcome.


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