How to Help Teens with Social Anxiety

When I was 30, I joined a social group for adults who cope with social anxiety and shyness. We practiced all the things that were difficult to manage in the outside world: public speaking, debates, theater and drama drills, small talk, and many other challenging scenarios. This group completely changed my life, and I was only sorry it hadn’t been there for me when I was younger and desperately needed it.

After five years in this group, I and another member decided to see if such a group existed for youth. We found out that it didn’t, so we decided to found an NGO—a non profit organization called Rakefet. Rakefet is a Hebrew word for “cyclamen,” a type of flower. Because of its inward-leaning shape, the flower symbolizes shyness, modesty, introversion, and beauty. The official title of Rakefet is “A foundation for youth who cope with social anxiety and shyness,” but obviously introverts turn to us as well, and we happily accept them.

Rakefet’s groups are facilitated by pairs. One of the pair is an adult who’s dealt with social anxiety; the other is a professional from a relevant occupation: a psychologist, social worker, or school counselor. In the meetings, the atmosphere is light and humorous. We practice public speaking in its various forms, using many of the drills from the adults’ group. We go to places like cafes and bowling alleys, enjoying each other’s company in non-formal settings. The group serves as a support group and a social group. Our groups are not defined as therapeutic because our teens don’t necessarily need to be cured from anything—they just need the proper setting to practice their social skills and to meet peers who share their temperament and sensitivities.

We already have 70 participants in seven groups in five cities, and we’re just getting started.