Social Anxiety and the Absurdness of Oral Presentations

Why teens should not be required to speak in class
By Lauren Penington

Heart racing, head pounding, face flushing. Social anxiety is a legitimate issue and concern in this modern day society and should be treated as such, as it is a crippling fear that controls our life and cannot be put off to the side when convenient, such as for a speech assignment.
Jenny Bristol, an online author, released an article in 2014 titled “Students Shouldn’t Have to Speak in Front of the Class” and this is an excerpt from that article:
“I hated speaking in front of people then, and I hate doing it now. In between, I hated being called on when my hand wasn’t raised, which some teachers did to try to encourage more participation. But all it succeeded in doing was to make me fear those classes and to be so busy worrying that I wasn’t learning. I hated oral presentations. I hated having to be the spokesperson for group work. I hated anything that caused me to be the center of attention for more than a couple of people at a time.”
Many people dismiss complaints such as these when they are brought up by teenagers, saying “Oh! You’re just shy!” And maybe some people are. I’m not. I am not a shy person. I don’t mind one-on-one conversations, in fact I relish them. It’s when that one person turns into ten, or twenty, or thirty, that I flounder, that I flush and stammer, that my chest clenches, my breath quickens, and my heart pounds. It’s when I stand in front of people that I want to find the nearest hole and crawl into it, merely to escape the hundreds of eyes I can feel boring into me, as I stand in front of the crowd, open and vulnerable to their scrutiny, their judgement. I find myself becoming paranoid, over-analyzing my words, hesitating before I speak, worried that I’ll make a wrong step and everyone will judge me. But with my friends, I’m the opposite, completely outgoing. Let me clear this up. I am not shy, I flourish in small groups, but when the number grows, my confidence and ability to function shrinks until it ceases to exist. I am not shy, I am afraid. I am not shy, I have social anxiety.
And I am not the only one, not by a long shot. One in four teens have social anxiety. One in four. Twenty five percent of teens will at one point develop social anxiety, whether because of their circumstances or experiences, because of their families, or because of the stress in school.
“[Anxiety is caused by a] combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors,” a spokesperson for Psychology Today said.
There is no one answer and no solution that simply “fixes” it for everyone. Whatever the cause may be, the fact still stands that there are many kids, in this school alone, with this same problem. Perhaps problem isn’t the right word. It may be more accurate to use injury. Because that’s what it is. The brain is an organ like any other. It can be damaged, it can contract diseases. We don’t tell someone with asthma that they need to overcome their lungs, they can breathe just fine. We don’t tell an athlete with a broken ankle to work harder and overcome the weakness of their ankle, because they can play just fine already. Like this, we shouldn’t tell someone with social anxiety that they need to overcome the anxiety in their brain to succeed, but by playing it off as shyness, this is exactly what happens.
Social anxiety is not shyness. It’s simply not that easy to brush off, not that simple to overcome. You can’t turn off the pain, you can’t turn off the fear, you can’t turn off the panic, and you shouldn’t be forced to try for the sake of speaking in front of a group of peers who will forget what you say as soon as you walk out the door. Heart is racing, head is pounding, and face flushing. I can feel myself on the verge of a breakdown, teetering on the edge of a cliff. A cliff built on the lie of communication, built the truth of short-term memorization and panic attacks.
So let’s give a shout out. A shout out to the kids who struggle to convey their thoughts because they’re so worried what people will think. A shout out to the kids who can barely roll out of bed in the morning, for fear of what’s coming during the day paralyzes them. And a shout out to the kids having panic attacks in the bathroom because they have to give an oral presentation. Public speaking requirements set forth by the school unnecessarily aggravate the woes of social anxiety in teens and set a precedent of constant anxiety in those teens. People shouldn’t be forced to speak in front of people — if it isn’t something we are truly passionate about and something that will last beyond the classroom walls, it isn’t worth the repercussions forced oral presentations bring with them.

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