Phobias in childhood and adolescence

Written by: Dr. Josep Tomàs Vilaltella
Edited by: Top Doctors®

Etymologically phobia means, fear, panic and terror. The description of irrational fears appears already in Egyptian papyri and in the Corpus Hipocraticum. As medical terminology appears first in a work of Celso in which it refers to hydrophobia as a major symptom of rabies. The concept of phobia in its current meaning appears in 1801.


Throughout their development children and adolescents have to face new situations with which they must become familiar. For this reason fear is frequent during this stage of personal development. Some of the most common fears in childhood and adolescence are the fear of darkness, loneliness, certain animals, strange people, ghosts or monsters, water, being attacked, the other sex or the deformations of the own body.

adolescence phobias
Traumas in childhood and adolescence can trigger phobias in adulthood 

The child and the adolescent can successfully face a banal fear if their parents exercise a support action , support it, and at the same time respect their rhythm of adaptation and adaptation to the situation that generates this fear. If the parents act with an attitude of overprotection and constantly and excessively avoid the child being confronted with the situation of danger, he will become fearful and adopt an avoidant personality incapable of enduring the experience of fear. On the other hand, if the parents exercise an action of confrontation of the child with the objects that generate fear beyond their possibilities of physical and psychic adaptation, the failure of the child to face this fear will significantly increase their resistance to face what is the object of fear.


From an educational point of view the child must learn to progressively avoid situations that represent an objective danger, so as not to face useless risks. At the same time, it must recognize those situations that, although they cause fear, do not constitute a risk situation. In this way, it will mature with the progress that means being able to face new situations slowly. Around seven or eight years old, the ordinary fears diminish or disappear, thanks to the fact that the child realizes that certain situations, objects or people who were afraid of him do not pose any real danger.


We will only talk about phobias when a specific fear is associated with an avoidance behavior, producing a damage in the personal adaptation or in the social relation of the child. The phobia consists in the repulsion or anguishing fear related specifically to the presence of an object, being or situation that, due to its concrete characteristics, does not justify this state of anxiety.. The phobia is not incapacitating at first, but it interferes significantly in the social activity of the subject and also in its productive performance. In some more serious cases it may cause school absenteeism ( school phobia ), depression or drug abuse.


*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection

By Dr. Josep Tomàs Vilaltella

Renowned expert in child psychiatry, with over thirty years of experience. Dr. Tomas is responsible paidopsychiatry Unit at the Faculty of Medicine of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Director of the mastership of specialization in paidopsychiatry Department of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine of the Hospital Vall d\'Hebron.

*Translated with Google translator. We apologize for any imperfection

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