What happens when you give hundreds of teenagers smartphones and unlimited access to chat apps and social networks 24/7? A generation emerges with a condition called Fear of Missing Out, or, FOMO. While feelings of FOMO have been around for centuries, social media has done its part to amplify it, which can cause some serious emotional fallout for teens today.
What is FOMO
FOMO is that uneasy and often consuming feeling you’re missing out on something more interesting, exciting or better than what you are currently doing. FOMO affects people of all ages in various ways since 77% of humans now own phones. However, for uber-digital teens, FOMO can hit especially hard. Seeing a friend’s Paris vacation photos on Instagram or watching friends at a party on Snapchat can spark feelings of sadness and loneliness that can lead to anxiety and even depression.
As one mom recently shared with us: “My daughter called me a few months ago saying she wanted to drop out of college and travel the world. When I asked her what sparked this and how she planned to finance her adventure, she said, ‘everyone else is doing it, so I’m sure I’ll figure it out.’”
After further discussion, the mom discovered that her daughter’s idea to drop out was a combination of intense FOMO and lack of sleep. It was exam week, the pressure was high, and scrolling Instagram made her daughter question her life choices. When exams ended, her daughter got some sleep and took a few days off of social media and remains in school today.
Signs of FOMO
- Constantly checking social media (even while on vacation, out with friends, or attending a fun event)
- Constantly refreshing your screen to get the latest updates and to see people’s responses to your posts
- Feeling you need to be available and respond to your friends 24/7
- Obsessively posting your daily activities online
- Feeling of needing new things, new experiences, a better life
- Feeling sad, lonely, or depressed after being on social media for extended periods of time
- Feeling dissatisfaction with one’s life
- Making life choices or financial decisions based on what you see online
Coaching Kids through FOMO
Nurture JOMO. The Joy of Missing Out, JOMO, is the opposite of FOMO. It’s the feeling of freedom and even relief that we’ve unplugged and are fully present in the moment. To encourage more JOMO and less FOMO, parents can help guide kids toward personal contentment with more phone-free activities such as reading, journaling, face-to-face conversations, outdoor activities, and practicing mindfulness.
Other ways to encourage JOMO: Remind kids they have choices and don’t have to say “yes” to every invitation and to ask themselves, “Is this something I really want to do?” Also, consider challenging them to turn off their phone notifications, try a digital cleanse for a day or even a week, and read and discuss this great JOMO Manifesto together. A big perk of embracing JOMO is also “missing out” on some of the digital risks such as oversharing and risks to reputation and privacy.
Keep a thought journal. Changing your thinking is hard work. Experts suggest that kids suffering from anxiety, depression, or FOMO keep a thought journal to track, analyze, and reframe negative thoughts in more realistic, honest ones. For example, an initial thought might be: “I can’t believe my friends went to the concert without me. They must not want me around.” After thinking honestly about the situation, that thought might change to: “I don’t even like that band, wouldn’t spend money to see them, and my friends know that. Anyway, I had a blast with Ashley at the movies tonight.”
Cut back on social media. Cutting back sounds like an obvious fix, right? That’s the thing about unhealthy habits — they can be very tough to break and sometimes we need help. Most kids will be quick to argue that the amount of time they spend online doesn’t impact their emotions at all but numerous studies and common sense contradict that reasoning. They say this because the thought of cutting back on their social media habits can strike panic. It’s a love-hate routine they don’t quite know how to stop and it is their go-to remedy for boredom. So persist in helping your child reduce screen time. Be creative by offering alternate activities and helping them stay on track with their goals.
Curate for quality. This tip will, no doubt, challenge your kids. You may even get a flat “no way” when you suggest it. When it comes to photo-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, challenge your child to think about why they follow certain friends or accounts. Challenge them to delete feeds that are not encouraging, useful, or post quality content. They may not want to reduce their friends’ list (follower and friend counts matter) but they can mute accounts so they don’t have to see content that triggers FOMO feelings.
FOMO is a very real feeling so if your child shows signs of it be sure to validate their feelings. Periodic feelings of exclusion and hurt are part of being human. Don’t, however, allow faulty, streaming perceptions to push out the true joys of real-life experiences. Be the bridge of reason for your kids reminding them that social media spotlights the best versions of people’s lives — the filtered versions — but that nothing compares to showing up and living the real adventure.