Tiffany Jones, Connexions Manager
The FOMO Epidemic
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
Life for many students has changed drastically with the pandemic. One thing has remained the same. FOMO is alive and well and it's affecting our kids at alarming rates. So, what exactly is FOMO?
FOMO or “fear of missing out” comes from comparing our lives with those around us and believing what they do or how they live is better. Sure, our children may not see their friends posting photos from exotic trips or crazy parties, but they see them having a fantastic time trying new recipes, building crazy forts like when they were little, and enjoying spending time with their families. If there is one thing we have learned during the pandemic, it's that FOMO is not caused by the external, but rather what is occurring internally within our minds.
The pandemic essentially brought everything to a screeching halt in terms of socialization and activities, and yet our children are still feeling left out or less than. Why is that? How can we help them?
To begin this discussion, we need to examine how FOMO affects us. In generations past, we referred to this as "Keeping up with the Jones," which was not as pervasive due to the lack of knowledge of what our friends were doing all the time. Social media, however, has opened the door wide on this and allows us to see the daily lives of others at a rapid-fire rate, which triggers our need for comparison.
While scientists have said they do not believe social media is the cause of FOMO, they believe it to be a contributing factor. Social media features a highlight reel of someone's life, so you feel less than when you look at your own mundane everyday life. Most people don't post the chaos of their day, the spilled breakfast, messy room, or unfinished homework. The hashtag #nofilter is an excellent example of skewed reality. Instagrammers have taken to using the hashtag to confirm that their photo is genuine or authentic, that no filter was used to make it look that nice. This hashtag is quite frequently a lie.
In 2019 the University of Windsor, Canada studied the #nofilter claim by analyzing 18,000 random posts with that hashtag. Of those,12% had been heavily filtered to give an appearance that is both perfect and natural.
Most teens tailor their posts and online activity to how they want to be perceived and what they wish they could be. It turns out, most of us struggle to believe we are valuable, worthy, and worthwhile. Therefore, most teens struggle with putting down their devices. FOMO has become a force to be reckoned with, increasing our depression and anxiety, and yet we are driven back to social media for more affirmation.
When you as parents decide to take your student's phone away, understand your students will likely be extremely distressed. Many students view their phones as their lifeline to connection, support, and affirmation for school, relationships, mental health concerns, and everything else. Taking their phones away shuts them off from the connection and support they crave.
During the pandemic, most of us have only interacted online. This has trained our students to see their media devices as their lifeline to the outside world. When we remove that, they feel cut off, and some may respond in traumatic ways. Working with youth and students over the last 14 years , I've seen parents minimize or label their child's depression or anxiety as a trend, teen angst, or over dramatization versus empathizing and understanding that amongst youth 13-19, there is a mental health epidemic. When we minimize or deny what our kids are feeling or experiencing, we infer we do not care, will not understand, and trying to connect is a waste of time.
Therefore, many students turn to their friends for support or counseling, feeling their parents don't understand. This places other friends and teenagers in a power position to "counsel" their friends rather than being a teenager first. The danger lies in that they are being asked to shoulder the burden of trying to provide emotional, mental, and physical support that should be overseen by a trained professional.
Often, students who become peer counselors for their friends are drawn to fill the "helper" role but are ill-equipped with maturity, training, and education to handle the demands that this role requires. It's essential that parents, leaders, and mentors take the time and effort to listen, empathize, and support our youth by taking what they say and how they feel seriously. If what they are struggling with is outside of your scope, it is vital to seek professional support. There is no shame in admitting that something may be out of your range of expertise. Asking for help demonstrates courage and is the healthy way to deal with issues we may struggle to provide counsel.
Let’s look at five ways we can help students walk through and overcome FOMO:
1.) Cultivate gratitude: You've probably heard of "counting your blessings" and rolled your eyes, but positive psychology research from Harvard Medical School found that gratitude is consistently associated with levels of happiness. Ways to do this include:
a. Write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
b. Express appreciation for someone in your life in a text or phone call.
c. Challenge a friend or family member online to a gratitude challenge and share your results at the end of the day.
2.) Savor and meditate for a moment: Intentionally take time to slow down, breathe, and meditate throughout the day. Ways to do this include:
a. Deep breathe for 5 minutes.
b. Take time to meditate with different apps: Soulspace, Pray as you go, or the Mindfulness App.
c. Journal and slow down to calm your mind for a few minutes.
3.) Help your student establish healthy boundaries with technology and social media: Ways to do this include:
a. Review Common Sense Education’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum to learn what your student is going through and elicit talking points for meaningful conversation.
b. Access Common Sense Education's: Social Media and How You Feel and discuss what they think and feel about this.
c. Set a family time limit on screen time. It’s important to hold yourself to the same standards to demonstrate what that looks like.
d. Pick a day of the week for a family technology sabbatical.
e. Set a rule for technology within bedrooms. Ensure tech stays in public places so that when it is time to go to bed, there is a disconnection.
4.) Be the listening ear and empathetic shoulder for your student: Ways to do this include:
a. Devote time each day to hear what each of your children is going through and offer guidance only when asked to do so.
b. Demonstrate reflective listening. Listen to what they are saying, repeat it back to them to gain clarity and understanding. This demonstrates you care and are listening.
c. Don’t respond immediately. Instead, respond with empathy and ask questions to understand and educate yourself before speaking. If you can demonstrate a desire to learn why your child feels the way they do, thinks the ways they do and understand how they arrived at that conclusion, it will allow you time to respond but show them that you care deeply and want to help.
5.) If out of your scope, seek professional help from trained counselors and therapists: Ways to do this include:
a. Being open and vulnerable. Admit that you do not have all the answers, but you are willing to work with them and help them figure it out.
b. Understand that therapy today is not like what is shown on TV. Often, practical and helpful coping strategies are needed, and that may come from counseling and guidance provided within a professional setting.
Finally, if you read all of this and still feel out of your element, it is ok to take a breath, pray and understand that no one has all the answers. We are all struggling with something, but that doesn't mean the situation is hopeless. Be open to listening and less reactive when your child responds strongly when you remove their technological device. Instead, ask them why they are responding that way and seek to understand before reacting. This may bridge the gap in your relationship and provide hope for connection in the future.