FOMO: 11 Tips to Combat the Fear of Missing Out

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FOMO: 11 Tips to Combat the Fear of Missing Out

September 20, 2021

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FOMO is when a student (or adult) experiences anxiety that people they are connected with are having a good time without them. It’s often prompted by posts seen on social media.

What is FOMO?

  • FOMO stands for: Fear of Missing Out
  • Akin to “digital peer pressure,” FOMO is an emotion that app developers exploit
  • FOMO is particularly influential for teens who receive the bulk of their validation and self-worth from the approval of others
  • Many apps are designed to create FOMO to encourage users to log in frequently so they can be served ads, videos, and more content that keeps them online longer

Why should parents care about FOMO?

Teens feel a constant pressure to be online and accessible

  • FOMO can cause anxiety and/or depression in students AND adults
  • Young drivers  are using their smartphones while driving because fear missing anything online, even at the risk of their safety on the road
  • Students develop the feeling of  constant pressure to be online and accessible all the time
  • FOMO is causing teens to stay up late, staring at their phone screens, which results in poor sleep quality

The SmartSocial.com team asked 11 experts for tips on how to help students avoid or manage FOMO.

1. Schedule technology breaks

Allie Gallinger, Speech-Language Pathologist & Owner, Express Yourself Speech

Allie Gallinger headshot
Allie Gallinger

You cannot be social without social media in this day and age. Every student feels that they need to be on their devices at all hours of the day to be in constant communication with their friends. Without doing so, they feel like they might miss out or be left out of social interactions. Students are also able to see what everyone is doing at all hours of the day, which results in FOMO if they are not involved.

This can be detrimental to mental health. There is so much pressure to not only be on all of the platforms but also be active on them. Additionally, if a teen/tween sees their friends together and were not invited, this can be detrimental to their self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Parents should schedule technology breaks with their students by ensuring that they get off their devices and go do something else for a set period of time. Parents should also encourage their students to be open and honest with them about their social media use. Ensuring that the lines of communication are open can make a huge difference for everyone’s mental health.

2. Recognize FOMO as digital peer pressure

Josh Ochs, Founder, SmartSocial.com

Josh Ochs
Josh Ochs

Students don’t understand why they get the feeling that they constantly have to check their phones. Telling them to “put the phone down” or “do something else” doesn’t take away the addiction or peer pressure that social media has created in their brains.

Have continual conversations with students about what they see or are doing on social media and how it makes them feel. Students must learn the words to describe their feelings before they will understand where the feelings come from. It cannot be a one-and-done dialogue and must be an ongoing parent-to-student relationship to combat FOMO and screen time addiction.

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3. Parents should set the example of phone-free activities

Dr. Sabrina Romanoff, Lenox Hill Hospital

Sabrina Romanoff headshot
Sabrina Romanoff

There is nothing novel about envying others and regretting choices and behaviors in teens. However, this phenomenon has magnified due to the rise of social media and in turn, the myriad of ways in which the spotlight is directed, through the lens of filters and photoshop, onto that which one does not have.

Mental health effects of FOMO include lower mood, feelings of loneliness, inadequacy, and reduced self-esteem. All of which can become entwined into a cycle of negative affect, isolation, and depression.

The grass is always greener on the other side. This is particularly true when that grass is seen through the distorted lens of social media. Parents can help by embracing JOMO (Joy Of Missing Out) with their students by espousing the feelings of autonomy and liberation that come from being unplugged and fully present. To encourage this, first, model, and then encourage phone-free activities like in-person socialization, reading, outdoor activities, physical exercise, and journaling.

4. Teach your students the negative effects of FOMO

Chris Norris, Founder/Managing Editor, SleepStandards.com

Chris Norris headshot
Chris Norris

FOMO is developed because social media allows people to display what they are up to and that makes some teens feel that they are missing out on activities. FOMO generally affects one’s mental health so parents should be aware when their kids are displaying signs of depression, mood disorders, and loneliness to address them properly.

As a parent, you have to limit your kids’ exposure to social media. It would also help to let them know about the negative effects of FOMO. Let them learn how to detect if they’re experiencing it and help them to overcome it as well.

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5. Social media is an edited showreel never a reality

Jodie Cook, JC Social Media

Jodie Cook headshot
Jodie Cook

Social media can create FOMO because it’s a live feed of what everyone you know (and don’t know) is doing. It creates a false impression that amazing things are happening to people you’re connected with, all the time.

If you follow 365 people and each of them posts one update per year, you would see a daily occurrence of someone else doing something fun. When left unquestioned, it can leave someone feeling like their life is boring in comparison.

To help, parents can remind their tweens and teens that social media is someone’s edited showreel, not their behind-the-scenes. They can also remind them that taking and posting pictures might take away from having actual fun - who wants to be posing all day? Parents can draw a distinction between someone documenting their life and living it - the latter of which is much better for happiness and mental health.

6. Establish rules for where and when devices are not welcome

Jessica Speer, Author

Jessica Speer headshot
Jessica Speer

Social media feeds teenagers’ need to feel a connection and belonging with peers. It's where teens go to see who is doing what, what is in or out, the latest memes, and basically to stay in the know. When teens take time away from social media, they begin to feel out of the loop and disconnected.

Many studies have been done on the impact of social media and teens and the results are mixed. One area that is consistently a cause for concern is displacement, or what other important activities are being replaced by time spent on social media. According to a recent report by the North Carolina Medical Journal, social media negatively impacts the quality of a teen's sleep.

This report shares that prior work has reliably demonstrated a link between mobile screen time before bed and a range of poorer sleep outcomes, including shorter sleep duration, poor sleep quality, and daytime sleepiness. Notably, 40% of adolescents report that they use a mobile device within five minutes before going to sleep, and 36% report waking up to check their device at least once during the night. Thus, the impact of social media on sleep quality remains a primary risk for subsequent mental health concerns among youth and is an important area for future study.

Parents can help by establishing rules for screens at home, such as no devices during meals and no devices in bedrooms after a certain time in the evenings so sleep is not disrupted. When parents model the phone behaviors they wish to see, it helps to establish credibility. Ideally, all devices are powered down and put in a central charging location at night. 

7. Don’t let the comparison theory play out in your student’s life

Alessandra Kessler, Certified Holistic Health Coach, Healthy Body Healthy Mind

Alessandra Kessler headshot
Alessandra Kessler

FOMO traces back to the social comparison theory. This theory states that people evaluate their social worth and value by comparing themselves to others negatively or positively. 

Similarly, social media contributes to FOMO for tweens and teens as they are exposed to a larger audience there and the tendency to compare their value and worth with others becomes much larger.

FOMO is a real thing and can contribute to worsening your student’s mental health, which may not be in the best place already. It tends to make a student doubt their self-worth, fall prey to an inferiority complex, social anxiety, reduced self-esteem, and mood swings. Moreover, FOMO can also cause teenagers or young adults to feel lonely.

Parents can help their teens or young adults overcome FOMO with the following few tips:

  1. Understand your teen’s situation rather than invalidating their feelings by saying that things will get better in the future or that a certain event isn’t important
  2. Help your teen find offline activities that they can engage in, to keep them busy such as going to the gym, camping, movie night with friends, etc.
  3. Help your teen understand the perspective that people and their lives are not how they show it on social media. They might be struggling and living an unhappy life from within but would show otherwise in front of others just for the sake of likes

8. Set the same rules for both adults and students

Tatiana Gavrilina, Content Marketing Writer, DDI Development

Tatiana Gavrilina headshot
Tatiana Gavrilina

If a healthy adult has the ability to think critically and protect themselves from such a phenomenon as FOMO, the situation with teenagers is more complicated. Their unformed state of mind gets used to the fact that the information on the question of interest is not stable - it can be updated every half hour. This is destructive, there is a feeling of instability and anxiety.

How to avoid FOMO impacts on teenagers:

  1. Parents can spend more time with their students: play, communicate, work together at home
  2. Set the same rules for both adults and students to use the Internet. For example, only 2 hours of social media/TV/video games a day applies to everyone 
  3. Spend more time outdoors: walk with the dog, plant trees, take care of flowers, draw pictures in the park

Social networks are just a tool for receiving and spreading information, which, however, gives very quick results and makes people dependent on them.

9. Remind your student that social media is a skewed version of reality

Courtney Conley, Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness

Courtney Conley headshot
Courtney Conley

Being connected 24/7 creates the illusion that everyone’s life is better than ours. What people post is often a skewed version of reality that presents the fun, happy, and momentous side of life. This creates the false perception that everyone is always doing something cool or fun and teens want to be a part of it. 

Teens can start to feel discontent and experience unhappiness and low self-esteem as they compare their life to what they see portrayed on social media. 

Anxiety is another concern for teens who worry about missing something. Parents can help by educating teens about reality versus what people portray on social media. Parents can track phone and app usage and create fun challenges with rewards to decrease usage. Most importantly, parents can tune into their student's moods and look for signs of depression and anxiety and seek help for their teens if needed.

10. Help your student create purpose in life and build their confidence in who they are

Jessica Fortunato, Licensed Psychologist, Choosing Therapy

Jessica Fortunato headshot
Jessica Fortunato

Social media can induce FOMO as it is seductive in its design and offers its users constant connection, instant feedback, and a platform for self-promotion, all of which occur in a public forum. Not only do users have access to endless feeds of content, but also to an online world that promotes perfection, superficiality, popularity, conformity, and external validation. Tweens and teens spend hours each day posting, commenting, and meticulously crafting their online personas (often dismissing or suppressing their authentic selves) to meet the prescribed standard and to keep the dreaded FOMO at bay.

Unfortunately, by trying to avoid the pain and discomfort of FOMO, these users are at risk for developing compulsive social media habits which can subsequently lead to issues with identity development, confidence and self-esteem, depression, and loneliness. It is important that parents understand their student’s strengths and vulnerabilities and how they are using social media.

More importantly, parents need to discuss the risks of over-involvement with social media and help their kids recognize how social media and FOMO could be influencing the distress they are feeling. It is helpful to validate the experiences and struggles of our youth while providing education about healthy development and offering plenty of opportunities for building confidence and self-esteem through real-life experiences. The best protection from FOMO is helping our students create dynamic and fulfilling lives in the real world in which they have agency and confidence in who they are.

11. Parents should help choose the content their family consumes

Steven Lord, Marketing Manager, Digital Next

Steven Lord headshot
Steven Lord

No teenager wants to be the 'odd-one-out.'

When it comes to mental health and social media, there is a clear disparity between the two. Good mental health and large amounts of social media consumption do not mix. 

Therefore, for parents, no matter how much kicking and screaming is involved, you should monitor the content your family is consuming closely. It's okay to consume content on social media, but you should also introduce your students to other media sources. Otherwise, social media will breed an extremely singular-minded or easily persuaded future adult.

Conclusion

FOMO can affect adults as much as it affects teenagers, but teaching students how to deal with those feelings and talk about them is key. Parents should always start by setting an example when it comes to social media usage and screen time boundaries.

Using these tips, what offline hobbies can you do as a family? What passion project can your teen begin working on and turn into their purpose? Always educate your kids on how social media projects a false narrative and not to read into their FOMO too much as social media is always just a highlight reel and not reality.

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