FOMO: The New Social Anxiety for Teens

FOMO: The New Social Anxiety for Teens

When I was a teen there were no smartphones; we only had landlines. This meant that if I was going to talk to my boyfriend, I had to s t r e t c h the telephone cord as far as I could to get some privacy, and yet my mom still heard my conversations.

Like all teens, I didn’t want to miss out on any big social event. I had my group of friends, but there were plenty of times I had this vague sense that I was being left out, but I never really had any hard data.

But in the digital world we live in, it’s a whole new story. I see many teenage girls in my private practice, who have real-life-hard-data that they are being excluded from their friends and peer group.

I really feel for this generation of teens.

Brittany is home on a Friday night and in real time watches all her friends at Riley’s sleepover (that she was not invited to) take group selfies on Instagram and Snap chat throughout the night.

What Brittany sees is a glorified version of the sleepover. It appears from the pictures that all the girls are besties and they are having the time of their lives–without her. The problem with social media is that you don’t see the real stuff. Good chance the sleepover is not pure bliss. Some girls may be bored, there may be some catfights, and others may feel rejected or left out.

Though the girls may be in the same room, many are on their phones looking at Snapchat. Jen sees a picture of another party where her reach friends are and a guy she likes. Jen feels this sinking feeling. She wants to be at that party now. Even though Jen has been invited to the sleepover she feels like she is missing out.

Parents bump into this all the time. Your teen is walking around the house with her iPhone, wishing she was out with her friends. It’s especially infuriating when you invest a lot of money to take the family on a ski trip to the beautiful Colorado Rockies over spring break and she doesn’t appreciate it. She gets on her phone, sees her friends at a pool party back home and says, “When are we going home? I’m so bored. I’m missing out on so much.”

Because of the rise of social media FOMO (The fear of missing out) is a real thing for teens. What is FOMO? The Urban dictionary defines it as, “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

Many researchers have connected the rise of anxiety in teenage girls with social media. FOMO is one of those reasons.

Why is FOMO such a big deal? One of our daughter’s core needs is belonging. FOMO threatens that. It’s the fear of social exclusion.

We can’t eliminate social media. Your daughter needs it to survive in her teenage culture. And yes there are many benefits, but we need to help our daughters navigate through FOMO.

Here’s how moms can help

1. Help your daughter come up with a realistic story.

Your daughter looks at Instagram and creates a story in her head. “They are having so much fun. They don’t care about me, or I’m going to lose my best friend.”

Her story tends to be all or nothing.

That’s because it’s driven by anxiety. You can speak into her story and help her come up with a more realistic story. If she misses one social outing it really is not the end of her social life, though that’s what it feels like to her.

  • You can have her remember another sleepover that she was at with the same girls. Ask her how much fun was that party on a scale of 1 to 10. Did everyone get along? Were there times she was bored? Does she even want to be friends with that group of girls?
  • You can remind your daughter that Kelly has been her best friend for years and that one party won’t change that. You could suggest that she invite Kelly over the next weekend.

2. Take a break from social media.

Teens will suffer big consequences with their friends if they are never on social media. But parents can help kids not become addicted to social media.

  • You can model for your daughter how to take time away from social media. During family time, take one hour where everyone including you puts his or her phones away.
  • When she has friends over. Challenge the girls to take a break from their phones and just be with each other. They might fight you at first, but many girls are relieved to take a break and get away from the social media drama. And before you know it, you will hear them laughing in the next room.

3. Tell your daughter you know how she can be really happy.

Happiness is all about attention. If you focus on the good, you will feel good.

One huge problem with social media is that your attention is splattered and you are constantly distracted. When you are continually on social media you are not present. Your attention is on what you’re not doing. You’re not focused on your life but on someone else’s life. You’ve become a spectator and not a participant.

If your daughter wants to be happy she needs to be present and focused on real-life experiences. She needs actual face-to-face time with her friends. (Texting has become the #1 choice of communication for teens) She needs to get lost in her drawing or her singing. She needs to get outside and hang out at the beach. Be present and listen to the seagulls and waves–without her phone.

She needs to be in the here and now, and experience her life.

Now, this was normal for most of us growing up. But this is what our girls are missing.

4. Remind her about gratitude.

FOMO is focusing on what you do not have, while really missing out on what you do have. This is why it’s important to teach your daughter the practice of gratitude. Your daughter will naturally go to the negative and what she is missing. Help her turn her focus to all the blessings she does have. She needs to actually name the friends she does have and that she was out with good friends twice last weekend. She needs to contextualize and count her blessings.

During dinner have each person say three things that they are thankful for. Have you and your daughter start a gratitude journal, where you can share three things with each other every day.

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1 Comment
  • Jo Montgomery
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    This is really helpful, thank you. I have a hard time understanding the social media culture that my teen daughter is growing up in and find myself very frustrated – and fearful – with her phone seemingly being the centre of her world. I am fairly sure her ordinary teenage angst is amplified because of social media. We even had to leave an event last week because she couldn’t cope with “the people.” I come up against strong opposition when I enforce screen breaks and she often refuses to contact her friends so that her phone free time is just awful, for both of us. Sometimes she comes round, but it is very hard work to get past it and offer her other experiences. Reading this made me feel like perhaps our experience is more common, not just us. I really appreciate number 1 on the list, thank you.

    April 9, 2019 at 9:44 am

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