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Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family

There were a few times over this past holiday season where I seriously debated about whether or not to post pictures of our family’s adventures. It’s not that they were extravagant or unique, but my thoughts kept returning to the people who would see my pictures and wonder why their own lives couldn’t be *this* happy or *this* fun.

We all know that happy pictures capture a moment, but somehow the concept of “moment” doesn’t apply when we gaze into the social media world. “Moment” translates into “always” in the blink of a Facebook or Instagram refresh.

When I think of why I originally signed up for Facebook over a decade ago, I can honestly say it was to reconnect with people I thought were lost to me. It was fun to catch up, to see what people were doing, to watch families created, and witness adventures unfolding. But somewhere along the way, this ceased to be the full extent of my motivation.

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A darker side emerged as I realized how my emotional state could easily pull my feelings in one direction or another. I could get on Facebook perfectly happy and close the tab grumpy, irritated, and disgruntled.

I could also use it as a tool to improve my emotional state - that is if my community played along with me in my game. By posting a picture, I could let the comments and likes fill up what was empty and lacking in my heart. Look what I did! Look how happy we are! #Blessed!

We essentially expect people to affirm what we already appear to know. But do we really know? If we did, would we need this much external affirmation?

It’s hard not to compare our pictures with those of others. We post a picture, so full, alive, and content, but our feed refreshes and we see someone so full, so alive, and so content, too, but on the beaches of Maui when we were on a lake in Kentucky.

We post a picture of ourselves at home on New Year’s Eve celebrating with those we love in pajamas and plastic champagne flutes. We are so happy to have such good friends! But our feed refreshes and there we find others celebrating with their loved ones, but all dressed up, maybe on Times Square with crystal champagne flutes. We were excited to spend a cozy night at home with hot tea and Netflix, but our feed refreshes and we realize we weren’t invited to the party down the street.

There’s a name for this—FOMO

Social media can make what we were grateful for pale in comparison to what others have or experience. We are left questioning—is there something better out there for me, too? If so, we don’t want to miss it.

As a result, we spend hours perusing, continually checking, inhibiting our very ability to have a better quality of life with the very people who are truly invested in us. The name for this is FOMO, or fear of missing out.

One study defined FOMO as ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out – that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.’’

We’re doing this as 30-year-olds - and 40, 50, and 60-year-olds. And our brains are completely developed! We have an entire generation under us that doesn’t have that luxury yet. We should be able to see there is unending cycle at work here that, if left unchecked, will leave us hungry, fearful, and discontent with the things we do have and do experience.

As parents, we need to make sure we can disengage from this cycle so we can teach our kids how to disengage, too.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids


Why FOMO really is a problem in social media

Let’s pause and think about our social media habits. We can probably remember feeling FOMO at some point. Maybe often. Did you know there is actual research on this phenomenon? Consider these facts:

Letting FOMO go unchecked can lead to a variety of issues in ourselves and our children—depression, anxiety, sleep deprivation—to name a few. It can also greatly increase other dangers, such as finding and viewing pornography.

Research shows that FOMO originates from unhappiness. Guess what else often has a root in unhappiness? Using pornography. Part of the draw of pornography is that it transports users into a world of fantasy where they can pretend to be or do most anything. Unhappy with the real world? Find your happiness in the fantasy world of pornography. At least that’s what the world tells us—and our children.

And let’s face it: social media increases the risk of our kids being exposed to pornography. Instagram, Youtube, and Snapchat are the top three social media platforms used by tweens and teens. YouTube is being called out for rampant child exploitation on its platform. When I logged into Snapchat, my recommended story in the “For You” section was entitled “Kim and Kanye’s $14 Million butt grab.”

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How to curb FOMO—in you and your kids

FOMO is a problem, but it’s not unsolvable! Choosing to tackle this personally and as a family will bring more peace, contentment and gratitude in our lives. We can start by being more aware of our time spent and our motivations for using social media. Here are some tips and talking points to minimize FOMO:

  1. Be conscientious of what and how much you’re posting. When we host birthday parties, our rule for our kids and their guests is no posting pictures of the party on social media. Being left out is one of the worst feelings for kids (and adults, too) and we don’t want anyone to feel hurt because they weren’t included. Also, teach kids to be aware of posting things that can come across as bragging or prideful. It’s okay to celebrate, but listening to that inner conscience that tells you when it’s not appropriate is key.
  2. Notice attitudes and behaviors that come along with using social media. Do you find your kids self-medicate with social media when they are struggling at school or with relationships? Do they turn to it when they are feeling anxious or sad? It can be hard to draw our tweens and teens away from their devices, but real relationships and connection are such an important part of mental and emotional health. Plan some fun outings. Even if they roll their eyes at some “forced family fun,” know you’re making a positive impact on them.
  3. Create alternatives: Have everyone brainstorm a list of healthy alternatives to using social media when you’re feeling down. That can help your family turn away from the quick fix you may get from social media. If you’re feeling less-than, depressed, or in need of a pick-me-up, having a list of alternatives makes turning down social media a tad easier. What goes on the list? Things like, taking a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, writing a handwritten note, and creating something with your hands, are all feel-good activities. Also try these Meditation and Mindfulness for Families activities.
  4. Find gratitude. Gratitude is the king of happiness. If FOMO is due to unhappiness, gratitude is the antidote. Simply teaching yourself and your kids to pay attention to what you do have and experience drives contentment and appreciation. This reduces comparison with others, which is what social media highlights. Each of us has so much we can find to be thankful for. What better way to keep our attention than to make a family gratitude chart or jar? At your next family dinner, grab a chalkboard and take turns writing down things you’re grateful for. We’ve got a Gratitude Journal you can download at the end of this post! Alternatively, put a jar in the living room with some scraps of paper next to it. Ask your family members to contribute three things to the jar each week. At the end of the week, read them aloud.

Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And honestly, social media can be extremely helpful for certain things. As with most things in this world, moderation and balance are key to helping us keep things in the right perspective - and for helping our kids do the same.

Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition

"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent

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