Inoculation Against the FOMO Plague

EricSmith FOMO fail

Last week on e-Quippped, we looked at the FOMO Plague. The Fear of Missing Out is fueling some challenging behaviours in people of all ages. This week, we unpack a few things parents can do to stimulate resistance to the dreaded FOMO plague.

Lots of parents worry about their teens’ unhealthy relationship with their smartphones, but few understand the psychological mechanism behind it. What is often put down to a lack of self-control, poor etiquette, or “typical teen behaviour” can actually be the result of FOMO, the fear of missing out. It’s real–and it doesn’t affect only adolescents.

Described as a type of “anticipatory regret” and a form of social anxiety, FOMO leads to some problematic behaviours and uncomfortable emotional states:

  • Anxiety, restlessness, or other distress when cut off from technology (This may include phantom vibrations and similar phenomena.)
  • Constant checking of smartphone for updates, message alerts, etc.
  • Thinking about social media when you should be focusing on something else (a lecture, a meeting, a conversation)
  • Feelings of worthlessness, depression, envy, etc. when reading other people’s Facebook statuses
  • Inability or unwillingness to say no to invitations (to the point that one’s health, job or schoolwork is negatively affected)
  • Changing one’s schedule to accommodate the possibility of something fun coming up
  • Worrying about what others will do and anticipating being left out of conversations, shared jokes, etc.
  • Feeling vexed and/or irritable when unable to attend functions or be a part of gatherings; subsequent unacceptable behaviour (door slamming, rudeness, etc.)
  • Answering phone calls and texts when in the middle of a conversation
  • Texting while driving
  • Using social media at inappropriate times (during class, meetings, church, etc.)

 No-No to FOMO

How do we avoid or overcome this plague of technology-mediated social anxiety? As always, balance is the key. We parents will do well by our kids and ourselves if we model moderation and practise healthy behaviours as we engage with technology.

Understanding and empathising with kids’ genuine FOMO distress helps. If we just say, “Get over it!” or take away devices willy-nilly, we can contribute the young person’s anxiety. A real solution involves conversation, negotiation, and clear boundaries. Kids crave instant connection–and belonging is a natural human instinct. We have to show them–and help them desire–a healthier way.

Remembering that FOMO afflicts grown-ups too is an important thing to keep in mind. Some interesting studies have looked at links between personality and smartphone addiction. Researchers discovered phone over-dependency correlates to moodiness, materialism, impulsive personality types, and poor ability to focus.

5 No FOMO Tips for Anyone, Young or Old

1. Deal with comparison.

Comparison is the thief of joy.A fear of missing out stems from comparison, which everyone indulges in from time to time. We have to learn to catch ourselves. Recognise the feelings: the slow burn o f envy burbling below the surface of our consciousness or the stabbing impulse to glam up (aka exaggerate) our own life to evoke the same envy in others. It takes reflection and honesty to deal with comparison. Journalling may help.

It may be useful to put up a reminder somewhere, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” If you catch yourself unfavourably comparing yourself to others, stop. Be kind to yourself, and take a moment to reflect on your strengths and blessings.

2.  Redirect negativity

Above, I noted the link between FOMO and envy. While it’s true that envy has a bad rep, having spent a few centuries on the official list of deadly sins, envy can also be useful–like a warning light on a dashboard. How we dread it when those red lights flash, but they are a signal to pay attention and take action: Pull over, lift the bonnet, and fix the problem.

Similarly, when carefully unpacked, FOMO can warn us of lacks, imbalances, and so forth. Feeling envious of a friend’s new job? Take some time to think about what you like and dislike about yours? What can you work on? Can you add a meaningful activity to your life to fill the void? Voila! The random feeling has been redirected into purposeful action.

3.  Set limits.

Have a set time of day (or better yet, week) for checking social media. This can be complicated by using Facebook Messenger for school group work or extracurricular activities, so look for alternatives (Be sure to research that they are kid-friendly. You don’t want your kids to end up with a worse situation. CommonSense Media has rated many sites and apps for appropriateness and safety.)

4.  Practise Self-Awareness

Why do you want to do something? Is it because you don’t want to be left out or is it because you really want to do it? Even the twenty-somethings interviewed in this article had trouble with this. Start young! Skill up as a teen, so you don’t waste your time and money later in life. This is a big ask for young people, but it’s such an important life skill. Again, journalling can help them learn to discover and articulate deep motives.

5.  Be Value-Guided

One of the problems with FOMO is that it makes people feel pressured to do things, even activities they may not be able to afford or have energy and time for. One of the articles mentioned a young man who had so much FOMO that when he heard about his mates taking time off, he’d take time off just in case they planned something really amazing. Most of the time they didn’t, and he used up his leave time playing Call of Duty (a computer game.) Value Guided Decisions

Scenarios like these can be avoided when we check in with our values first. Of course before that, it helps to have articulated what is important to you. Saving money? Doing well at school? Travelling widely? Completing a diploma or degree? Building a relationship with someone special? Helping the needy? Serving at church? Achieving an important goal like a winning a triathlon or writing a novel or renovating a house? Knowing what is important to us and having definite plans about these things can help us not be swayed in the moment. We can ask ourselves questions like:

  • If I do this activity or make this choice, will it help or hinder me in achieving my goal?
  • While I’m doing this, will it reinforce or undermine my core values?
  • How much do I want my long-term goal v my short-term pleasure?

All of the above are high-order activities–not the kind of thing that comes naturally to many adults, let alone teens with still-developing prefrontal cortices. But it’s okay–with some adult mentoring and a little practice, these steps can become guiding principles for your children as they navigate the insidious stuff thrown at them by popular culture.

Bye-Bye FOMO, Hello JOMO

Here’s a mantra to start teaching your teens:

“Missing out isn’t the end of the world.”

In fact, missing out can be healthy, economical, creative, and more! By experiencing a few missed events and gatherings, our teens can discover the JOY of Missing Out–JOMO.


Image Credits:

Whale Photo by Eric Smith, used with permission of the photographer.

Creative Commons Images:

Comparison by Drew

Value by Got Credit

Joel Osteen Quote by BK