I Wish I Was There
It’s Saturday night.
My teenage son lays in bed quietly browsing Snapchat stories. It was a stressful week of finals for him. He decided to stay home tonight and relax (plus I was so “annoying” and asked him to spend some time with us).
A few minutes pass and then he hears a buzz from his phone.
He quickly checks it, only to find a new notification on Instagram.
Since his phone is already in his hand, he scrolls down and checks for updates, like we all do. He sees that his friends went out to eat. He is obviously not there.
I will pause here. If it were to be you, how does it make you feel?
I know I would feel left out; I would feel as I am missing something; I would regret staying home, “taking the evening off” and not go out with my friends.
That feeling is infamously known as FOMO, Fear of Missing Out. It is the feeling of being left out, the feeling of exclusion, the feeling of rejection. All the feelings I described feeling. It is those late-night thoughts of being at home and wondering what your friends are doing. It is the sudden hypersensitivity around our phones. It is the subconscious longing to have plans and to be out. It is the quiet assurance that everyone you know is out having the time of their lives, and you, you are left at home doing nothing.
I mentioned fear of missing out and a sense of exclusion. Humans are social creatures, they need to feel as they belong somewhere. If before our belonging to a community was related to our area of living, and school. With the online world, this community multiplied so much. We need to feel as we have plenty of friends and followers on social media, as well as for people to like our posts, get their approval. We constantly go back after posting an update to see how people reacted to it. This makes us go back and check social media even more; and that’s when we start browsing to see what is new. Checking out “ what is new” enhances our FOMO. That feeds to the type of social anxiety which is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing, and have a social conformity. But with that we make ourselves feel more anxious.
There is another component that feeds the missing out fear and it is called Loss Aversion. Loss Aversion refers to the thought “that the pain of losing is, psychologically, about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining”. For example people will find it better to not lose $5 than to find $5.
In other words, we are motivated by our fear of losing something, so we’ll do what we can to avoid it. In my story above, there was no desire to go out. On the contrary, all my son wanted was to stay home, relax, and spend the evening with his family. However, the thought he may miss a night out with his friends raised the negative feelings.
Why should that fear dictate our actions? There is something to do about FOMO. Here are some of my tips to overcome it:
- Admitting it. Now that you know what FOMO is and how it feels, speak with your child about it. If they are checking social media at least twice a day, or if they are suffering from some degree of FOMO, start with having them admit it out loud. Set an example and say it “I cannot be everywhere at all times and always be doing the coolest thing ever. and that’s OK”. Explain to your child that admitting and accepting that you have anxiety can feel like your secret has been unleashed to the universe and the burden is off your shoulders. You’re acknowledging the insecurity, and with that recognition, you can now tackle the problem.
- Aim for experience, not getting the “next big thing”. There are always going to be people we admire and perhaps envy. Their new shoes, their new toys, their latest car (for our driving teens). Envy can easily become resentment if we fail to recognize the opportunities available in our own lives to create experiences that are life-enhancing. Focusing on the experience, like a feeling of accomplishment, adventure, having fun, rather than the object or symbol, like the photo of my friend’s new shoes, will help our kids distinguish between what’s truly fulfilling and the temporary feeling of pleasure. The more fulfill they feel the less they will have the inferior feeling of my friends’ “grass is greener”.
- One thing at a time. Assuming you read my post about multitasking. Just a reminder, the human brain can only respond to one action request at a time. Psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell describes multitasking as a “mythical activity in which people believe they can perform two or more tasks simultaneously as effectively as one.” When we are focused on a single task, and give it our full attention, not only we are more likely to be successful in producing a high quality result, but our level of satisfaction is much higher. Once we are “feeling good”, we are less likely to worry about missing out.
- Cutting down on social media. If we identified that watching others having fun on social media enhance FOMO, the easy way of cutting out the feeling of “I am missing out” is to avoid seeing them. We all know cutting it completely is hard, but you can turn off notifications on Instagram, Snapchat, and other medias you are using. Less reminders leads to less opening the app — Out of sight out of mind.
When browsing social media there is a feeling that everyone is having fun all the time! No one (with the exception of losing a loved one) post when they have a bad day.
You never see the fights, sweat, and tears leading to the image of us smiling on the beach? That image of dinner in a fancy restaurant could have been me eating alone and my comfort is the number of likes I’ll be getting after posting it.
The negative feelings of stress and depression from FOMO can be amplified when the constant stream of social media content shows so many other people having (or appear to be having) exciting experiences or reaching milestone accomplishments, especially if the child seeing them feels unable to compete.
I know making the change is not easy, but it’s important for your child’s emotional well being. Don’t let them do it alone, offer to do it with them. I was on social media all the time, but detoxing with my child was a motivation for us both.
Try my tips, let me know how it goes.
Furthermore, if you have more tips please share them at the comments, I would love to give them a try.