For those of you that don’t know what FOMO stands for, don’t fear you have missed out. FOMO or Fear of Missing Out, is not actually as new age as your average 15- year-old might think. More traditionally termed ‘The grass is always greener’ this primal human instinct to stay connected has recently been heightened by our addiction to smart phones, ipads, computer screens…and wait for it….social media.
Teenagers haven’t changed much over the generations, except that they now socialise or “hang out” online, rather than in shopping malls or at the local park, partly due to parental concerns about personal safety. So instead of gossiping and doing all those adolescent behaviours in real life, they now watch it happen in real time on a screen. To be on social media is to feel connected to their peers. And just like in real life, events and interactions online can go pear-shaped rather rapidly. The difference is though, if you are teenager and you go offline for an hour, suddenly you have missed the biggest dust-up or fight of the year, and on the social outer.
Social media gets a pretty bad rap from health professionals across the world but what is so bad about staying connected, after all it’s a hard-wired human response? In fact, there is a dedicated part of the brain, the amygdala, part of the limbic system, specifically designed to detect whether our lives are in danger. Now it’s quite ridiculous to suggest that missing out on a Snapchat or Facebook Messenger event is life threatening but it triggers the same flight or fight response in our brains.
But jealously issues aside, our newfound need to be connected every waking moment is causing other psychosocial problems, particularly within the adolescent set.
Recent research from University of Chicago found that social media is even more addictive than cigarettes and that getting your fix is equally as urgent to social media users. Parents may feel alarmed at these intense urges but instead of trying to quash the urge completely, adolescents and those struggling with social media should embrace the need to be connected without letting it control your life.
Perhaps a useful side step is to learn to curb the overwhelming drive to be connected online and redirect it to communicating in real time with real people. Practicing mindfulness is another way to counteract some of the unwanted stress caused by social media. A few easy ways you can put this into practice are, enrolling your child in extracurricular activity, encouraging face to face socialisation (as this also helps build their adulating skill set), limiting internet times or allocating phone free time whilst going for a walk together.
Parents might even find this this allows you to reconnect with your child who in a blink of an eye will have left the fold for good.