A latest survey conducted by the Australian Psychological Society (APS) has highlighted that on average one in two teenagers experience FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). ‘FOMO’ is the pervasive fear that you might be missing out on something great happening elsewhere, often triggered or reinforced by posts seen on social media.

FOMO is strongly correlated with social media use, which in turn is increasing among teens. 56% of teens are identified as ‘heavy social media users’, with more than half of teens (53%) connecting to social media 15 minutes before bed every time, and one third (37%) connecting to social media in the presence of others and within 15 minutes of waking up. Almost a quarter (24%) reported using social media when they were eating breakfast and lunch seven days a week. Half of all teens who are heavy social media users (54%) fear that their friends are having more rewarding experiences than then.

FOMO can be particularly damaging, it draws teens (and indeed, all of us!) into living and judging people’s lives instead of enjoying our own, creating what can be discontent, envy and even depression.

So what can be done about it? You can encourage teens to ask themselves these 4 questions the next time they feel an attack of FOMO coming on.

1. Is this something I really want to be doing? 

FOMO can often be triggered by seeing others doing things you don’t actually want to do, but feel that you are missing out by not being there. So the next time a teen has a FOMO attack, challenge them to reflect if they would actually want to be doing the thing they feel they are missing out on. If they had a choice that very moment, would they actually choose to do that? This also reminds them that they have choices, and living their life means making their own, different choices as opposed to what others chose to do.

2. Is this feeling telling me something that I need to change? 

Sometimes FOMO can be an indication that they are not content with something in their lives. This could be related or unrelated to what they are actually missing out on. Again this offers an opportunity to reflect on the choices they have made and the opportunities they have available to them.

3. Would I actually be able to do that? Is it viable? 

Sometimes teens might feel FOMO in relation to something that they would like to do, but are not in a position to do yet. For example, they might see a photo of a group of friends holidaying overseas. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t or won’t be able to do that; rather it, means that is not accessible to them…yet. This could provide an opportunity for reflecting on what they might like to do in the future, and brainstorm ideas of how to get there.

4. Is this an accurate representation of real life? 

With so many social media accounts exposed as fake, most social media accounts carefully curated to create a specific representation, with filters used on most Instagram posts, it is important to remind teens that what they see is often not real. Even their friends’ posts are likely to be carefully planned, crafted and selected. Chances are they are not actually missing out!

Ultimately, FOMO is not new. It is however enhanced by social media. A more balanced use of social media, including taking time out to focus on and do things in real life, is probably the option for limiting its impact.

– Generation Next

Partially adapted from the Australian Psychological Society