Our family spent a fabulous weekend this summer boogie boarding in the Pacific Ocean in Carmel by the Sea. Dolphins jumped in the waves right in front of us. The sun shone down on the glistening sand. Then, all of a sudden, I heard a gasp of dismay from my 14-year-old daughter.
"Oh, no!" she cried.
I braced myself for the worst.
Then this: two of her best friends had a sleepover last night!!!
She was staring at her phone, Snapchat to be exact, and saw that they had a sleepover without her. And so, while she was on a vacation away from home, her "crystal ball" of social media was alerting her in real time to who was doing what—all without her.
"I'm suffering from FoMO," she told me (and I gave her some credit for at least being self-aware about her own hang-ups).
FoMO, for the unaware, officially became an expression in the Oxford Dictionary in 2013. But while the acronym is new as are the hashtags #fear #missing #out #party #nightlife, the feeling—Fear of Missing Out—is certainly not.
There have even been recent studies about this feeling, defined in a 2013 scientific article, "Motivational, Emotional, and Behavioral Correlates of Fear of Missing Out," as "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FoMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing."
"FoMO has always been around," said Oakland marriage and family therapist Amy Kelly. "It's just heightened now with social media."
Wanting to do what others do—and be where others are—is actually a natural step in the developmental process, Kelly said. And it starts with young children wanting to emulate their parents.
For example, little girls usually want to act and dress and be like Mommy, she said. As children get older, they start to separate and distinguish themselves from their parents and start turning to their friends, who become "more and more important," Kelly said. Asking the questions, "What are my friends doing?" And "Should I be doing that, too?" occur today, and occurred way back when, she said.
Kelly remembered as a teen, she'd hear on Monday what she missed out on over the weekend. "It used to be really hurtful—not being invited to the party or the beach," she recalled. "But now, teens are actually seeing on social media what they're not invited to, and it's happening in real time, and you hear about everything you missed, not just one or two things."
Eventually, teens should grow out of this jealous phase, mostly because as people grow up and take on more responsibilities, "we simply don't have the energy or the space" for all these parties and friendships, Kelly said.
But what's a teen to do in the meantime? The most obvious answer is to lay off the phone. "I realize this is easier said than done," Kelly acknowledged.
But there are other steps to take, too. There are several meditation techniques specifically geared for adolescents, Kelly said, and a quick search on YouTube should provide a few examples of ways to relax, step back, and be more present and grateful. Parents can also join in, both with empathizing with their teen that their feelings are natural and practicing some of the techniques to model good behavior.
Finally, Kelly suggested, the phone can be used for good, too.
"The phone can be a way to connect," she said. "Teens can certainly pick up the phone and have a meaningful conversation. They can say to their friend, 'That hurt my feelings about not being invited.'"
Better yet, Kelly said, conversations about FoMO can even be done in person.
What's a kid to do to minimize Fear of Missing Out? For starters, lay off the phone. Photo by Martin Novak.