Most of us can recall all too well the middle-school heartache of feeling excluded: that time we weren’t invited to the birthday party of someone we thought was our friend; found out our close pals went to the movies without asking us; or walked over to our lunch table to find girls whispering animatedly about “the big news” we knew nothing about. “FOMO,” short for “fear of missing out,” isn’t new. What’s markedly different now is how public it has become, with social media documenting exactly how, what, when, and where girls are not included.
FOMO gets triggered when girls see online what seems to be a fun event that friends attended without them, as well as the stress of not being able to constantly check social media while knowing peers are posting a stream of updates. With each hour passing that girls aren’t on Instagram, Snapchat, Facetime, etc., there’s a world being shared and discussed and dissected without her. She is left out of the loop, and angsting over being disconnected. While you can’t prevent FOMO for your girl, there are things you can do to help minimize it, and help her gain life-changing perspective on it. Here are our top five.
Even though most teens site “staying connected” as their main use of social media, face-to-face human connection is always more important for girls. Research tells us that the more time girls spend on line, the lonelier they feel. Our Youth Advisory Board told us recently about how Snapchat and Snapstreaks frustrated and upset them because they will be trying to have a conversation with a friend in person, and the other girl won’t look up from her phone. She’s too addicted to Snapchat. Worse is when girls try to say something (i.e. “Hey, can you put your phone away while we’re hanging out?”), and said friend says, “yeah, yeah…just give me one sec while I check something.” It’s hurtful for girls (and most of us) to play second fiddle to a screen. Help your girl recognize this because odds are, she has been on both sides of this situation. Also make sure that you are modeling good behavior for your girl by focusing on her, and not your devices, when she’s trying to connect. Phone down.
2. Make sure her devices are out of her room during sleep time.
Several recent national studies show that FOMO deeply impacts teens’ sleep patterns. The stress of missing something online has become so deep, that most teens sleep with their phones either tucked under their pillows, or by their side. Right before they fall asleep, and just as they wake up, they actively check social media. Some post and text until the wee hours of morning, and this is a major health problem: Teens are encouraged to sleep around nine hours each night, but this is happening far less due to social media. According to sleep experts, in 2015, 57% more teens were found to be more sleep deprived than those tested in 1991! Sleep deprivation has long proven to be a major contributor to depression and anxiety. Reassure your girl that no updates are so important that they can’t wait until the next day, and her health comes first. Make sure her devices are out of her room before bedtime without exception. Our suggestion: If the rule isn’t heeded, devices go away until she can handle it.
3. Remind girls they are often seeing curated lives.
Girls in our MEDIAGIRLS program remark on how “annoying” it is when girls use their social media feed to “try to seem perfect.” Even when girls know pics are posted on Instagram and Snapchat to seem perfect, girls still often can’t help but compare their own lives and wonder if they are as happy. Worse, girls online often miss out on the real stories of one another. Sure, a friend may have posted endless beautiful beach shots over the summer, but in talking to that girl in person, it may come out that the whole family suffered horrible sunburn that left them stuck inside for days, or there was an epic fight between siblings, or lost luggage that didn’t show up until the last day of the trip. No one is perfect, and no one had a flawless summer. It’s the moments where things don’t go as planned – the stuff that isn’t posted on social media – that make us human and connect us. These are the moments we most relate to, and the more your girls appreciates this, the better.
60% of teens ages 13-17 have said that they have taken breaks from social media, with 50% stating it was voluntary; 35% said they are too worried about missing out.
4. Schedule social-media vacations with her.
Many teens today have taken breaks from social media, cutting off connection cold turkey to all platforms for a week or more. In a recent study by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, nearly 60% of teens ages 13-17 have said that they’ve taken breaks from social media, with 50% stating it was voluntary. Their reasoning had to do with a multitude of factors: 38% said social media was getting in the way of school and relationships, and 20% explained that it created too much drama among friends. Girls in the study explained that they felt social media pressured them to show off their curated versions of themselves all the time. Even though more teens than expected did opt to take a break, about 35% said they hadn’t and wouldn’t, due to fear of missing out. Those of us who have taken breaks from Facebook and Twitter know how calming and restorative it feels (well, once we get over the twitching from detox). Granted that peace of mind doesn’t last when we return to social media. Still, it’s much like going on vacation: feelings of peace may not sustain but vacations still make us saner and more balanced. Come up with a plan with your girl for when scheduled breaks will happen, and get them in the calendar (yep, do it with her so you’re not all talk).
5. Talk about the important things FOMO may cause her to miss out on.
The irony of FOMO is that staying on social media constantly actually causes girls to miss out on so many more important things. Help your girl see that taking a break from her social media will allow her to kick off this school year with a clear head and goals in place. Maybe she wants to excel at a certain subject, try a new club, or improve at a sport she loves. She will have an even better chance at doing this by taking a social media break. FOMO may keep her worried about missing out on what friends are doing online, but it is literally making her miss out on hours she could dedicate to real-life experiences and opportunities. Teens spend an average of nine hours a day consumed in media, 30% of which is just dedicated to social media use. That is just about three whole hours a day that she could use to her advantage to tackle new goals or have adventures that will boost her confidence, skills, and resilience. Who wants to miss out on that?
Emma Everett is a junior at Boston University studying Advertising with a minor in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She was a MEDIAGIRLS teacher for our 10-week after-school program for middle-school girls, and ran the Boston Marathon.
Want to learn more way to help your girl(s) navigate media, and feeling stronger and more confident? Check out more of our #MediaMondayTips.