Put the MO back in FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

Posted on Posted in Cyber Bullying, Digital Parenting, Elementary Age, high school age, Middle School Age, Parental Controls, Parenting, Screenagers, Teens & Screens

What is FOMO?

FOMO is the very real feeling that you are missing out.—literally, it is the Fear Of Missing Out that most of us would acknowledge experiencing at some point as we scroll our newsfeed or wall on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or any number of other social media apps.

Yes, FOMO is a legit part of the digital world.

When you are a 35 year-old adult scrolling through your friends’ iPhone or posted pictures and feel that discomfort that you might be missing out on fun stuff and then see that you are not at that party or on that white sandy beach or eating that amazing looking dessert you might shrug and feel a tinge of envy, but move on with your day. As an adult, you have had an array of practice both online and offline and you are fully aware that you cannot physically be in multiple places at once and you cope with the fear and/or jealousy those pictures evoke. Call it wisdom or a developed Pre-Frontal Cortex (the part of your brain that helps regulate your emotions and cope), either way our children are often overwhelmed by such feelings at young ages.

As a child psychologist, what I hear from my patients is not an abundance of fears of missing out, but the upset, disappointment and confusion that comes from actually missing out—I refer to that feeling as MO.

When you are 10 years-old and spend lots of time on Instagram or Snapchat, you are immersed in a never ending stream of curated photos of your friends doing amazing things, often together. If you are lucky, you are included in many of the photos, but there is no way to be included in all of them and that leads to the missing out-frustration, and for some in my office, trauma.

It is common for 7 year olds to be on a social media website like Instagram or to post that creative video on musical.ly and share with their growing list of followers. By the time that child is 12, she likely has hundreds (or more!) of followers on a growing list of social media platforms. Followers and friends that like each others’ posts as a form of social currency. I like her post with the unspoken rule that she will like my post back…over and over with the list of followers on each platform.


So here is the basic concern:

The repeated experience of missing out has an impact on our children’s development. It is not entirely known yet what the impact will be (stay tuned!), but ask an average 13 year-old and they will surely tell you that there is an impact and feels like recurrent digital slap in the face when they are not invited to that sleepover, party, or most any random moment in time that has been photographed. Our children are growing up in a world where they all are photo journalists who document the special and mundane moments of their lives and then share them (almost constantly) with the hope and expectation to be validated and included by their peers.

I am not suggesting that we shield our children from these experiences as the MO will build resiliency and grit to help them cope as they grow. I am suggesting that we are mindful of their time spent feeling left out. Begin with empathy that we understand that feeling, although when we were younger we did not experience the MO at this digitally enhanced level. As parents, we are obligated to use the tools we have to limit, protect, and mentor them so they learn how to cope more effectively off and online. By setting limits and talking to our children about their experiences, we will do our best to guide them through as Digital Parenting Pioneers.

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