The internet may help us with entertainment, education, communication, creativity and more. But sometimes, the emotions we feel online are far from pleasant: envy, anxiousness, and even self-contempt. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is a never-ending cycle: being on social media can make us panic that we are missing out on life, but when we put our phones down we may fear that the online world moves too quickly for us to catch up with it later. The unpleasant feelings evoked by FOMO affect adults and children alike, and are often underlain by a lack of confidence and even some form of frustration with our lives. Do you know how to combat the issue? Here are some tips.
Do you want to know more about the psychological aspects of FOMO in children? Read the interview with psychologist Jarmila Tomková.
1.) Build your child’s confidence
When a child observes their friends online, they may feel excluded from the fun activities others indulge in. Following certain influencers may also make your child believe that not having enough money or material possessions stops them from being fully content. Such emotions may stem from the child’s general view of themselves and their life. How to combat such a mindset of inferiority? Continuously aim at supporting your child in building their confidence and sense of self. Let the kid pick their interests and perhaps encourage them to join hobby groups. In these, children may engage in face-to-face communication with their friends and overcome the fear of being left out. Inspiring kids to focus on the process rather than on the results may also help them build their self-esteem. For instance, they may enjoy art but dislike the results of their artistic efforts – ensure them that what matters most is that they enjoy the activity itself. This can help them appreciate the process and embrace the overlooked moments of joy that often don’t make it into social media feeds.
2.) Renovate their views on “normality”
When we only see the best of others’ lives online, our perception of normality may shift. Our everyday existence may grow to feel boring and dull. Even as adults, we often must remind ourselves that the moments captured online are just selected bits and pieces of a greater, much more complex reality in which not everything is perfect and glamorous, but which also includes the difficult or ordinary. For children who spend a lot of their time online, this concept may be even more difficult to grasp. How can we remind our children and ourselves of the fragmentary nature of social media? Here is one experiment that may help:
Together with your children, use your phones to document your life for a given period of time (it may be a day, a week, or even a month). After that, sit down and discuss the pictures you took. Why did you take them? Were you truly content in those moments? Compare your happy-looking photos with reality and discuss what happened behind the scenes – do the pictures really capture the emotions that you felt? And are there some memorable moments that you did not photograph? The goal of the experiment is to remind the children that although photos can be an excellent medium for remembering some of the pieces of your life, they cannot capture reality as a whole.
3.) Make social media a feel-good space
Some may believe that combating FOMO means leaving social media altogether, but that is not necessarily the case. Getting rid of social media may be unrealistic and even unreasonable. Rather, our children should focus on the aspect that they can quite easily influence – the content they consume. The online world that they enter through their platforms largely depends on their own choices. Accordingly, if social media make them feel unhappy, they don’t have to just sit back and accept the negative emotions – they can make active changes. Ask your child whether there is anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable. You can both go through your profiles and talk about how some of the people you follow affect you. This can help the child to comprehend their emotions – many children may experience FOMO, but they are unaware of it because they are unsure of how to explain and classify their feelings.
When you share your own experiences with FOMO, you demonstrate that this issue may affect all of us, but also that it can be discussed and combated. If you or your child follow anyone that evokes unpleasant emotions, such as anger, sadness or the feeling of being excluded, talk about the possibilities of eliminating such influences. You can either unfollow the accounts or mute them, in which case the person on the other side will not even know about your actions. Emphasize that even though certain accounts may invoke negative feelings, it is always better to simply unfollow these profiles rather than write hateful or mocking comments to their posts.
4.) Indulge in phone-free activities
Phones are not our enemies, but every once in a while, putting them away may help us exist in the present moment. Come up with an activity that your child enjoys, discard your phones, and simply enjoy each other’s company. Ideally, include your child in the planning and let them introduce some of their ideas on how to spend your time together. As the psychologist Jarmila Tomková explains: “When kids are the creators or co-creators of an activity, they are much more motivated and involved. Being a co-creator also aids their sense of competence and agency, which may support their self-esteem and thus help to prevent or eliminate the risk of FOMO.” You may plan a hiking trip, do some sports, visit a museum, or play board games. During the activity, talk about the experience. Does your child enjoy the activity? If not, what can be done differently?
These moments are also ideal for practicing mindfulness. Check in with your senses: What do you see? Can you smell anything? Can you name five things you can touch right now? You can include a game during which each of you will try to guess what you are touching while keeping your eyes closed. Speaking about feelings and practicing mindfulness can help actively experience offline reality. Lastly, don’t focus solely on family activities. You can also organize an event at which your child can meet up with their friends and enjoy the feeling of being included. Some parents tend to take their children home from school immediately after classes, which may limit the time that the kids share with their peers and make them feel isolated and alone. Community activities may directly help your child with preventing or overcoming FOMO.
5.) Practice self-care
When a child sees the seemingly perfect lives presented online, they may easily forget about their own happiness. Working with gratefulness may help them reset their self-perception and appreciate their reality a bit more. How can you practice gratitude with your child? Each evening, you can share the things you are thankful for that day – be it large accomplishments or simple realities (such as a great walk with the dog or a sunny afternoon). You can also encourage your child to write a diary in which they record the highlights of each day. The older children can do so alone, while the younger ones may enjoy creating such a diary together with their parents or siblings. If your child decides to write their diary in the evening, the activity can be a great tool to avoid the use of smartphones directly before bedtime. Children can also occasionally create a list that focuses on the things that made them feel negative emotions, be it sadness, fear, nervousness, etc.
Family activity: Help young children deal with their struggles
Sit down with your kids and prepare a few pieces of paper, a pen and a box or basket. In a circle, each person will take a piece of paper and write down what they are struggling with at the moment. After this, participants can either silently put their struggles into the box or openly share them. Others should listen and support the person speaking, perhaps even offering possible solutions if they are asked to do so. Parents should be involved as well, sharing some simple issues from their life. This activity helps families establish a safe place, learn to listen and acknowledge that anyone can struggle, but also that others are here to help in times of need.
When making the list of negative emotions, parents are encouraged to help their children with the activity so that the kids do not feel as if the burden is all on them. Ideally, children should also include the processes that followed the negative sentiments, record how they behaved in response to the situation, and what helped them overcome the unpleasant moments. After some time, you can go through the list together and see whether there are any repeating patterns. If the triggers repeat, you can try to avoid them in the future – and if the coping mechanisms recur (and they are not unhealthy or harmful in any way), the journal may help your children overcome various mental challenges in the future, including FOMO.