Scroll Instagram sitting at home on a Friday night, one might see photos or stories of those they follow out at a party having a good time, at a concert or hanging out with friends. Taking note of this can create the FOMO component of social media, the fear of missing out, giving the nagging feeling that others are having more fun than you.
One of the first things for anyone using social media, especially young people, to be aware of is knowing that something posted on social media doesn’t automatically mean it reflects reality, said Jennifer Radke, chief executive officer with the National Institute for Social Media. There are filters and choices that people make in regard to what they post on social media.
“People are taking thousands of pictures to get that one just-right (photo),” Radke said. “So, comparing ourselves to what we see online, really is a challenging thing to do, because what we see online may not be reality.”
For teens, a lot of FOMO surrounds the trends with fashion, food or makeup. Kids are exposed to different trends much faster online.
“That’s where it’s becoming a challenge because those fads might not be obtainable financially or might not be healthy either,” Radke said.
Social media opens up these trendy ideas to a wide variety of people, and it isn’t reality, Radke said. It’s important for teens to stop for a minute and allow themselves to determine what’s important to them, instead of only going by what everybody else is doing via their social media posts.
Not only is FOMO a piece of the social media puzzle where teens get caught into unrealistic expectations, but so, too, are vanity metrics. Those are things like the number of followers one has on a social media account, the number of likes or shares on a post, etc. These numbers might be what teens use to determine their self-worth or decide whether that selfie they posted is really a good one. Some people will even delete their own posts if they’re not getting enough likes, Radke said.
The tough part becomes how society can help teens become independent individuals who don’t put so much stock in those vanity metrics. That’s not something that can necessarily be done directly on social media, according to Radke.
If teens are struggling so much with these vanity metrics that it affects their mental health, it’s important to know that teens struggling reach out in different ways.
“They’re more likely to go to a friend than a trusted adult,” said Cynthia Fashaw, director of children’s programs and multicultural outreach with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “So we need to ensure that we have trusted adults ready and available who know what to do, but we also need to empower their friends to know what to do.”
One of the things teens, or anyone, can do to make sure they maintain a healthy relationship with social media is to put their phone down for a certain period of time on a daily basis. That time might look different for everyone. But in general, don’t be on your phone so much that you’re ignoring life and conversations around you because you’re doomscrolling Twitter or checking your likes on Instagram.
“Everything in moderation,” Radke said.
That moderation is important, too, when it comes to the mental health of teens and their relationship with social media.
“I think for high school students, they’re at a developmental age where they’re establishing their autonomy,” Fashaw said. “I think what, as adults, we need to be aware of is there’s a difference between that and isolation.”
Another thing to keep in mind is that users can engage with their social media presence in ways that don’t require you seeking approval from others. A lot of people post things or photos that scream “I put this out there, not I hope a lot of people like it.” Users don’t even have to post on social media to use it. Social media can be used for researching colleges, staying informed on news tidbits or networking with others.
“The research component of social is huge,” Radke said. “And it doesn’t feel like going to the library and doing homework. It’s more natural.”
Choosing which accounts and people to follow on social media is another way teens can keep their relationship with social media a healthy one. Just because someone follows you doesn’t mean you have to follow them. Just because someone is in your high school doesn’t mean you have to follow them. You don’t have to follow anyone with a negative or inauthentic presence. Follow those you find interesting or relevant to your own life.
Overall, teens with a solid grasp of their own self-confidence stay away from FOMO.
“My guy says that the kids with stronger self-confidence are less likely to be pulled into the fear of missing out and pulled into the negative effects of social media, and those who feel confident in their own skin are more likely to be able to handle it and see if for its positive opportunities,” Radke said.
Constantly checking social media has become the norm. You might argue that you don’t have a problem because all of your friends do exactly the same thing. In order to see if FOMO is driving your social media habits, take this FOMO Quiz.
Pick a healthy replacement habit like getting a drink of water or listening to your favorite song when the urge to check your social media is strong but unwarranted. This way, you’ll know exactly what to do instead and the likelihood that you will be able to resist increases.
Once you have decided upon your healthy replacement habit, then you are ready to start your social media detox. While it would be great to go cold turkey for a week, that is not the right path for everyone. Check out this 7 Day Smartphone Detox because each day helps tackle a different issue with smartphones.
While picking a replacement habit and doing a detox is great, if you don’t address the root cause of FOMO, you will remain stuck in The Chronic Stress Loop. For most teens, the root cause of FOMO is low self-esteem and confidence. One of my favorite techniques to increase one’s self-confidence and help decrease their FOMO is repeating positive mantras.
Pick a mantra to repeat silently before opening any social media account. This small shift helps you bolster your self-esteem, so if you are disappointed you missed out or were not included in a social event, you can remain confident and ditch the comparisons and worrying.
In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article indicating that 80% of the thousands of thoughts we have per day are negative. Because of this human tendency to think negatively, upgrading how you think of yourself increases your self-esteem.
One of my favorite ways to increase teens’ positive thoughts is using the Think Up App. Think Up allows you to search a directory of positive affirmations in categories like self-confidence, gratitude and overcoming anxiety and stress and pick around 15-20 to add to their favorites. Then you record your personal affirmations and choose background music.