Suffer from FOMO? Imagine Being a Teen.

Do you suffer from FOMO?

Better known as Fear of Missing Out, this term was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 and is defined as an “uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling” that people are missing out on what their peers are doing.

Researchers are finding that this fear of missing out is connected to social media use and produces powerful feelings of regret and jealousy.

Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or one of the dozens of other social media platforms that dominate society, it's nearly impossible not to judge ourselves based on others.

But hey, there are worse things.

Imagine being a teen during the FOMO era.


The rise of social media has completely changed our world.

Did you realize in 2008 only 10% of Americans used social media? Today, that number has risen to 80%. When you take out the 65+ age bracket (of which only 37% use social media) those numbers climb even higher.

Today, 69% of kids own a smartphone by the age of 12 and the average 8-12 year old spends nearly five hours looking at screens daily. As for teens, 95% of kids own a smartphone by the age of 18 and the average high school student spends over seven hours looking at screens daily.

The average teen spends more time looking at a screen than sleeping.

Rather than look at those numbers and immediately say "kids these days are so lazy!" educators must realize it is our responsibility educate students on their current reality. Rather than blame students, we must understand the addictive nature of these programs and provide support for coping with this obsession.


All addictive behaviors - smoking, drinking, eating, gambling, etc. - have one thing in common: the release of dopamine into the brain. When dopamine levels rise they reinforce the a feeling of pleasure in the brain, persuading individuals to continue seeking the given activity.

For example, suppose your “go-to” comfort food is homemade chocolate chip cookies (guilty as charged!). Your brain produces dopamine when you smell them baking in the oven. When you take a bite, the flood of dopamine rewards the craving. Finally, your brain becomes convinced this urge must be satisfied again in the future.

It’s a cycle of motivation, reward, and reinforcement.

When we share our experiences on social media, a similar process occurs. By posting a picture or video we seek validation from others in the form of likes, comments, and responses. Each time we receive a notification, a shot of dopamine rewards and reinforces our behavior.


To no one's surprise, the meteoric rise of social media has created several adverse affects for students.

Seemingly overnight the number of students seeking mental health counseling has skyrocketed. It is no coincidence the sudden rise in anxiety-related problems has coincided with the group of students who were raised on smartphones and social media.

Student exposure to other people's behavior is greater than ever as teens watch peers go through life in real time. Students find themselves motivated by influencers with large social media followings and often try to imitate the attitude, actions, and lifestyle of these individuals.

With social media claiming a majority of their attention, students' productivity and performance is handed a devastating blow. The massively addictive nature of these apps damages concentration and inhibits teenagers' capacity for completing uninterrupted work.

Social media causes sleep deprivation as students value screen time over sleep time. Not only do teens report waking up in the middle of the night to check their phones, the ability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour is influenced by the brain's inability to shut down after hours of screen time.

Finally, jealousy wreaks havoc on the not-quite-developed brains of kids. As America continues to glorify pretentious celebrities and idolize fitness models, this leads to a feeling of inadequacy and low self-worth. The "Keeping up with the Joneses" mindset is not limited to married couples living in suburbs.


Instead of blaming students for their social media habits, educators must look in the mirror. While we want to scold students for gravitating towards TikTok or YouTube during class, let's consider our own behavior.

What do we do while eating breakfast in the morning?

What do we do while standing in line at the grocery story?

What do we do while waiting for our appointment?

We must understand social media is terribly addictive - for everyone.

As someone who deals with moderate anxiety, I too have had my struggles when it comes to social media affecting my mental health. I have noticed a direct correlation between my anxiety levels and the amount of social media I consume.

Whenever possible, I look for opportunities to share my struggles with students. When teenagers realize we share similar experiences, they feel comfortable opening up about their personal struggles with social media and seem willing to try new ideas.

Below are four ideas I share with students to help fight my social media addiction. While these ideas are shared through the lens of a middle aged adult - thus drawing mixed results - students appreciate being provided with practical ideas to combat their codependence.

Delete Apps - Consider deleting social media apps from your phone. During downtime our natural impulse is to grab our phone phone and check our feeds. To break this habit, simply uninstall the app and limit exposure to that program to your laptop or other device. Not having these apps on your phone will initially lead to boredom, but anxiety levels will quickly subside.

Eliminate Notifications - If you can't possibly cope with deleting apps, consider eliminating notifications. Every "ding" or flashing light of a phone is like putting a freshly baked cookie on a plate in front of you - nearly impossible to resist! By not seeing the notifications, your impulse to check your phone will subside dramatically. Out of sight, out of mind.

Track Time - Consider tracking the amount of time you spend on social media. There are several programs both for cell phone and the laptop that will keep track of time spent on different platforms. At weeks end, the cumulative affect of these numbers are often eye-opening. Simply digesting the amount of time (wasted) spent on social media is enough for some to re-examine their habits.

Embrace JOMO - There is growing momentum for individuals to push back on social media and the Fear of Missing Out. This rebellion is known as JOMO - the Joy of Missing Out. The JOMO mindset is for people who are fed up with social media and have found blissful enjoyment in focusing on themselves and their priorities rather than worry about what everyone else is doing.


Rather than taking away their phones, lets educate students about social media use.

Rather than calling them lazy, lets provide students with ideas for using programs in moderation.

Rather than fight a battle we can't win, lets provide students with support for managing this reality.


Copyright © 2021 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC. 

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