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Dealing With FOMO

Your neighbor shares photos from a spring break trip.

Your colleague posts videos standing front row at a concert.

Your sibling shares photos of his beautiful new house.

Your ex-girlfriend posts videos from her wedding day.

When you see others share life's highlights on social media, what do you feel? If you are like most adults - including 70% of millennials - you feel a combination of envy, jealous, and disappointment.

There is a term for this sensation: FOMO

FOMO - or Fear of Missing Out - can be found in all standard dictionaries and is defined as "anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media."

Whether it be Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, YouTube, LinkedIn, or one of the 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 the lives of our students.

Consider these facts:


70% of kids own a smartphone by age 12

50% of kids are on social media by age 12

8 to 12 year olds spend five hours per day looking at screens


95% of kids own a smartphone by age 18

80% of kids are on social media by age 18

14 to 18 year olds spend seven hours per day looking at screens

It is easy to look at those screen times and immediately blame youth for having screwed up priorities. But suggesting teens are consciously choosing to spend more time on phones than sleep would be ignoring the addictive nature of these programs.

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

Say your “go-to” comfort food is homemade chocolate chip cookies (guilty!). 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.

We all know how hard it is to resist the smell of freshly baked cookies. Our brains react the same way when we have unopened notifications on our phone.


To no one's surprise, the meteoric rise of cell phones and social media has created several adverse affects for students. Examples include:

Mental Health: 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.

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

Imitation: Students find themselves motivated by influencers with large social media followings and often try to imitate the attitude and actions of these individuals. Oftentimes, these lifestyles are unrealistic and promote counterproductive behaviors. Sleep Loss: Social media causes sleep deprivation as students value screen time over sleep time. Not only do teens wake up in the middle of the night to check their notifications, staring into a screen all day inhibits the brain's ability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour.

Inadequacy: Jealousy wreaks havoc on the not-quite-developed brains of kids. As America continues to glorify pretentious celebrities and scantily-clad models, this leads to a feeling of inadequacy and low self-worth. The "Keeping up with the Joneses" syndrome is not limited to married suburban couples.


Many educators criticize students for their social media habits. Upon seeing kids perform TikTok dances or use Snapchat filters, they shake their heads and condemn the"lost generation."

Ironically, for many adults this thinking is hypocritical. When grown ups encounter downtime - such as waiting for an appointment, checking out at the grocery store, or stopped in a drive thru - they too have a natural inclination to grab their phone and scroll through social media. We must understand that social media is terribly addictive not just for kids .... but for everyone.

As someone who deals with moderate anxiety, I have struggled with 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 battles with social media and seem willing to try new ideas.

Below are five ideas to help fight social media addiction. While these ideas are geared towards adults, students appreciate hearing these practical ideas to combat their codependence.

Delete Apps: Two-thirds of Americans check their phones at least 160 times a day. Often, the purpose is to check social media feeds. To break this habit, uninstall apps that can be accessed via laptop. Not having these apps may 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 phone light is nearly impossible to resist. By not seeing the notifications, your impulse to check your phone subsides dramatically. Out of sight, out of mind.

Track Time: Consider tracking time spent on social media. There are several programs for cell phone and laptop that track time spent on different platforms. At weeks end, the cumulative affect of these numbers is eye-opening. Simply seeing time spent on social media is enough for some to re-examine their habits.

Quit Social Media: I know, crazy right? You can't quit social media! But due to wasted time and constant negativity, people are realizing it's not so bad quitting social media. Give it a month to see how it goes.

The first several days are brutal, but get over the hump and the outcome feels liberating.

JOMO: Can't pull the trigger on the ideas above? Don't worry. Feel comfort in knowing there is growing resistance to social media. JOMO - the Joy of Missing Out - is a mindset many people are adopting. Sick of worrying about the activities of others, these dissenters are choosing to focus on themselves.


"Kids these days are addicted to their phones!"

Educators love to make this comment. However, similar to novel addictions of the past, there is scientific proof that students's brains are ill-equipped to navigate the FOMO era.

Rather than call them lazy, provide students with ideas for using phones in moderation.

Rather than mock their habits, educate students about social media use.

Rather than fight a hopeless battle, give students support for managing their reality.



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