The fear of missing out is taking its toll on teens

FOMO has reached epidemic proportion.
FOMO has reached epidemic proportion. Photo: Getty Images

No one wants to hear that they missed the boat. But with the prevalence of social media, if you do miss the boat, then everyone will know about it. Perhaps that is why FOMO, the fear of missing out, is taking its toll on today's teenagers.

And it is taking its toll. In fact, a recent paper from the University of Texas claims that FOMO has reached epidemic proportion.

"FOMO is especially rampant in the millennial community because they see a peer achieving something they want, and somehow in their mind, that achievement means something is being 'taken away' from them," explains assistant professor Darlene McLaughlin.

Social media makes it easy to crowd watch and there is undoubtedly pressure for teenagers to conform to the crowds mold. McLaughlin notes that for a lot of young people, social media means constantly measuring their lives against a celebrity's Instagram post or a friend's life event.

"The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outward instead of inward," says McLaughlin.

"When you're so tuned in to the 'other,' or the 'better' (in your mind), you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world."

While FOMO in itself isn't a mental health condition, McLaughlin says that it contributes to anxiety and depression.

"FOMO is an emotion -- driven by thoughts -- that can create the fear and anxiety which leads to a mental health diagnosis. It's a symptom of a larger problem at hand," she explains.

McLaughlin notes that part of social anxiety is the fear of being judged by others or embarrassing oneself in social interactions.


"FOMO is very damaging to someone suffering from this anxiety disorder because it fuels a lack of self-confidence and social avoidance," she says.

According to the Australian psychology society, as many as one in two Australian teenagers think they are 'missing out' on something because of social media.

Dr Mubarak Rahamathulla, a senior social work lecturer at Flinders University told the ABC that FOMO is creating a path to anxiety and depression.

"FOMO is a real thing — my research and research all over the world is repeatedly indicating that it is a fact," he said.

"There is a very strong positive correlation between the hours spent on digital technology and higher stress and depression."

So what can we do? Family therapist Martine Oglethorpe offers the following tips to parents who are worried their teen or tween may be suffering from FOMO.

  • Provide plenty of opportunities for kids to shine away from the screens
  • Get involved in community, sporting groups and surround your kids with people and environments that are separate from their online worlds
  • Encourage your kids to volunteer; feeling useful and needed goes a long way to building self esteem
  • Offer plenty of opportunities to play away from the screens so they build balance in to their lives.
  • Have 'no go' zones for screens, i.e. at the dinner table, in bedrooms if kids are using them late at night.
  • Role model positive self esteem and positive use of screens and social media
  • Look at other ways for kids to use social media that is greater than their immediate circle of friends and followers

Oglethorpe also notes that if you are worried that your child could be suffering with social anxiety then it could be worth checking in with your GP.