The desire not to be left out is universal. No one wants to miss out on something interesting or important. This desire, which is often strongest for teens, stems from a God-given yearning to participate in meaningful experiences and be in meaningful community. While it’s a natural human tendency to fear being excluded, it’s unhealthy when we let this fear control our lives. Teen FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” is real and powerful, but with your guidance, it can be seen for what it really is and redeemed.
FOMO is powerful because of three underlying things.
- It’s built on exclusivity. We think that one exclusive group of people will enrich our lives in all the right ways if we can be part of it.
- There’s always something.There’s something going on, and we definitely don't want to miss out on it. There's always a party, experience, adventure, get-together, Fortnite challenge, etc., and our teens are afraid of missing out on even just a second of it.
- We’re finite. Part of being human is that we’re not omnipresent, so we can’t be everywhere at once. Social media gives us the sense that we actually can be multiple places at once (even though it’s still impossible to be everywhere).
Combining the three is paralyzing. It keeps us constantly wondering “what if?” and we’re never able to be fully present or involved in what’s happening. It’s also a huge driver in smartphone addiction. When the number of posts and videos are virtually infinite, it’s easy to see how someone would feel compelled to keep scrolling ad infinitum, lest they miss anything.
Have we created a FOMO generation?
Social media, and how accessible smartphones have made it, is probably the most significant reason why Gen Z has such a problem with teen FOMO. Huffington Post reports the following on Snapchat alone:
Teens who use Snapchat regularly:
A majority of these teens check Snapchat over 10 times a day. So why are Gen Zers checking Snapchat so obsessively? Because they don’t want to miss out on what their friends are sharing.
In fact, keeping up with everything on social media is getting so burdensome to Gen Zers that many of them are getting off social media because of the negative impact it’s having on their lives. According to Campaign, 34% of Gen Z has permanently quit social media, while 64% are taking a break from it.
Gen Z social media usage:
How can we say no to FOMO?
As teen anxiety and depression rates are revealing, living in a constant state of FOMO is not sustainable. We can help them learn to master our fear and rest in God. Here are a few ways we can create a culture not driven by fear:
- Value quality over quantity. You may have noticed that even when your child is hanging out with other friends, almost all of them are using their phones simultaneously. They're so busy wondering what they might be missing out on that they can't enjoy the company they do have. Help your teen see that fulfillment comes not from being divided between a million things, but from being able to fully devote oneself to one or two things at a time. Remind your teen that it's the life, joy, and relationship that we get out of our experiences that matter, not the number of them.
- Focus on one thing at a time. According to this study, we’re probably not as great at multitasking as we think we are. Allow your kids to focus on one task at a time. This is easier said than done, of course, but it can start small. If your son loves to play Fortnite, challenge him to put his phone away for the entire game. When your daughter needs to get homework done, challenge her to complete an hour of work without the use of her phone.
- Enjoy the moment. What does your teen love to do? Do they play soccer, create pottery, do photography, create YouTube videos, explore different makeup techniques, or build robots? Whatever it is, encourage your teen to simply enjoy the moments they have with friends, family, and doing their favorite hobbies—without posting about it on social media every step of the way. On rough days, challenge them to come up with three good things that happened that day. Sometimes a perspective shift is all we need to put the phone down and look at our lives through an unfiltered lens.
Let's help Gen Z learn to enjoy the experiences they do get to have and the people that they do have the privilege of knowing. There’s a lot more life, joy, and excitement before our very eyes than we often consider. But it's hard to see those things when we're looking at the world through a lens of disappointment and jealousy.
Note: This is an adaptation from our Parent's Guide to Teen FOMO. For a more in-depth discussion of how FOMO is impacting teens, what to do about it, what Scripture says about it, and more, check it out HERE!