Social Media and FOMO: What the Fear of Missing Out is Doing to Your Family — Part 1

Monday, 14 October, 2019

Happy pictures capture happy moments, right? That seems like a simple concept. But why is it that the concept of “moments” doesn’t apply when we gaze into the world of social media? “Moment” translates into “always” in the blink of a Facebook or Instagram refresh.

When I think of why I originally signed up for Facebook over a decade ago, I can honestly say it was to reconnect with people I thought were lost to me. It was fun to catch up, to see what people were doing, to watch families be created, and witness adventures unfolding. But somewhere along the way, this ceased to be the full extent of my motivation.

Does social media influence your mood? 

A darker side emerged as I realized how my emotional state could easily pull my feelings in one direction or another. I could get on Facebook perfectly happy and close the tab grumpy, irritated, and disgruntled.

I could also use it as a tool to improve my emotional state—that is, if my community played along with me in my game. By posting a picture, I could let the comments and likes fill up what was empty and lacking in my heart. “Look what I did! Look how happy we are! #Blessed!”

We essentially expect people to affirm what we already appear to know. But do we really know? If we did, would we need this much external affirmation?

It’s hard not to compare our pictures with those of others. We post a picture, so full, alive, and content, but our feed refreshes and we see someone so full, so alive, and so content, too, but on the beaches of Maui when we were on a lake in Kentucky.

We post a picture of ourselves at home on New Year’s Eve celebrating with those we love in pajamas and plastic champagne flutes. We are so happy to have such good friends! But our feed refreshes and there we find others celebrating with their loved ones, but all dressed up, maybe on Times Square with crystal champagne flutes. We were excited to spend a cozy night at home with hot tea and Netflix, but our feed refreshes and we realize we weren’t invited to the party down the street.

There’s a name for this—FOMO

Social media can make what we were grateful for pale in comparison to what others have or experience. We are left questioning—is there something better out there for me, too? If so, we don’t want to miss it.

As a result, we spend hours perusing, continually checking, inhibiting our very ability to have a better quality of life with the very people who are truly invested in us. The name for this is FOMO or fear of missing out.

One study defined FOMO as ‘‘the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out—that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.’’

We’re doing this as 30-year-olds—and 40-, 50-, and 60-year-olds. And our brains are completely developed! We have an entire generation under us that don’t have that luxury yet. We should be able to see there is an unending cycle at work here that, if left unchecked, will leave us hungry, fearful, and discontent with the things we do have and do experience.

As parents, we need to make sure we disengage from this cycle so we can teach our kids how to disengage, too.

Next week learn about the real dangers of FOMO and social media and how to curb this addiction in yourself and your kids!

This week’s guest contributor, Jen Ferguson, is from Protect Young Minds, a national organization whose mission is to empower parents, professionals and community leaders to protect kids from pornography and harmful content.

Phones Up, Empathy Down

Wednesday, 9 October, 2019

Why empathy is on the decrease with our youth and what phones have to do with it

Did you know that empathy can affect our kids’ future health, success, happiness, relationships, and overall well being? It’s also a positive predictor of our children’s success in learning. If you Google empathy, you will find a plethora of articles on big-name companies trying to integrate empathy exercises into their businesses. Forbes urges companies to adopt empathy principles.

We as parents want our children to have empathy. Empathy makes our children better people. Which makes the world a better place. That’s why it’s alarming to see empathy rapidly decreasing in today’s youth while self-absorption is on the rise. Studies show empathy has decreased 40 percent while narcissism has increased 58 percent.

My name is April Whiting. I am a digital wellness educator and the mother to four boys. I spend many hours in schools talking with students about what it’s like to grow up in a heavy tech world. They spend more time communicating through screens than they do face to face. They are losing the ability to read facial cues and have appropriate eye contact. Feelings aren’t learned by looking at screens. When we lose the ability to read facial expressions, we lose empathy.

We lead for being the least mentally healthy nation in the world. Grades are over the top, but we are the loneliest. College students are dropping out at staggering rates. When you ask children what they want to be when they grow up, their answers have changed from policemen and firefighters to “rich and famous” and “YouTube Stars.” Michele Borba, author of the book Unselfie refers to this as the “Selfie Syndrome.” Selfies are all the rage as teens—and people in general—post endless photos of themselves on social media and wait on the edge of their seats for likes and comments of praise. The term selfie has become so popular, Oxford Dictionary chose it as its 2014 word of the year. Selfie Syndrome is altering our children’s offline lives. The condition is slowly eroding our children’s character and killing their empathy.

As empathy wains, things like cyber-bullying and racism increase. Our children are bombarded by cyber-bullies constantly. Unlike when we were young, bullies follow our children home. They sleep in our homes, sometimes in the same room as our children. How? On their phones!

It’s not just our children that are excessively plugged in. 66 percent of children feel their parents are addicted to their phones. As I mentioned earlier I spend a good amount of time in classrooms talking to students. In our group discussions, I always ask the students to raise their hand if they feel their parents spend too much time on their phones. The majority of hands always go up. Emotions start to join our conversation. Tears flow. These children are begging to be seen, heard, and loved. We as parents must take a step back and look at our own technology habits. When our children are talking to us do we put our phones down, put our eyes up, and listen? Or do we give them half our face while our cell phones cover the other half?

We must create time to unplug as a family and create meaningful experiences that cultivate empathy. A few opportunities to unplug as a family include:

1. Device-free Dinners

Family dinners provide an opportunity to strengthen ties and build better relationships. Studies show that children who have family dinner often have better mental health and are less likely to use drugs. I recommend dinner tables have a basket that all devices go in during dinner. All devices—Mom and Dad’s, too. That email can wait! You can add a little fun by saying the first person to grab their device is on dish duty!

2. Central Charging Station

Choose a curfew for your devices. It’s important not to let children take their devices into their bedroom all night. Not only is it affecting their sleep habits, this is when they are most likely to make poor choices with their devices.

3. Create More Unplugged Moments

Are you creating opportunities as a family to unplug? Play a board game, throw a football, take a family walk. Read books with your kids—books raise empathy, not iPads. Creating these opportunities helps decrease your child’s screen time naturally, as well as yours!

Empathy is a verb. It needs to be active, stretched and exercised like a muscle. The more unplugged moments our children have, the more healthy emotional literacy they will have. Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything!

April Whiting is a certified digital wellness educator. For more information and resources, visit April’s website www.restoringsocialjoy.com and www.commonsensemedia.org.

#FirstPhone