Cyber Mum – FOMO

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Following on from last month’s column, “Look Up”, I thought it was appropriate we look a little deeper into the impact the obsession of staying connected via social media is having.

With new technology and online social habits becoming the norm for our kids, there’s a new phenomenon taking strangle hold of our children’s mental health – the fear of missing out, or “FoMo”.

 “FoMo”  is a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences without you. This social angst is characterised by a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. “FoMo” is also defined as a fear or regret that can lead to a compulsive concern that you might miss an opportunity for social interaction. This can generate high levels of social media use and may lead to depression and anxiety, especially in kids.

With the development of technology, people’s social and communicative experiences have been expanded from face-to-face to online. On one hand, modern technologies e.g. mobile phones, smartphones and social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter provide a unique opportunity for people to be socially engaged at a reduced cost. On the other hand, this new online communication perpetuates an increased reliance on the internet and psychological dependence on being online. This can result in anxiety when you feel disconnected, thereby leading to a fear of missing out or even pathological internet use and worse, phantom vibration syndrome, where FoMo suffers are reported to believe their phone is vibrating as they wait for social connection.

The fifth annual National Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey has revealed some frightening statistics, which I feel parents should be noting.  There is a very strong correlation between the hours spent on digital technology and higher stress and depression. It would appear teenagers are getting confused between the cyber world and the real world.
• 53% of Australian teens reported that they used social networking sites for 15 minutes before bed every night.
• 66% of teenagers want to share details online when they were having a good time.
• 60% said they felt worried when they found out their friends were having fun without them.
• 51% said they felt anxious if they did not know what their friends were doing.
• 78% said it was important that they understood their friends’ “in jokes”.

Interestingly, the survey also found that a fear of missing out does not stop once people enter adulthood, with the survey noting that those aged 18 – 35 reported the highest feelings of being left out amongst adults.

The fear of missing out typically starts with something small. For instance, your child sees a photo come through their newsfeed of a group of friends out at a party or at the beach, and a thought of: “I wish I were doing that” sneaks into their head. Not really a big deal, right? Just wait. Then, they see an online photo album from an acquaintance’s holiday or girlfriend’s sleepover weekend, and they are convinced that they need to do that (whatever “that” is) at some point. Soon, their thoughts turn into questions in their head as to why was I not invited, they look like they are having more fun than me, I have no friends, nobody likes me … and so on.

With FoMo, your child wants to be everywhere doing everything. The issue is that they are actually everywhere and nowhere at the same time. They are too busy wishing they were someplace else to really enjoy whatever it is that they are doing at the moment. It’s a larger problem than just missing out on a day at the beach with friends or a trip to the movies. Many people are wishing their lives away by always trying to be two places at once: where they actually are and where their friends are via social media (and the reality is friends on social media are probably not having as good a time as your child anyway, but they are posting pictures depicting that they are).

So while you and your family are enjoying your summer holidays and special times with family and friends, encourage your kids and remind yourself to stop checking your phones and take the time to create your own memories! Make 2016 the year to live in the moment, as you are not missing out … you are living!

Caroline Bleechmore, Cyber Safety Advocate

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