FOMO, or fear of missing out, is a trendy term today. Which might lead us to dismiss or minimize its influence. But for many families, FOMO is a real problem that impedes their connection.
According to psychotherapist Rebecca Ziff, LCSW, FOMO depletes the quality of family time. She’s worked with kids and teens who aren’t able to enjoy downtime with their families because they worry they’re missing out on social functions with their friends. Which means they aren’t fully engaged or present with their families. Understandably, this leaves parents “feeling undervalued and ignored.”
Psychotherapist Alyson Cohen, LCSW, also sees this in her practice: Parents who feel rejected by their teen’s desires to constantly be elsewhere reach out less to spend time together. “Over time, this can very much negatively affect the relationship and build the idea that time shared is not very important.”
Why is FOMO so pervasive?
“Generally, people choose to post online moments in their lives that are exciting, glamorous, cool or what they perceive others will ‘like,’” Ziff said. This might be anything from attending a concert to going on an exotic vacation. In other words, we are regularly bombarded by images of people living their best selves, she said. It’s hard enough to navigate this as adults. Naturally, for kids, it’s even harder.
“Social media feeds into an individual’s feelings of insecurity, regret and ambivalence about how they choose to spend their time either socially, professionally or otherwise,” Ziff said.
While FOMO is very real and a big problem for many families, there also are many things you can do. Below, Ziff and Cohen, who both specialize in working with kids, teens and families, shared their suggestions.
Validate your child’s feelings.
“It is important to validate your child’s feelings about exclusion [and] relationship fragility,” Cohen said. Talk to them about the difficulties of teen social circles, she said. Don’t minimize their fear of missing out (e.g., “that’s silly,” “it’s not that big of a deal,” “stop being so dramatic”). Try not to criticize or judge how they’re feeling. You also might share your own experiences as a teen, she said.
Set time for social media.
Kids do what they see. So if you’re constantly on your phone checking email, Facebook or Instagram, they will, too, Ziff said. “As a family you can identify a 15-30-minute period during the day when checking social media is permitted.”
She shared these suggestions: It might be after everyone gets home and unwinds from the day. Or it might be after dinner or after your kids have finished their homework. It might be on a Saturday or on the way to an event. The key is to pick a time that works best for your family—and to stick to it yourself.
“Through limiting your time spent online you are modeling for your children a healthy relationship with social media, and increasing the likelihood they will mirror your behavior.”
Create “no phone zones.”
According to Ziff, you might establish a “no phone zone” at the breakfast and dinner table. This creates “a culture in your home where these places are meant for face-to-face interactions.” To reduce distraction and the urge to check devices, place phones and tablets in another room, she said. The more you do this, the greater the chance that your new habits will stick—and become something everyone expects.
Give kids options.
Let your child choose how they’d like to spend time with you, Cohen said. For instance, you might let them pick their favorite restaurant; a movie to watch at home or in the theater; a type of theme park; or another place or activity to do together, she said.
Also, gently remind your teen to put away their phone during the activity. You might say: “Remember when we had this conversation about family time? You chose this activity so let’s enjoy it together now.”
“Reminding the teen of their own personal interests is a way of helping them focus less on the interest of others.”
Point out when your child is enjoying themselves.
According to Cohen, “when you see how engaged and happy your child is during the activity of their choosing you might say, ‘Look how happy you are right now. You really seem to be enjoying yourself.’”
Like all of us, kids want to be seen. Which is part of the reason they share their experiences on social media, she said. “If you, as a parent can ‘see’ them, they may not feel the need to be ‘seen’ as much by their friends.”
Focus on gratitude.
“FOMO stems from feelings of regret, social deprivation and dwelling on what might have been,” Ziff said. This is why gratitude is important. Identifying what we’re grateful for and what we do have in our lives helps to “change our thoughts and feelings away from fear of missing out and toward contentment.” It helps to ground us in the present.
Ziff gave this example: If your teen starts complaining about not being able to attend a concert with their friends—who are posting photos online—ask them to list five things they’re grateful for.
It’s also helpful to have a gratitude practice. According to Ziff, during dinner, you can simply have everyone go around and list something they’re grateful for. This might be anything from your kids to your health to tonight’s lasagna. It is anything that “makes you feel alive” in that moment. Your child might even do this on their own, which can help them to self-soothe and reduce their anxiety in other moments, she added.
Teach your kids to use their senses. Fully.
This also helps you focus on what is happening right now rather than fixating on what might have been, Ziff said. You can use your five senses for any activity you do as a family.
Ziff shared these examples: If you’re cooking a meal together, ask your kids to smell the fresh rosemary you’re using for the chicken. Suggest they slowly inhale the aroma and then exhale. Ask them to tell you what they’re smelling and how it makes them feel. Do the same with whatever food is in front of you.
If you’re riding in the car or taking the train, encourage your kids to be quiet for several minutes. Then ask them what they hear—which might be anything from the motor of the engine to rain on the roof to the bell that dings when the door closes.
If your family is eating popcorn, ask them to take one kernel and let it melt in their mouth slowly. Ask them to think about how it feels as it’s melting, what it smells like and how the texture of the kernel changes.
“When you are attuned to these details, and heightening your senses, it is not likely you will be thinking about what others are doing on Facebook,” Ziff said.