FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is Ruling and Ruining Our Teens’ Lives
By Debby Shulman
Application season is upon us. High school seniors everywhere are deep in thought, trying to figure out where they want to attend college and how they are going to make that happen. The process has certainly changed since most of us applied and it has become a full-time business for people like me.
I am a full-time college essay consultant (or strategist, if you wax political). With over 60 students, I am blessed to work with some wonderful teens. But what I am seeing this year in terms of worry, insecurity, and lack of self-esteem is beyond anything I have been witness to over the years. I was struggling to understand why. Finally, one of my favorite high school students, in her effort to articulate what it was that had plagued her during most of high school, blurted it out.
It’s called, FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out.
We have Facebook and Instagram to thank for that. In our day, we would have never known who was at what party, football game, or restaurant. Today, teens are instagramming where they are every second of the day. Our teens are barraged with tags, notifications and bleeps every time someone they know (and quite possibly hate) posts something. Social media’s poison—the incessant need for others to know where you are and what you are doing—is destroying our teens’ self-esteem.
This poor girl was suffering. After being blown off by her group of friends, she then watched their lives unfold before her eyes on social media. She is not the only one. Many of my students want to write about personal experiences that stem from FOMO. And while I am not averse to writing about social issues in a college application essay, I force them to reconcile what it is that made them grow from that experience. I ask them to dig deep and figure out why they were left feeling so insecure. I ask them to explain why they believe everything they see—the façade of phony happiness. They almost always, inevitably, come back to FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. And then they must wrestle with the time wasted watching other people’s lives.
Never before have I seen so many teens struggling with anxiety, issues of self-worth, and lack of confidence. They keep a watchful eye on social media and believe that their lives are not as exciting or fun as others. FOMO keeps them searching for the unattainable, the perfect social life with the perfect friends. As parents, we know this does not exist for anyone. But when we look through the eyes of our teens, we see the awfully large obstacle they must overcome.
Fear Of Missing Out is simply another manifestation of the impact social media has on our teens and their generation. It makes me sad every time I sit down with a student and hear the same tale and I am not sure how to make it right.
Debby Dresner Shulman is a private tutor and college essay consultant with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois. Find out more at DebbyShulman.com.