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Reducing social media FOMO among teens


November 8, 2023 Parent-Child Relationship


Par Valérie Garceau

Project Manager

Wondering why your teen spends so much time on social media? Known as FOMO (Fear of missing out), the fear of missing an event, a piece of news, or something exciting can make it difficult for many teenagers to disconnect. How can we help young people see their digital lives differently, and find the right balance?

23% of girls and 14% of boys in secondary school say they often find it hard to stop when they're connected to the Internet.

FOMO in adolescence

Screen time is an important part of young people's daily lives. Data from 2022 shows that 64% of teenagers exceed the recommended 2 hours a day of screen time for entertainment during the week, a proportion that rises to 90% on weekends. 

Even if it can be a source of conflict at home, time spent on social media can have benefits for young people. In fact, being able to chat instantly with people you share interests with helps to develop a sense of belonging and identity in adolescence.

Time spent on TikTok, Snapchat or Instagram helps young people maintain or create new friendships and break social isolation. 

I post and I like, so I exist

While it's hardly surprising that much of young people's free time is taken up by social networking, it can be difficult for some to find the right digital balance and identify with something other than their virtual persona. 

As social media applications continuously send out notifications on posts, photos, or events shared by our contacts, many feel a strong pressure to stay continuously connected to not miss a thing - the so-called FOMO phenomenon. For some people, this makes it difficult to leave their cell phone behind without feeling uneasy or anxious about missing out on something important.

In addition to the conflicts that can arise from FOMO behaviors such as telesnobbing (i.e., looking at your cell phone while ignoring those physically present around you), excessive screen time on social networks during adolescence is associated with overall poorer mental health, as well as higher levels of anxiety and psychological distress.

Passively surfing social networks before going to bed also affects the quality and duration of sleep, which can have consequences for health and school performance. 

What can be done to prevent FOMO in teens?

Create an identity beyond social networks

Aside from social media, there are a multitude of activities that will help your teen discover their interests and passions, and develop new friendships. Whether it's through sports (cycling, soccer, skateboarding, dance, etc.), artistic activities (music lessons, drawing, photography, make-up) or volunteer work, these moments can be spent alone, but also with friends or family. 

Find a balance between digital and human connection

Encourage your teen to spend quality time with friends and family offline. Here are a few ideas: 

•    Have a board game night

•    Take a moment to go cycling, skateboarding, or jogging after school. 

•    Take the time to chill out with friends in a park  

•    Organize a themed cooking evening

Control screen use at home

Establish rules with your teen regarding screen use at home and the consequences that will apply if your agreement is broken. 

For example, you could agree on times when your child will not be online, such as dinnertime, homework time, or 30 minutes before bedtime. If you are co-parenting, it may be helpful to establish common ground rules for screen use that can be applied in both homes. 

Be a role model!

Do you ask your youngster to put their phone away at dinnertime, but sometimes check your own notifications between bites?  Don't forget that you are role models for your children, even in their teens. 

Reflecting on your use of screens and acting consistently with the house rules could make it easier for the whole family to acquire healthy digital habits, as well as avoiding potential conflicts with your teenager. 

Discuss the importance of a balanced digital life with your teenager

If you'd like to discuss the issues surrounding digital consumption with your teen, Capsana's Pause ton écran and Tel-Jeunes websites offer useful tips and information on the subject. The Association pour la santé publique du Québec has also set up the Ça se cultive website and the Ralentir project, both of which aim to promote healthy lifestyles that are beneficial for young people's mental health.

References (in french)

Pause, Parents séparés: encadrer l’usage des écrans en 5 étapes
ResearchGate, Social Media and Fear of Missing Out in Adolescents: The Role of Family Characteristics
Collectif Vital, L’activité physique : un levier incontournable pour la santé des jeunes
National Library of Medicine, Fear of Missing Out as a Predictor of Problematic Social Media Use and Phubbing Behavior among Flemish Adolescents
Institut de la statistique du Québec. Enquête québécoise sur le tabac, l’alcool, la drogue et le jeu chez les élèves du secondaire 2019
Société canadienne de pédiatrie. Les médias numériques : la promotion d’une saine utilisation des écrans chez les enfants d’âge scolaire et les adolescents
Statistique Canada. L’utilisation des médias numériques en ligne et la santé mentale des adolescents