Kids, Social Media, and FOMO: A Game of Chutes and Ladders for Parents



There’s an acronym for parents to be familiar with, and it’s FOMO. As if LMK, LOL, SMH and ICYMI weren’t brainteasers to begin with.

If you’ve ever had a crush and dropped that person a line, then wondered if they got your message, worried they wouldn’t call you back or waited for what seemed like an eternity (15 minutes) before you heard back, then you have a sense of the phenomenon that’s happening among many kids who use social media. Only it’s magnified and isn’t about crushes. It has many tangents related to self confidence, social acceptance, body image and more. At an impressionable time, mind you, in a mind that’s going through changing emotions and rapid maturation.

It’s called Fear Of Missing Out.

We used to live our life in the moment and share it when we caught up with our family and friends. Now, we share it as it happens on SnapChat, YouTube, WeChat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. The living, then sharing sequence is starting to shift as people mull over the perfect post to get likes, the right words for an update to attract comments, and instead of living in the moment, we are creating moments to live -- for social media.

A dad of a 7th grader recently described it perfectly when he was talking about his experiences as a parent in a more digital world.

“As I watch my daughter use digital media, it reminds me of the old days with IM and ICQ. We could message someone or many people at once and anxiously await their response. Today, I watch in amazement as it really is the same feeling for our kids when they use social media, but through a different medium with more myopic expectations.”

Seems harmless, right? But if you’re a parent who has ever witnessed the signs or had chats with your kids about things you never imagined they would worry about, then you’re wiser to know better.

The Australian Psychological Society’s annual Stress and Wellbeing Survey reports that social media usage is tied to depression and anxiety in teens. That’s not to panic you or set off red alert signals in parents, but knowledge is power, which is valuable in being an informed parent. It’s a reality check to understand that times are different now than when we were kids - even for those of us who grew up with the Internet, Instant Messenger and email. So it’s important that amidst our busy lives we stay tuned in to what our kids say and interpret what may be between the lines of their moods, their days in the dumps or the times on cloud nine.

The report states that FOMO is more common among heavy users of social media, and that one in two of the teenagers ages 13-17 included in the study said they felt the fear of missing out on their friends' inside jokes and events, as well as the chance to show on social media that they're having fun. Social media usage also makes teens feel like their experiences aren’t as great as their friends, and that they’re missing out on something when they see a post they weren’t a part of -- even if they were quite happy doing whatever they were doing when it took place.

The fear of missing out is something that every parent with a child who uses social media should know about and be ready to help their teen through.

That dad in Michigan who’s learning as he goes as a digital parent said that from his perspective, the mind of kids today goes something like this:

  1. I like my smile! → I’ll take a selfie.
  2. This is a good one! → I’ll post it! (WeChat, ShapChat, FB, Instagram...))
  3. Did anyone like it? → How many likes did I get?
  4. Is anyone commenting? → What are they saying?
  5. I just checked 15 seconds ago. I guess I’ll wait 5 more seconds before I check again.
  6. If I tag them, will they tag me back?
  7. Should I ask for a tag?
  8. Did one of my friends/followers have a friend who saw it?
  9. Did that friend of a friend ask to follow me?
  10. How many followers do I have?
  11. How many likes do I have?
  12. How many people tagged me today?
  13. Oh no!!! No one has tagged, liked, shared a photo or commented about me in a while…*sad face emoji*
  14. Where is everyone?
  15. I guess I'll have to go back to step one to make sure they don't forget about me...

Sound familiar!? The activity is amazing and captivating. As a parent, it makes you think of the good and the bad your child might be experiencing. It might even be a bit relatable to some of your experiences on social media, too.


Confidence and self-esteem are critical to nurture in our kids, but has become more complicated and much like a game of Chutes and Ladders for parents as our kids grow up in a digital world with more influences, less face to face communication, and more opportunity for self discovery. It gives us days as parents we feel like we’ve advanced, and days we’ve unexpectedly slid backwards as we try to teach our children values and how to filter what should matter and what shouldn’t.

Confidence and self-esteem are critical to nurture in our kids, but has become more complicated and much like a game of Chutes and Ladders for parents as our kids grow up in a digital world with more influences, less face to face communication, and more opportunity for self discovery.

We may not understand it all, the emotion, the reaction or the why. We might even have a #WhatJustHappened moment. But FOMO is real, and our role as listening and observant parents becomes that much more important for the teenagers in our lives. We can help lessen or eliminate their FOMO and be more able as parents to recognize the source of any changes in attitude, behavior or moods by trying these things:

  • Leading by example and empowering our teenagers and pre-teens to be comfortable having conversations about what’s going on in their day and how they feel
  • Managing how much a time teenagers spend looking at a screen and the time of day they’re on social media
  • Keeping a pulse on their activity with apps like DijiWise or sharing login and password information for periodic check-ins on social media activity.

The fun of social media has created new pressures teenagers often put on themselves. They’re talking to themselves as much in their minds as they are tapping on their screens. Our new responsibility as parents is to help our kids see that social media isn’t a game or a popularity contest, and that their true identity -- who they are -- outweighs their perceived digital identity created by likes, favorites and followers. The journey from start to finish as a digital parent isn’t easy, but just remember each day is your move, and if you or your teen land on a chute, grab the spinner and spin again.