We all want to feel included and become anxious at the thought of missing out on what we are certain will be the next very special social event. But, in today's world of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like, we are all instantly aware of the stuff we are missing out on. Back in my day (couldn't resist), if you missed a party it was disappointing, but at least you weren't getting a live stream review of the big event. Watching one of my children glued to the phone as picture after picture posted live on Instagram and Facebook of an event they were missing was painful... for both of us. Despite the fact we were enjoying a family vacation, the 'missing' was profound and the experience of exclusion agonizing.
Today, especially with adolescents, the immediate and public nature of our social lives creates an acute phenomenon called FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. What is striking about this is how much we as parents are vulnerable as well. I don't remember my parents worrying about me missing a big party or being concerned how grounding me for two weeks would impact homecoming plans. Why, then, are we so challenged around setting limits or even making family plans causing our children to contract a severe case of FOMO?
The trouble stems from three primary reasons. First, we are persuaded by our children's emotional experience and are loathe disappointing them. Second, the nature of society has conspired against us to disallow the wonderfully protective, "out of sight, out of mind" experience. And third, we are influenced by our understanding of the primacy of their peer relationships and fail to articulate the values of family time. We, as the parent,s can and should make an effort to address these issues as part of being empowered to set limits and share our values. Furthermore, it is important and relevant for our children to share in our family's life and celebrations even when their presence and participation comes with an impact on their individual social lives.
Here are six rules to cure FOMO:
1. Maintain your adult perspective, because adolescents don't have much. Missing a party, dance or any social event is not the end of the world. This perspective shift should be done in a respectful way without negating or minimizing your child's experience. Rather, acknowledge their pain and disappointment, just don't be swayed by it.
2. Consider the consequences of any proposed penalties before you share them with your child. The punishment should fit the crime. Missing curfew for the first time probably isn't cause for missing homecoming. So, before you impose the consequence, take a look at the calendar and be mindful of upcoming events.
3. Acknowledge their experience. Let them know you appreciate how tough it is to get all of the "updates" on their phone/computer. If relevant, remind them of the behavior that led to them missing said event so they see the causal link and are aware they in fact do have some control over their own lives.
4. Be willing to compromise. If your child can be at dinner for Grandma and then go to the party, try to be flexible. In fact, they may be a more engaged participant if they know they can still be with their friends later in the evening.
5. Help them problem solve. If the live postings exacerbate the pain, how about turning off the phone? We are all guilty of "phone separation anxiety," but a conscious decision to eliminate the play-by-play feedback can decrease stress.
6. Share with your children why you value family time. Whether celebrating Shabbat dinner or being at Grandma's 75th birthday party, family matters. Those intergenerational relationships are so meaningful and impactful. In addition, they often provide the unconditional love and support when the vicissitudes of adolescent relationships leave our children vulnerable.
FOMO is real and it is an experience shared by adolescents and adults alike. In very developmentally appropriate ways, everything in the lives of an adolescent feels much more like a crisis or the end of the world. Our challenge as the adults in the relationship is bringing our more mature/seasoned perspective to the situation and remembering the rules. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be a mindful parent.