I recently read of a research study in Canada which evaluated the internet use of college freshmen. They found that more than 40% of those students had “problematic internet use.” They had higher rates of depression, anxiety, impulsiveness and inattention.
Similar research has been done with teens. For example, a University of Glasgow study, surveying students ages 11-17, found that teens who were more invested in their digital lives reported worse sleep quality, lower self-esteem, and higher anxiety and depression.
But, despite the negative effects, teens have a difficult time tuning it out. FOMO (fear of missing out) which was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, encapsulates the reason. Pressure to be available 24/6, and the perceived necessity of responding to texts or posts immediately increases anxiety.
A University of Michigan study confirmed what many of us intuit, that social media can make a person feel worse about himself. The more people checked Facebook, the worse they felt about their lives.
Diana Graber, co-founder of CyberWise.org recently asked her middle school students to try to go 24 hours without social media during one of three weekends. (Something, luckily, we Shomrei Shabbat can do each week). Only one of her 28 students was able to do so.
Teens feel the more “likes” they get the more popular they are. “Likes” translate to validation and attention, says Graber. “It becomes a competition. It’s anxiety- ridden because you get likes based on how many friends you have, and you have to keep posting things to get more friends and it’s like a vicious cycle.” Dr. Darlene McLaughlin of Texas A&M asserts, “The problem with FOMO is the individuals it impacts are looking outwards instead of inward. When you’re so tuned in to the ‘other’ or the ‘better’ (in your mind) you lose your authentic sense of self. This constant fear of missing out means you are not participating as a real person in your own world.”
Research from the 2015 study, #Being Thirteen: Social Media and the Hidden World of Young Adolescents’ Peer Culture, finds that, “Young adolescents care deeply about being included by peers, and at this developmental stage, most have one peer group on which they stake their souls: peers at school. If they see something on social media suggesting that they are not included in this group, the stakes are high and young adolescents can quickly become anxious and desperate.” Study data shows that, “one in five (13-year-olds) checks social media in order to make sure that no one is saying anything mean about them, and more than one-third check to see if their friends are doing things without them.”
In an August article in the Wall Street Journal “Teens Who Say No To Social Media,” the author highlights that social media use encourages teens to “constantly compare themselves to their peers. (Thank you to Mr. Jonathan Stein for forwarding this article to me). And, not just to their peers, but to Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner and other Instagram stars, models and YouTube celebrities whose exploits are relentlessly documented across social media. All of the comparisons are not healthy. Everyone has their Facebook-perfect happy life. But you have to figure out your own self. Social media doesn’t encourage people to do that.”
In another recent study it was found that teens were “more likely to like a photo - even one portraying risky behaviors such as smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol- if that photo had received more likes from peers.” Teens were using social media to make choices about how to navigate their real social world. Peer pressure is not new, but social media has increased the intensity and speed. “They’re constantly being judged. Their self-worth is constantly measure by other people’s response to every single thing they put online.”
Interestingly enough, not all teens are constantly engaged in social media, according to the Wall Street Journal article. This small group of teens who abstain from social media use- only 5-15% of teens- are internet savvy, but just do not like social media.
“‘Parents are so afraid of having their kids feel left out,’ said Marnie Kenney of Washington, D.C., whose 14-year-old daughter Raya has opted out of social media. “They project their fear onto their kids. Social media is just gossip, a lot of it.’”
Some solutions? Teens that log on at night are particularly affected in terms of their sleep and mood. A “digital sunset” might the solution where electronic devices are disabled later in the evening. Many parents have talks with their children about internet safety, but very little about the impact of social media on their self- esteem and self- image. Modeling limitations and healthy technology use ourselves is essential when it comes to impacting on our children. Are we suffering from FOMO as well? Show them the power of good face to face communication, by first and foremost being there for them to talk. We can also empathize when they feel devastated after seeing a post of a friend, but also highlight that a post is only a glimpse of what happened. We stress in our homes that we don’t post photos that can seem exclusive and hurtful to others. Assert the importance of focusing inward and not outward, and not comparing ourselves to others.
FOMO- how about fear of missing out on the important things in life? This message hit home to me this past Rosh Hashana as I head Rabbi Sturm, assistant rabbi in the Young Israel of State Island, speaking about the curse of FOMO and what FOMO can become. How many of us ever have fear of missing out on the rabbi’s shiur? Fear of missing out on Tefilla if we come late? Fear of missing out on volunteering in a local chesed organization? Fear of missing out on any opportunity to grow spiritually? This time of year, this is the FOMO we should be experiencing. Let us not miss out on this opportunity to model for our children what true FOMO is.
This brings to mind a poem that I included a few years ago in my blog, which bears repeating:
G-d doesn't have a Blackberry or an iPhone, but He is my favorite contact.
He doesn't have Facebook, but He is my best friend.
He doesn't have Twitter, but I follow Him nonetheless.
He doesn't have internet, but I am connected to Him.
And even though He has a massive communication system, His customer service never puts me on hold.
Best wishes for a G’mar Chatima Tova and a year of FOMO that is healthy for us and our children.