Kids and Smartphones: When FOMO Leads to Endless FOMO

By: Brooke Shannon

Parents are buying their kids smartphones out of FOMO and this is leading to endless FOMO for their kids!

FOMO—fear of missing out—haunts children and adults alike.  The dictionary defines FOMO “as anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Many parents purchase a smartphone for their young children because they worry their kids will miss out if they don’t have one and their friends do.  Once a few of their children’s friends have a new iPhone, FOMO is dialed up.  They worry about their daughter or son being left out of a group text, Snapchat or Musical.ly video.

Ironically, in response to FOMO, parents are arming their children with tiny FOMO-producing factories that fit in their pockets and never leave their side.

Do you want your son to feel left out? Give him a smartphone so he can see where all of his friends are (and he is not) on Snap Map, a new feature on Snap Chat that displays your location and shares it with your “friends”. Would you like your daughter to realize she is not BFFs with three close friends according to the BFF caption on Instagram? Hand over the iPhone.  Would you like your children to have a constant highlight reel of all of the events and parties they were not trendy enough to be invited to? You got it - give them a smartphone.

What impact do these FOMO-producing factories have on our children? According to phycologist Jean Twenge, author of the a recent highly circulated Atlantic article that questions whether smartphones have destroyed a generation, our children are “on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they're on the brink of a mental-health crisis. One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone-she's had an iPhone since she was 11-sounding as if she'd just woken up.

Twenge makes a strong case that spending more time on screens and social media leads to loneliness, unhappiness, depression, and even a higher risk for suicide.  Intuitively this makes sense. Spending endless hours on a newsfeed of someone’s fabulous trips, new acquisitions and exciting social life is bound to make children question their own happiness. Comparing “likes,” “followers,” “streaks, ” and “shares” will inevitably leave tweens with a feeling of inadequacy and huge surge of FOMO.  

So what are parents to do? This is the new world we live in, right? We need to get with the times, and just accept this FOMO reality for our children?

No, we don’t. A movement is sweeping through the country challenging this accepting attitude about young kids and smartphones. More than 2,000 families from 49 states and 500 plus schools are saying we won’t rush our children into smartphones and social media. We are going to delay the smartphone until at least 8th grade. Childhood is too short to waste on FOMO.

These families have signed the Wait Until 8th pledge and are committed to waiting until at least 8th grade before they give their children a smartphone. 

Will these children miss out though by waiting a few years for the smartphone?

Yes, they will miss out on lots of FOMO, and this is a good thing for our children.  We don’t want our children constantly plugged into what they are not included in. We want them to imagine, discover, learn and just enjoy being kids.

Learn more and take the pledge at www.waituntil8th.org .