A Teen Explains How to Deal with Your FOMO

Sixteen-year-old Ruby Karp dishes her advice on dealing with FOMO as a teen who lives on social media.

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Sep 19 2017, 7:23pm

Photo courtesy Mindy Tucker

Sick of getting advice from out-of-touch adults, 16-year-old Ruby Karp authored her own advice book, "Earth Hates Me: True Confessions from a Teenage Girl." The appeal of the book—filled with both guidances for Karp's fellow teens and humorous anecdotes of the experiences she's accumulated as a junior in high school—is that it comes from someone who knows the subject matter because she lives it everyday.

As a member of generation Z from New York City, Karp addresses her privilege (she's a white, Jewish girl who grew up in the Upper West Side) before diving into topics like feminism, relationships, and FOMO. The following is an excerpt on the latter from chapter two of her new book set for release on October 3, 2017:

FOMO is short for the "fear of missing out." I think it's one of the most crucial and real things that needs to be discussed with our generation, because it's so present in our everyday lives. FOMO is the inability to delete Instagram because you know you'll lose access to all the people you interact with through social media and their amazing lives. It's feeling left out when you see a Snapchat story of all your friends hanging without you. It's your need to go out on a Friday night so you won't miss the chance to make another unimportant memory.

FOMO is the hardest thing to break free of. It's a new form of anxiety that most teens like us have in one way or another. You can't just get over your FOMO—you have to deal with it. So, when people on ask.fm are bullying you or Snapchat is making you feel like crap because you're not at a wild party on a Friday night, it's not as simple as just deleting the app. It's so much more than that, because if you delete the app, you're cutting off your access to everyone else's lives. And once you've invested yourself in these apps and sites that give you an identity of your making, it is so much harder to get out. These social media sites and apps have a way of consuming our lives, of becoming the go-to when everyone is bored in a group and sitting in silence staring at their glowing phone screens. Or when an event is fun, everyone needs to take Snapchat stories of it so that they can show everyone who isn't there how much fun they're hav­ing—or, better yet, when they aren't having any fun, but want people to think they are. It's not that these apps are so amazing that they are keeping us hooked for any specific reason; but if everyone has something and you have access to the same thing they have, it makes you think you need it too. That's what seems to be everyone's opinion on social media: they hate it but can't seem to escape it.

Now, almost every story I tell involves some form of social media. Maybe it's something funny that hap­pened on my mom's OKCupid; maybe I accidentally Snapchatted the wrong person and it was super embarrassing; maybe a friend posted this or that on Facebook; but regardless, everything involves social media now. Taking that away isn't as simple as just "deleting the app." Erasing any and all social media platforms could actually make your FOMO worse, because now you might be worrying even more about what others are doing because you have no access to what they're up to.

In the middle of my junior year, I decided to do an experiment. I deleted my social media apps off my phone. I wanted to see how long I could go without social media and how it would make me feel. I lasted two days without my apps—and it was the most refreshing forty-eight hours of my life. I was on my phone less, I was more present in the moment, and I procrastinated a lot less on the things I needed to be doing. But, after two days, I got bored. I had nothing to do in moments of silence or inactivity. Was I sup­posed to read a book? Watch a movie? It felt unnatural to not be scrolling through my feed or going through someone's Snapchat story. And that's when I realized that social media was not just something I did for fun; rather, it had become a routine in my life. It had become a necessity.

If you walk past a group of teenagers out to lunch or in the park, I guarantee at least one of them is on his or her phone. If I go to a party or go out with some friends, there will always be Snapchat stories cap-turing the moment from someone's phone. But think­ing about this more seriously, I don't actually believe anyone is proud to be doing these things. I think we all know that social media is addictive and can be a problem; yet, nobody can seem to get off it. We're all so trapped in the idea that we need to know what every­one else is doing at every second that we can't live in our own moment anymore—we don't even know what the means in many cases. I have had way more melt­downs over what other people are doing than I should, and social media has absolutely contributed to that. Of course, when you are in high school, sometimes you care so much about what other people are doing that you barely remember to enjoy your own high school experience. I admit that I spend half my time on my phone looking at what other people are doing and freaking out about it, when I actually don't even care that much. I just feel like I need to know if everyone is doing something cooler or better than what I'm doing right at that moment, even if knowing that will make me feel even more miserable than I already do.

FOMO exists outside of social media as well, of course. I get nervous about not going to school because I feel like I'm going to miss out on something. FOMO isn't just a high school thing, either. Now, everyone has their own version of FOMO. But social media has made FOMO so present in our lives and it takes over almost every situation. I'm constantly refreshing and typing and chatting, and I've become reliant on my phone to the point of madness. Going away for the summer and having minimal phone access is the nic­est thing I get to do all year. When we are forced to be without our phones, it feels like a blessing. It's the best excuse to get away from social media. However, in normal hang-out situations, the thought of being away from my phone is terrifying.

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In the end, FOMO is unavoidable for some people. It's hard to not freak out when you feel like you have to be somewhere or see someone's post. But try tak­ing a detox once a month, even just for a day at a time. Eventually, social media detoxing will get easier. And you'll enjoy it more. And maybe one day you'll even be able to delete the app you feel so addicted to. As hard as it is, let yourself not care. Let yourself go through a week where you're not obsessively check­ing what everyone else is doing. Try letting yourself live in the moment. Taking that first step is hard, but with time the anxiety and need to refresh calm down. Whatever you do with your Friday night is enough. I promise the "fun" isn't nearly as fun as it looks.