How Digital Distractions are Raising Anxiety Levels in Our Teens

Does Your Teenager have FOMO, FOBO, or Nomophobia?  Or How Digital Distractions are Raising Anxiety Levels in Our Teens

By Carew Papritz, award-winning author of the inspirational bestseller, The Legacy Letters


Do you realize that your teens might have FOMO, FOBO, or nomophobia?  Or that you, as a parent, might have given “this” to your children?  Welcome to the world of digital addiction and its new namesakes.

FOMO—Fear of Missing Out.  As in the fear of missing out on the latest social media post, or text, or e-mail.  FOBO—Fear of Being Offline. As in the fear of not having constant access to wi-fi or the internet.  Nomophobia—Fear of being out of cell phone contact.  Or as I like to call it, the FONB—“Fear of No Bars.” (As in no bars on your cell phone service . . .)  And that one word—Fear—makes us all anxious.

One of the paradoxes of this modern digital age is our celebrating how connected we are to each other, yet that connection produces more anxiety, especially in our digital natives—our teenagers.  And this especially affects our teens who are now trying to learn the intricate dance of adult communication but without all the necessary face-to-face clues that help them build real social skills.

On social media, if they see what their friends are doing—and they’re not doing it—this creates anxiety.  If they don’t know or see what their friends are doing—as in having access to the internet—they become anxious.  No wonder that some have called this a “digital leash,” yanking you this way and that way, having no clue that you’re permanently attached to this it.  And no clue how to take it off.

How many types and ways of digital media does your teen interact with?  jpeg’s, emojis, videos, animated emojis, digitals ads, mp4’s, VR (virtual reality), Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook,  and the list goes on.  That’s a lot of different ways to communicate a lot of different messages.

What social media is teaching our teens is how to build personas through media.  A persona is a larger- than-life version of who we really are.  Much like a movie star.  Our teens are not movie stars (as much as they sometimes think they might be).  Yet, what we really want is to help them build character, which is the exact opposite of persona.  Character is about what comes from within—your values, your ethics, your self-motivation, determination, and inspiration—which can only come from you.

But more importantly is how character is tested.  It’s the face-to-face reality, not the internet reality, which is the truest test of our ability to communicate.   Within the crucible of real social interaction is where character is truly tested, formed, and re-tested.  Because social skills are . . . social.  They involve interpreting and deciphering a constantly changing set of body, eye, and voice languages, which no text message can capture.  And then you actually have to communicate back.  (Parents, do you remember those lovely awkward days?)

It’s no wonder our teenagers are experiencing greater levels of anxiety with digital distractions. Not only are they trying to navigate the regular world of teenagedom  but are trying to do so by balancing two entirely different realities that have their own set of rules and expectations.  As if just being a normal teenager wasn’t difficult enough.  Nowadays, you have to be two different teenagers in one body, learning two different languages, one digital and one real.  And the real one is where you learn to be a real adult—not the movie star adult . . .

Let’s help our teenagers reduce their anxiety a bit.  Let’s give them a fighting chance, while they’re in this “adult-in-training” time period, to really learn how to communicate as adults.  Let’s give them some breathing room away from the demands of their digital world.  Let’s walk our talk as parents and show our teenagers how to turn down the digital anxiety by living and learning in the real world.

Here’s a few simple ideas to start with reducing digital anxiety in our teenagers—

E-Free Zones—Create places and times in your home that are what I call “e-free” zones.  No cell phones at the dinner table.  Or at breakfast.  Or after 10 p.m.  And everybody—including the adults—need to respect these zones.

Walk, Talk, and Wonder—Remember what it was like to take an after-dinner walk?  Try it with your family and your teens.  There is something magical about moving and being outdoors that help human beings reconnect with one another.  Oh, and yes, you have to leave the you-know-what’s behind (this is supposed to be an “e-free” walk . . .).

Sleep or Not to Sleep—That is Not the Question . . .  According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 87 percent of high school students are chronically sleep-deprived, which can have dramatic effect on a their lives—inability to concentrate and affecting their grades, impacting their mental wellbeing and increasing their risk of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, multiplying drowsy-driving incidents, and even causing greater rates of obesity and diabetes.

Teenagers are like babies all over again.  They need sleep because their bodies and minds are going through a hormone tsunami, as if they bodies are rebuilding anew.  Cell phones, computers, and TV’s in your teen’s room are the biggest culprits to this lack of sleep.  Give your teenagers a fighting chance to be anxiety-free for a stretch of time, at least with their sleep.

Playdates for Teenagers?  Yes, it’s come to this point.  Let’s call it pizza night.  Or movie night.  Or something which gets the kids together so that they’re actually being friends in the “real” world and not over the phone, with a computer, or in video game.   A little fun food bribery goes a long way.  Even better if you pass the cell phone hat when everyone comes into the door.  At first, they all might think you the weirdest parent in the world but when they’re all laughing and acting like real kids, you’ll know you’ve done the right thing.

A Family Digital Detox—Try taking a family vow to cut out all things digital for an afternoon, a day, or possibly longer. Maybe on a family outing, leave behind all the phones, except one for an emergency.  Making the decision as a family is very powerful.  It shows your teenager that your serious about trying to find a way to balance the digital life and the “real” life.