Social media FOMO: students struggling to disconnect

Thursday, 29 June, 2023

Social media FOMO: students struggling to disconnect

A fear of missing out (FOMO) means young people are finding themselves unable to disconnect from social media, new research shows.

The research, conducted by the headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, found that half of young people surveyed wanted to disconnect from social media, but close to one-third of them were feeling pressured to keep up with everything from politics to gossip on social media.

The headspace National Youth Mental Health Survey surveyed 3107 young people and almost half (44%) of respondents agreed that the content they see is more negative than positive.

Despite this, one-third (35%) of young people felt an urge to use social media more and more, despite them knowing its negative impacts.

Ultimately, one in three (33%) young people who took part in the survey were found to experience problematic social media use1.

“We know young people can have really positive experiences using these platforms,” said Jason Trethowan, headspace CEO.

“Social media can be used to connect with others, as a creative outlet, to learn new things and to pursue interests. Overall, 41% of young people we surveyed said the information they can find on social media is empowering, and two in five reported social media is also a good place to meet new friends.”

Social media has also given young people the opportunity to find their voice; almost half (44%) of young people agreed it is easier to express their opinions online than in person.

“However, the amount of content and the kind of content on social media can be very overwhelming,” Trethowan said.

“The more time young people spend on social media, the less time they have for other important parts of life, like being active, getting into life, sleeping and eating well. It’s also the reasons they’re choosing to use social media that need to be addressed.

“Young people thinking of logging off might experience a fear of missing out on news, popular culture or conversations with friends. They may also worry about how going offline could impact their status or influence. It’s similar to the feeling young people might experience if they missed out on a party or social event.

“Social media can also lead us to make unhelpful comparisons between our life and the lives of others, whether they be friends, celebrities or social media influencers.

“The research shows us young people are aware of how social media can impact their mental health now and into the future, with 55% of survey participants agreeing the content they post today will impact their job prospects and relationships going forward. They are telling us that they are aware of the risks and they want to switch off.

“But that’s easier said than done when most platforms are designed to keep us scrolling.

“That’s why the responsibility to foster healthy social media habits can’t rest solely on the shoulders of young people or their families. It is important that social media companies and governments put in place the mechanisms needed to ensure users can have a safe and healthy experience.”

The National Youth Mental Health Survey also found a majority (55%) of young people who were surveyed believed not enough was being done in terms of regulation and laws surrounding social media.

Young people aged 12–25, as well as their family and friends, can visit headspace for support. Help is also available via the phone and online counselling service, eheadspace, seven days a week between 9 am and 1 am (AEST). The number is 1800 650 890.

Lifeline (13 11 14) and Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) are available to talk 24/7 for those who need to speak to someone immediately.

1. Measured using The Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale — a six-item scale that assesses degree of problematic social media use.

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