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FOMO – that’s what some people use for “Fear of Missing Out,” that is, being so concerned about missing something important you are rarely actually present in the moment. For some, this means constant connection to social media. Who hasn’t seen people in a lovely setting – couples in a cozy restaurant, families at the beach or on vacation, parents at the park with their children – but they are really somewhere else because their attention is their phones. They are really fairly oblivious to what is going on right in front of their nose because they’re distracted by, and engaged with, something on their smart phone. In many cases they have FOMO, a fear of missing out on a group text, a post on Instagram or Facebook, or an interaction on an online game. There are so many options to grab their attention and they fear missing out.

FOMO can be a problem with social media, but it can also be a concern when it comes to our kids’ activities. There’s real pressure to put kids in sports at earlier and earlier ages. I recently heard a parent say she has some regret about not putting her children in basketball earlier because now they were “so far behind” skill-wise as 11-year-olds she didn’t know if they could catch up. It wasn’t that long ago that 10- and 11-year-olds were just beginning to learn skills related to soccer, basketball, volleyball and the like, but in the past 15-20 years, pressure to participate has pushed down to younger and younger children. It’s not uncommon now to see 4-year-olds enrolled in organized sports. I doubt that a majority of parents enjoy spending a significant portion of their Saturday morning standing on the sidelines of a soccer field, especially when their children are quite young. I would guess that many feel pressure from other parents and they “fear missing out” for their child’s sake. Kids start so young these days. What if their child is left out?

I’ve got nothing against organized sports, music lessons, gymnastics, karate, or any number of things we allow our children to try. The problem comes when families are so over-scheduled they rarely spend time sitting at the same table eating with and talking to each other. When this happens, most conversations take place in a car coming or going from an event if – and this is a big if – kids and parents are not distracted by radio, podcasts, videos in the back seat, and so on. Over time, kids tend to feel more disconnected from their parents and parents find it hard to engage their children.

What’s a concerned parent to do? Here are few things to consider:

  1. Allow children, especially from middle school up, to use social media, but supervise.
  2. Establish some “media free” times at home or in the car, e.g., during mealtimes and at times when you want to talk.
  3. Restrict access to social media, including texting, after a certain hour at night to help your child establish healthy boundaries and good sleep routines.
  4. Decide in advance of other “pressuring parents” how many activities in which your child will participate. What are the implications on your family life of more than one “activity” per child per season?
  5. Identify some goals you have for your child. There’s a big world out there. What do you want them to see? Who do you want them to spend time with? What do you want them to learn?

Social media and sporting activities have their place in childhood and adolescence, but there’s more to life than what occurs on a screen or athletic field.

About the author

Dr. Jennifer Baker is the Founder and Director of Good Dads. She is the wife of one, mother of two and grandmother of eight. She may be reached for question or comment at [email protected].

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