Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Teen 'like' and 'FOMO' anxiety

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
  • The quest for likes and the fear of missing out can cause social media anxiety among teens
  • At a recent workshop, teens realized how social media can affect them emotionally
  • Study: The more people checked Facebook, the worse they felt about their lives
  • Conversations about social media need to start when kids are young, says expert

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns on digital life and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Ask any teen whether he or she suffers from social media anxiety, and the answer will probably be no.

That's what happened when six teens and adolescents -- five from New York and one from Los Angeles -- got together recently for a unique weeklong workshop at the offices of, a leading women's lifestyle media platform.

The teens didn't think that Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, their go-to social networks, added much extra anxiety to their lives. But then the conversation turned to the importance of likes and the fear of missing out, also known by the acronym FOMO.

Teen likes: The '100 club'
Generation stressed: teens boiling over
Top 5 parenting mistakes

Sadie, a 10th-grader in Brooklyn, New York, said she'd never heard the acronym before but is definitely familiar with the feeling.

"You see on, I guess you could say, Facebook or even Snapchat ... you see your friends hanging out with other people, and you're like 'Oh, I'm alone right now,'" she said. "And even if there's no way you could get to them even if you wanted to, it still just makes you feel bad or lonely or sad."

The upside of selfies: Social media not all bad for kids

Olivia, 12, said she sometimes feels that way, too. "If there's an event that maybe I'm not at or my friends are hanging out with each other ... sometimes I kind of feel, I guess, kind of left out."

The quest for the '100 club'

The teens and tweens also agreed there is a constant -- and at times anxiety-inducing -- fixation with likes.

"People will be like, 'Oh, are you in the 100 club?' " Sadie said of getting 100 or more likes for a post.

The 15-year-old told the story of a friend who changed her profile picture and didn't get the 200 likes she normally gets on the first night whenever she makes such a change.

"She was freaking out," she said.

The more likes, the greater the social standing you appear to have, the girls said.

"People feel that when they get a lot of likes. It means that they're pretty and popular, and that makes them feel better," Sadie said.

Why doing it 'like a girl' is great
Are you better off being a nerd?
Talking to your kids about race

Schools step up social media monitoring of students

Said Olivia: "I really do notice that a lot of people who get tons of likes and have tons of followers on Instagram and Facebook do tend to think that they are really popular and that everyone knows who they are, when ... all their followers haven't even met them before."

Likes translate into validation and attention, said Diana Graber, co-founder of, a digital literacy site for parents, educators, and tweens and teens. Graber also teaches "cybercivics" to middle schoolers in Aliso Viejo, California.

When she overhears conversations of students, she says, she very often hears things like, "Check this out; I have this many likes."

"It's almost like a little competition for the number of likes," Graber said. "I think that's anxiety-ridden, because you get likes based on how many friends you have, and you have to keep posting things to get more friends and it's like a vicious circle."

Graber says this phenomenon was illustrated by a recent assignment in her classroom. She asked her students to try to go 24 hours without social media during one of three weekends.

Middle school transition tough for teens and parents

Of the 28 students, only one was able to do it. The teens couldn't stand not knowing what their friends were doing, Graber said.

"It was very hard. I kept getting tempted by my phone and my friends," wrote one student, who said he could last only five hours in his social-media-free zone.

Research: Social media can make you feel sad

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace covered a unique workshop where teens and tweens learned about social media anxiety.
CNN's Kelly Wallace covered a unique workshop where teens and tweens learned about social media anxiety.

Studies show that social media can actually make you feel bad about yourself. According to a study last year by the University of Michigan, the more people checked Facebook, the worse they felt about their lives.

Another study, this one by German researchers, found that a third of people felt worse after spending time on Facebook, especially if they spent time viewing vacation photographs.

Helping students realize the impact of social media on them was a big goal of the summer workshop held by That workshop also served as a pilot for a program called Hatch, which was just launched by the company.

As part of the new effort, kids ages 9 to 16 create videos for adults, said Samantha Skey,'s chief revenue officer. The informal tag line for the program is "content for grown-ups made by kids on a mission," she said.

What counts as a real name on Facebook

"It's content by kids, but it's really meant to address topics of interest to their parents in many cases," she said. "The mission component is focused on teaching them digital literacy and citizenship while also allowing them to play with digital storytelling."

Reese, an 11th-grader in Los Angeles who participated in the Hatch pilot program, said she didn't really give much thought to the notion that digital media can impact people emotionally until there was a discussion about its psychological effect.

"And I found out that I am kind of neurotic about some things," she said. "For example, when I text someone and I think that I might have made them upset because they didn't reply right away, I automatically assume that they got mad at me."

To prevent that from happening, she admits closing nearly all texts with a smiley, exclamation point or LOL.

Sadie, who also participated in the Hatch pilot, says she now looks at Snapchat and Facebook a bit differently.

"I know (they) can also have a negative psychological effect that I feel like didn't occur to me as much," she said.

Starting conversations early

The takeaway from the workshop, said Skey, was that there is a "huge opportunity" to talk with teens about social media. "A lot of them say that educators are not talking to them about media and social media unless they're telling them not to do something."

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

Talking about social media early and often is key, says Graber, who did a demonstration this month for principals and other educators from across the state of California on how she teaches digital literacy and citizenship to teens.

How to cut your child's cell phone addiction

"I always say to parents: It's not one conversation. It's a thousand small conversations, and it is really starting young," she said. Take an interest in what your children are doing online and have them show you why they like it, she said.

"And then you are in the circle," she added. "It's pretty easy to get there but you have to start when they are young."

Graber, who starts teaching students in the sixth grade, said it often takes her students until the eighth grade to figure out all the social media angst "ain't worth it."

"It's a huge trajectory to get there ... when they start saying, 'Gosh that's a waste of my time.' "

Do you get anxious if you don't get a certain number of likes on social media posts? Tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

Part of complete coverage on
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
updated 12:49 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
While most parents think about having a 'sex talk' with their children, not as many think about talking about technology, and that is a big mistake, experts say.
updated 8:53 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Parents are too ambivalent about their kids' "privacy" online, writes Dr. Jodi Gold--they're either spying fruitlessly or afraid to shape their child's online footprint.
updated 8:55 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Is there an unspoken rule in Hollywood that celebrity parents can only pick unusual names for their kids?
updated 5:50 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The premise is simple: You can eat one marshmallow now or, if you can wait, you get to eat two marshmallows later.
updated 7:43 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
While most children wait and hope Santa visits them at home on Christmas Eve, this year dozens of Denver-area children went directly to the big man's arctic home turf.
updated 5:25 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Almost 300 students who had been rejected by Johns Hopkins University received a joyous shock over the weekend when the prestigious Baltimore school said they'd been admitted after all -- but they hadn't.
updated 5:09 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
There is no way around the topic of nakedness in front of your children without getting personal and slightly uncomfortable.
updated 6:55 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Teens might be shedding their rebellious reputations: A survey says they're doing fewer drugs, drinking and smoking less. But E-cigarette use is up.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Carol Costello asks whether American culture sends a message to girls that it's not cool to study math and science fields.
updated 12:44 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
It's that special time of year, when Christmas and Hanukkah toy sellers try to put children in a box.
updated 7:59 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Foodies and travelers: They're adventurous, they have discerning tastes and they love to discover a little-known jewel. Here's how to shop for them.
CNN iReport asked families with children with developmental and physical disabilities to share what their lives are like.
updated 7:00 AM EST, Mon December 8, 2014
Don't know what to get parents who are always on the move or kids who seem to have everything? This is just the list for you.
updated 11:45 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
You probably know LOL and OMG -- but what about IWSN, CU46 or IPN. It's all about KPC -- "keeping parents clueless."
updated 9:17 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Out of control parties, sex and alcohol are some of the dangers kids might get into when left alone overnight. But some are mature enough to handle it. How do you know?
updated 11:58 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Across the country and around the world, synthetic drugs are tearing holes in families.
updated 11:42 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
There's no place like home for the holidays -- and for one little girl in Cleveland, it's the only place.
Girl Scout cookie sales are entering the 21st century. For the first time ever, Girl Scout cookies will be sold online through a national platform called Digital Cookie. This breaks the organization's ban on e-sales of Thin Mints and Samoas.
updated 9:19 AM EST, Mon December 1, 2014
Author/actor B.J. Novak
B.J. Novak is catering to kids. His first children's book tops the New York Times list of best selling children's picture books. But here's the catch: it actually doesn't have any pictures.
updated 7:20 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Hundreds of students walked out of their Oklahoma high school Monday to protest the school's response to the alleged bullying of three classmates who say they were raped by the same person.
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.