One Thursday night, at a Chinese restaurant on Route 109, a handful of Westwood High School students sat around a table as they got to know each other for the first time. Lying in front of them is a Pupu Platter and an order of Crab Rangoons, but not a single cell phone.
“It was just really fun, you know?” said Brooke Dainis, a WHS senior and founder of Social Media Affecting Real Teens (SMART) Club. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Since this initial meeting, SMART Club has met every other Thursday, and it will continue to meet on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month.
“The whole goal of our club is to focus on social media use and the effect that it has on people,” Dainis said, “The club isn’t only just talking about that, it’s practicing it. We go out and have little outings where we all put our phones away — it’s not a rule, but when you go with that intent of not looking at your phone, it kind of makes you realize how a lot of the time you’re just not present.”
With the advent of social media services like Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, people are more connected than ever. While this has its advantages socially, studies have proven that it can also be detrimental to one’s mental health — particularly that of high school-aged media consumers. In this day and age — Dainis believes — teens need as much support as they can get.
The main problem that tends to occur is commonly referred to as FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out. TIME Magazine reported that nearly three fourths of young adults experience FOMO. The problem is simple: by viewing social media so frequently, one is constantly comparing herself, her life, or her accomplishments, to those of others online. The truth, though, is that social media provides a distorted image of reality: a world where everyone is having a blast all the time. Many feel inadequate about themselves or grow anxious about, well, missing out on some event that they’re not a part of. Sometimes, this can come to the point where one is constantly checking social media, detaching themselves socially in face-to-face contact.
In SMART Club, Dainis strives to help others break down the walls that social media builds. “We talk about how when you open your phone, you’re bombarded with Facebook, Instagram, all that,” she said. “You know, I like those apps. Everyone likes those apps. It’s not about not using them, it’s about realizing that there’s reality, and then there’s what people show online. It’s about seeing how that’s different, and being aware of it. So it doesn’t get to you as much.”
“[Social media] is a very powerful tool,” said Michelle Hebner, a WHS Wellness teacher and the adult advisor to SMART Club. “I don’t want people to think the club is about social media being bad, or that we’re asking for people not to use it, because that’s not the case. It’s knowing how to use it.”
The club usually sees three or four members a week, but has seen as many as six at a time. Even if those numbers seem small, the impact the club has had on a few individuals has been monumental. Brooke spoke about two members of the club — a freshman and a sophomore — who have shown up enthusiastic to every meeting.
“If one person can be so interested in it, then that’s all you want,” Dainis explained. “Especially because they’re so young. I feel that when you’re first coming into high school, everything feels like it’s changing. You’re more vulnerable to body issues and issues with self-esteem. If I can be there and they can come talk about it, I feel like that’s enough. When I was their age, I wished someone had talked to me about it.”
“It parallels at every age,” Hebner added. “But I think it’s more intense at the high school age because peer groups are so important, and people are still trying to find themselves. I think that’s where people are supposed to be developmentally in high school, and I think that [social media] can intensify situations.”
While SMART Club has had a profound effect on the lives of a few WHS students, it’s still in its first stages of operation. Seeing as the club is very new to the community, the next step for Dainis and SMART Club is to promote their message to a wider audience. To help accomplish this, she hung around the school a number of small, white posters, nearly blank with the exception of a meme image and the phrase “Conquer your FOMO, learn to JOMO.” Left vague and mysterious to grab the attention of students, the posters have done just that.
“Now we have to go through and try to associate the club with those posters,” Dainis said. A new wave of posters has been designed by the club and will be rolling out in the coming days.
For those looking to decipher the posters’ cryptic vocabulary, Dainis explained the two acronyms. She said, “A part of JOMO is learning how to… I don’t want to say learning how to be alone, but knowing that you don’t have to be everywhere all the time. That you can sit at home and that it doesn’t make you lazy, it doesn’t make you not fun, it doesn’t make you not popular. It’s okay to turn off your phone. It’s okay to not go out for a night. And I think that just practicing that, that’s kind of the joy of missing out. If [FOMO] happens to you, it’s being okay with that. It’s unplugging, a little bit.”
While this is sound advice, the best way for a WHS student to gain an understanding of JOMO and truly conquer FOMO is to sign up for SMART Club. Who knows — maybe, away from your phone, you’ll find joy in reality. As TIME Magazine puts it, the only thing you’re missing out on when you check social media: the joys of your own life.