Should You Be Facebook Friends with Your Teen?

An Article by Dr. Roni Sandler Cohen-Sandler
These days, as more and more adults are finding their way on social media (some even before their young children or tweens), families are facing increasing dilemmas. If your kids are now on Facebook, you may well be grappling with the issue of whether to be Facebook friends with them, or its corollary, whether to accept friend requests from your teens’ pals. To gather more information about this subject, I consulted experts—that is, millennials in their twenties. After much discussion, I learned what might motivate parents—and sometimes teens—to be Facebook friends as well as a multitude of advantages, disadvantages, and complications of doing so. It behooves all adults to consider the issues extremely thoughtfully before either friending (i.e., asking to be Facebook friends with) or accepting friend requests from our own teens and, above all, their peers.

Your Kid Wants to Friend YOU?

Although this might surprise you, some teens and tweens who in real life shun conversation with their mothers and fathers actually do friend request their parents. These kids are not desperate to tally up more Facebook friends; one possibility is that they’re in the habit of friending everyone and haven’t specifically excluded their parents. Given how differently friendship is defined on Facebook, this might inspire you to have a discussion with your teen about what constitutes a friend and why it’s important to be discriminating about one’s friends online. While being Facebook friends isn’t the same as being real life friends, it isn’t nothing, either; online friends may have the opportunity to see your teens’ information, including who their friends are, and to write on their walls and send them posts that others might see.

If your teen sends you a friend request, it might also be because Facebook offers a vehicle for greater connection, perhaps more easily or comfortably than face-to-face communication. It’s the same reason why many families send texts or emails for things that are hard to say in person. Maybe your son just wants you to be aware of what music he’s listening to or your daughter is interested in showing you what her friends are writing on her wall. Of course, you don’t need to be Facebook friends with your kids to see this; you can simply ask them to log in to their accounts and show you what’s on the screen themselves. But by giving you the right to see whatever information is out there, it can be a way to get desired validation or earn your trust. Also, consider the possibility that your teen may also want to use the Book to monitor what you`re up to; the access granted on Facebook can be a two-way street.

Why You Want to Friend Your Kid

If being Facebook friends with your teen is your idea—perhaps even a requirement for your son or daughter to sign up for their own account—it’s wise to think carefully about your motivations. What are you hoping to accomplish? Here are some of parents’ most common goals:

• Keeping tabs on your teens’ connections
• Monitoring their social activities
• Being cool
• Showing how much you care about them
• Getting external validation from other Facebook users
• Joining the younger generation
• Learning more about the Book to better advise your teens how to use it responsibly

For divorced parents, Facebook can be a great way to remain an active part of kids’ lives by posting or viewing photos and videos on each other’s walls. Although many teens would be horrified, as they mature into young adulthood apparently the stigma of family pictures gradually fades and even takes on greater cache.

Potential Implications

• Increases trust. Facebook is a porthole through which you can view your teen’s social life, if they allow you. Especially during high school, when presumably teens are given a longer leash, you can allay some of your fears about their greater autonomy by learning more about what they’re doing. It’s also more compelling to see their social life in photos as opposed to merely hearing about it. When it comes to the adolescent social world, a picture may in fact be worth a thousand words (unless information is misconstrued—see below).

• Provides proof. If called upon, Facebook can provide evidence of kids’ whereabouts; the tags on their own and their friends’ photos are stamped with where they are, the name of the people they are socializing with, and the date and time when events took place. (Note: According to my experts, however, this is not foolproof, as tags may be faked by kids who know their parents will be checking.)

• Exposes lies. On the other hand, access to Facebook pages can backfire. When kids try to deceive you—say, by denying they attended a forbidden concert or house party, Facebook can just as easily expose their lies. Then you have to be prepared to deal with the fallout, which may include shattered trust and its effects on your relationship with your teen.

• Illuminates potential problems. Being Facebook friends with your teen gives you the chance to see suggestive or inappropriate posts and tags—and, therefore, to address them immediately. Chances are, if you believe something inappropriate or illegal was going on, other people will too. If your teen protests that photos are innocent, it’s important to point out that their teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents also can get the wrong impression. The burden of privacy should be on your teen; they must learn to limit certain people’s access to their Facebook (e.g., excluding them from seeing photos). You’re thereby teaching critical lessons that can save your teen from later embarrassment or worse when future employers Google them.

What About Friending Your Teens’ Friends?

Here is where issues get much thornier. In my view, the biggest concern is whether friending your kids’ friends intrudes upon natural boundaries and therefore interferes with their social development. As they separate and individuate from their families during adolescence, teens’ peer relationships become increasingly important. When you were a teen, you probably spent hours chatting with friends on the phone or hanging out in someone’s basement, where you carved out your own social world away from the prying eyes of adults. Facebook, with its goal of facilitating connections, makes it harder to maintain boundaries between adults and teens (and also between adults’ personal and business worlds, but that is another story). Consider these issues before accepting friend requests from your teens’ peers:

• Are you really friends? On Facebook, the term friend is used to describe all contacts. But ask yourself if you are friends with your child`s friend in real life. Chances are, the answer is no. If you wouldn’t phone or text your teen’s buddy, being Facebook friends might violate that same boundary. Reading what your children’s friends post to their walls is not all that different from your parents picking up the home telephone when you were a teen and joining your conversations with your friends.

• Awkwardness—or worse—can ensue. When Facebook friends cross generational and/or gender lines, lines of propriety may become blurred. For example, a father becoming Facebook friends with his teen daughter’s best girlfriend could well be seen as inappropriate, make people uncomfortable, or cause teens to declare, “That’s just weird” or “Creepy!” Plus, what if your teen has a falling out with the friend? Are you obligated to unfriend her? And if you do, what meaning would that have? You could also create an awkward situation for your teens if you friend request one of their friends who is unsure about accepting, doesn’t want to accept, or even feels obligated to accept. That teen could become uncomfortable about coming over to your house—either while your friend request is dangling or after making a decision about it.

• Everybody knows. Whatever you do on Facebook, realize that everyone knows. Unless you change the default setting, all Facebook users can see who your friends are. Imagine how you would feel if everyone could see the entire Contacts folder on your computer or cell phone.

• What to do with info? When you’re Facebook friends with your kids’ friends, you may see something on one of their pages that concerns or even alarms you. You’re then in the position of struggling with what to do about it. Is this something you should tell the child’s parents? Do you keep quiet? How will this affect your relationship with your own teen? Knowledge you gain unwittingly on Facebook can become an unwelcome burden.

• If in doubt… While some parents automatically accept friend requests for fear of hurting teens’ feelings, first consider the implications. If in doubt, discuss your dilemma with your teens. They may have wise advice. You can turn down friend requests from your teens’ peers politely simply by saying you have a policy against it, but look forward to talking to them whenever they visit your home.

Consider This

As you’re weighing the pros and cons of Facebook friending your teen, there are several other important considerations. You may jeopardize your relationship—and for good reason. For teens Facebook feels private because they can choose whom they friend and don’t friend as well as whose access to their posts and photos they limit. This gives them a much desired sense of control. Parents becoming Facebook friends with them is an intrusion into their social world. Think about how you behave while chauffeuring a carload of teens. As you drive, you probably remain quiet because you respect their right to have a conversation amongst themselves. Plus, you know that butting in would put a screeching halt to your chance of learning anything.

The same courtesy and common sense could well be applied to Facebook. Asking to see your son’s profile or inviting your daughter to show you wherever she’s tagged in her friends’ photos are much like politely knocking on their bedroom doors before entering—whether or not their friends are over. (Note: An exception might be requiring teen to show you their allegedly inappropriate photos on Facebook that another parent alerted you to…)

In addition, because the parental generation is usually less savvy than our teens about social media, we should proceed cautiously to avoid making grave mistakes. Facebook makes it all too easy for us to embarrass ourselves; constantly changing rules and privacy settings are notoriously difficult to keep up with, even for the most avid users. Unless you’re a Facebook expert, you may not realize you’re making decisions that place you at risk for potentially awkward—and often irreparable—errors. Since one of the main roles of parenting is teaching kids to use technology responsibly, you’ll definitely want to avoid this unfortunate possibility.

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So recognize what you do and don’t know about Facebook. Your teens are probably more knowledgeable about some things, such as knowing how to create separate classes of friends with different privacy settings, how to untag photos, and how to turn on the setting that allows photos to be tagged only after they are reviewed and approved. You might ask them to teach you these valuable skills. But you know things, too, which enable you to be helpful to your teens. For example, you know it’s important for kids to think carefully about whom they friend—and, just as important, whose friend requests they shouldn’t accept. You know to question whether, if they do accept certain people’s friend requests, they should adjust their settings to limit access to their pages (e.g., “Your teachers? Tutors? Future employers? Grandma?”). You know how to help kids evaluate which posts or pictures could be misconstrued or damaging. In the end, partnering with your teens to use Facebook sensibly may be wiser than being Facebook friends with them.

 

Why School is Exhausting (It’s not Just Academics!)

By Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, clinical psychologist
When middle school or high school students are tired, it’s easy for parents to think of sleep deprivation and the pressure of so many academic demands. After all, kids often stay up late to do their homework, and are then expected to get to school on time the next day, show up for class prepared, listen carefully in class, take good notes, stay organized, track their assignments, remember meetings with teachers, and do well on tests and quizzes—not to mention, participating in clubs, band, and sports—every single school day. That would wear out anyone.

What’s Really Tiring

But what I hear from teens and tweens is that it’s not so much their work load or pressures to get good grades that are exhausting them, but rather the social and emotional challenges of being in school. This week, in fact, every young person in my practice talked about this:

• Kendra, a fifth grader, was upset and confused because girls are playing with her at recess one day, and then shunning her the next day.

• James, a high school junior, told me, “I sit at different lunch tables. I don’t really have a group. I’m the funny kid. Except what happens when I’m not in the mood to make jokes?”

• George, a bright, studious sixth grader new to middle school, admitted, “I try to ignore the bullies, but sometimes my teacher puts me in work groups with them.”

• Jan, a freshman, talked about worrying constantly about her closest friend, who’s been either picking at her food or skipping lunch altogether, yet angrily denies she’s getting too thin.

• Keira, a sophomore who gets along well with her peers but struggles to live up to the high standards she sets for herself, summed it up when she said, “It’s hard to love high school.”

If your children aren’t telling you these sorts of things, you’re not alone. Teens and tweens rarely offer parents details of their day—who said what, how they reacted, and how they really feel as they walk the hallways of school, enter classrooms, and try to find seats at lunch tables. Most also keep their innermost feelings and vulnerabilities from teachers and school administrators, who see only the outward personas teens project. But without this information, you may not realize how powerfully kids are affected by everyday, seemingly mundane situations and interactions with classmates. Here is an inside look into what may be draining your kids’ energy and emotional resources.

“Everyone’s Looking at Me!”

Social anxiety is endemic to this age group. With peer relationships becoming increasingly important, most kids desperately want to feel accepted and included. As they develop a sense of who they are, they’re on the alert for their peers’ approval and affirmation. Many kids truly believe that “everyone” is constantly looking at them and scrutinizing them throughout their day. That is why many students become exquisitely self-conscious, monitoring how adults and classmates respond to everything they say, do, and wear. Instead of being present in the moment, teens maintain vigilance over all their interactions, much like a spectator (or harshest critic). This added work only further drains whatever energy they have.

Wayne, an eighth grader who finds schoolwork challenging, worries about whether his teacher will call on him and potentially expose the learning issues and flaws he struggles to hide from his classmates. Jessica, a sixth grader, says, “I zone out in class because I think, ‘What are my friends going to think if I say that?'” Chelsea, a seventh grader, is too upset to eat lunch in school because “I heard one group talking about me, that my outfit was so ugly. So now I feel a little nervous when I walk in school. I usually look down. I walk in the middle of a group of girls.” Gil, an eighth grader, told me recently that he dreads every gym class because “everybody knows” he’s not a good athlete…

“I Don’t Know What to Do!”

For all their focus on peers, teens and tweens all too often encounter social situations they don’t know how to handle—yet are reluctant to talk about. These social dilemmas preoccupy them, siphoning their attention and consuming their energy. Brenda, for example, a 6th grader, expresses a common problem when she says, “When my friends ask, ‘What grade did you get on that?’ I don’t want to tell them, but I don’t know what else to do. I don’t want them to get mad.” Another quandary that follows many teens even through high school is whether to help friends cheat. Allen, a junior, says, “I never know what to do when some kid asks to copy my homework. I want to say no, but if it’s my friend I feel like I should help them.”

Stickier situations arise, as well. Valerie, a junior, finds it stressful to deal with an ex-best friend who is in many of her classes. “She’s always finding subtle ways to be competitive with me, saying stuff that other people might not pick up on, but I know what she means. I wish I didn’t have to see her; it makes every day hard.” Diana, a sophomore, told me, “Just before my chem test this week, my friend Olivia came up to me and asked me if it was okay if she dated my ex-boyfriend. Whoa! I really needed time to wrap my head around that one. I know we’ve been over for awhile, but I had a lot of feelings…”

“I’m Trying to Keep it Together!”

Many teens and tweens use up energy during the school day trying to keep their feelings and behavior in check. With the hormonal surges of adolescence, many of them are already moody. But they can become flooded by intense, mercurial feelings triggered by events as typical as disappointing grades, reprimands from teachers, upsetting encounters with classmates, or the opposite, not feeling the sense of connection they desire. Other kids struggle to rein in urges to be nasty or aggressive, especially when peers make comments designed to provoke them. It is even harder for kids who have to manage anxiety, depression, impulsivity, or volatility with the strict guidelines and punishments for infractions of many schools.

Unbeknownst to their parents, kids come up with various tactics to help them get through the school day. Since freshman year, Charlotte has been seeking refuge with her guidance counselor whenever she feels overwhelmed. Andrea, a sophomore, regularly flees to the school nurse’s office for a nap “when I can’t take it anymore and feel like I’m going to lose it.” Adam, a senior, has a favorite stairwell he goes to, where he knows he won’t run into anyone he doesn’t want to see.

For those who simply can’t face whatever awaits them in school, staying home is the best option. What is not immediately obvious is that many of the headaches and stomach pains that lead to absences are manifestations of emotional exhaustion. Some kids may not even be aware of the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and symptoms. Nevertheless, watching videos or going online in the sanctity of their bedrooms can be a compelling, sometimes addictive, act of self-protection.

What Can Parents Do?

Even if your kids do divulge these sorts of things, it’s unlikely they’re looking for you to provide solutions. In fact, they’ll probably chafe if you even try to offer quick fixes. It may be enough to realize that they’re legitimately exhausted by these behind-the-scenes experiences. Maybe you’ll understand why they don’t energetically start their homework right after school. Here are some other suggestions:

• Honor their need for down time. When they seem to be staring off into space or doing nothing after school, now you have a better idea of what they may be thinking about. So you might pause before automatically urging them to stop wasting time.

• Understand their need to process their daily experiences. You might better appreciate why kids bristle or answer in monosyllables when you ask, “How was your day?” or “What happened at school?” That’s exactly what they’re going to their rooms to ponder.

• Ask gentle, open-ended questions to invite discussion. Then wait patiently for them to respond. If they don’t, back off. When they sense you’re open to these issues and won’t judge them, they’ll be more likely to elaborate.

• Acknowledge their feelings. Reflect on the emotions kids seem to be feeling and empathize with them, even if it’s hard for you to completely understand them.

• Be a sounding board. When kids do divulge these sorts of personal reactions, be an especially good listener. Guide them to consider different perspectives, without expecting to solve their problems.

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Except in cases of bullying or harassment (which require your intervention), there may not be much you can do to address the social situations that are depleting your child’s inner resources. But by being more aware of what is going on, you might listen to your teens and tweens differently, perhaps more alert to signs of emotional exhaustion and hints about what may be causing it. All your teen may need from you is to feel understood. This is a powerful catalyst for learning about themselves, coping better with difficulties, and learning lessons that will guide them throughout their lives.

“Ask the Teachers”

 

Here’s an interesting article from Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler, a local clinical psychologist and parenting expert, on the value of gathering information from teachers prior to the conclusion of the school year

Ask the Teachers

Now that school is winding down, many parents are assessing how successful this year has been–for example, how well their kids performed, what went smoothly, and what they hope will be better next year. When kids have struggled academically, socially, or behaviorally, mothers and fathers often have nagging questions: Should they be concerned, or are they just expecting too much? Do students have the skills they need for the next grade? Should kids work on improving their weaknesses during the summer? As you know, by the time students are in middle school and, especially, in high school, it is harder for parents to know what is really going on and to get answers to these sorts of questions.

If you have found yourself in this situation, you know that without definitive information you’re left to do a lot of speculating: “Maybe it was all the absences from the flu…,” “She just didn’t get along with her teachers this year,” “Not making varsity basketball killed his confidence…” In desperation, you may also turn to friends or relatives you think will be knowledgeable, only to become more confused by conflicting or unwise advice. In the past, maybe you decided to just wait and see how things went the following school year.

But I’m proposing an alternative. Before school empties for the summer, why not take advantage of an invaluable resource: The teachers and guidance counselors who have gotten to know your teen or tween best during the past school year? When I observe students in school or attend school meetings, I am continually impressed by teachers’ insights. By reaching out, you might tap into a wealth of information that can either reassure you or guide you in how best to help your child.

Why Ask Educators

In my experience, teachers and guidance counselors are the exact right people to whom you should turn with your questions and concerns because they are:

Objective. A close family friend, aunt, or grandparent is hardly able to offer an objective view. Chances are, they will jump at the chance to champion your teen and assure you that you’re worried for nothing (“she’ll outgrow it,” “many teens go through this,” “my own son was like that, and look how he turned out”). The problem with these comforting words is that they may be based solely on the fact that these people adore your child–and you–and therefore desperately hope that everything is okay. Teachers, on the other hand, can offer neutral, matter-of-fact answers to your questions.

Knowledgeable. Because teachers have spent part of every single school day with your teens, they have had ample opportunity to get to know them. Just because high school and middle school teachers spend less time with students compared to their elementary school counterparts, you should not discount their insights. Just recently, a high school sophomore told me that her teacher asked her why she suddenly started sitting in the back of the classroom and stopped participating. When Jasmine confessed that three girls were publicly humiliating and systematically ostracizing her from her social group, her teacher not only initiated an intervention with the teens, but also added lessons on bullying and bystanders to her curriculum.

Able to observe progress over time. Because they’ve seen your kids for a period of ten months or more, teachers are in the best position to say whether they improved over the year, held their own, or are demonstrating an ever-widening gap between their skills and those of their classmates. Teachers can describe your tween’s struggle to keep up with the pace of work or the content of the curriculum. They can suggest what your student can work on over the summer. Educators can also recommend placements for the upcoming year.

Able to offer broad perspectives. As you think about whether your teen’s issues are typical, you probably compare only to siblings, cousins, or family friends. Teachers, on the other hand, work with dozens of students every year of similar ages and educational backgrounds. Now multiply this number by the number of years they’ve been teaching and their reference group expands to the hundreds or thousands.

Educators also can see the bigger picture: how your child fits into the context of her entire class and the overall grade. Recently, a guidance counselor assured the anxious mother of a late blooming eighth grade boy that he would do fine in high school because he was not alone; there were many boys like James in this particular class. Knowing whether the school perceives your student’s struggles as typical or unusual can be the first step in figuring out whether there is an issue to be addressed and, if so, what you might do about it. If summer tutoring is needed, teachers may be available themselves or make referrals to their colleagues.

What to Ask

The most common questions parents have are about their kids’ academic progress. Report cards give some information about mastery of subjects, but they rarely tell the whole story. Did your child perform differently on the various components that made up her grade, such as tests and quizzes, homework completion, projects, and class participation? How were his work habits, level of organization, and preparedness for class?

Teachers can give you insight into your child’s behavior in the classroom, as well. What have they observed this year? Does your tween seem to know when he needs help? Can she ask questions and seek additional help appropriately? Does your teen respond well to criticism? How do kids work within groups and use unstructured time? It might give you additional clues if you learn that your child’s teachers see him as similarly as an engaged and conscientious learner–or if she blurts out answers impulsively in, say, Spanish but not in her other core subjects.

If you have concerns about how your teen is doing socially and emotionally, don’t hesitate to ask what she’s like at school. Many parents wonder whether their kids seem generally happy and comfortable with their friends at the lunch table. They would give anything to be the proverbial fly on the wall to see if the monosyllabic teen who lives in their home actually has fun and laughs in school. This is your chance to find out. Teachers can essentially be your eyes. Does your son sit only with his teammates in the cafeteria, or does he branch out? Is your daughter still walking with her head down in the hallway?

What you learn may be unexpectedly illuminating. For example, it was only when Marni’s mother found out from her guidance counselor that she often asked to go to the nurse during math, but not in other classes, that she became aware of an escalating conflict between her daughter and this particular teacher.

How to Get Information

Once kids are in middle school, they usually have teams of teachers. So it’s harder for parents to know who to ask. Most often, it is best to direct questions through your teen’s guidance counselor, who can email her team of teachers to gather information. Or, you can contact one or two teachers directly if circumstances warrant–for example, if your student has had difficulty in that subject, formed a strong relationship with the teacher or, conversely complained about anything throughout the year.

Because teachers are extremely busy, perhaps send an initial email and find out whether they prefer to email you back or to schedule a brief phone conversation. Make sure to convey to any teachers you contact that you welcome their honest feedback and will be open to their suggestions. Otherwise, I find that many educators are reluctant to speak candidly with parents; they are understandably hesitant about how their concerns will be received.

To get unbiased information, ask clear, open-ended questions. For example, how does the teacher describe your son’s strengths and weaknesses? Should any skill deficits be addressed over the summer or next year? If you want to know if your child has been affected by a stressful life event, ask his teachers if they have seen a change within a certain time frame. For example, to learn whether her daughter’s trial of new medication had been effective, the mother of a 7th grader asked the guidance counselor to survey her team of teachers to ask about her behavior during the previous two weeks.

Because the end of the school year is extremely busy for educators, be extra respectful of their time. Don’t wait until they are headed off for summer vacation to approach them, and make it easy for teachers or guidance counselors to respond to your questions. Of course, it is always thoughtful to express your appreciation not only for the teachers’ input about your teen or tween, but also for their efforts throughout the year.

Original article

About Roni Cohen-SandlerDr. Roni Cohen-Sandler is a clinical psychologist specializing in parenting; the issues of women and adolescent girls, mother-daughter relationships; and neuropsychological assessments (e.g., for learning difficulties, attention disorders, etc.). Described as an energizing, humorous, and inspiring speaker, she presents lectures and workshops to public and private schools, community organizations, hospitals, corporations, and universities. She is the author of three books, including the national best-seller I’m Not Mad, I Just Hate You! , Trust Me, Mom–Everyone Else is Going! and her most recent, Stressed-Out Girls: Helping Them Thrive in the Age of Pressure.Dr. Cohen-Sandler is a frequent expert for national media, appearing on The Today Show, Good Morning America, NPR, and Oprah. She has been quoted in publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Marie Claire, Better Homes and Gardens, Seventeen, Parenting, Teen People, Family Circle, Teen Vogue, Redbook, Working Mother, and Glamour.

“Coping with Disappointment”

by Dr. Roni Cohen-Sandler
Local clinical psychologist, author and speaker

 

Although dealing with disappointment is an important and inescapable part of childhood, one of the hardest things for parents is seeing kids fall short of their goals. Not only does it hurt us to see them feeling sad, disappointed, or rejected, but also it’s challenging to know how to help them. Yet our response, and the lessons it teaches our children, is vital to their development. Typically, life gives us plenty of opportunities–for example, dealing with a 11-year-old who doesn’t make a premier sports team, a 14-year-old who gets turned down by a competitive orchestra, a 16-year-old who isn’t elected to student government, or a 13-year-old who doesn’t get a leading role in the school play. In my view, how we respond powerfully shapes the way our teens and tweens process these experiences, feel about themselves, and make future decisions.

During the past weeks, when many high school seniors heard back from colleges, I was reminded many times of our key parental roles. Of course, it is far easier to respond helpfully when our teens are accepted to their dream schools. But this year many students and their parents were shocked by rejections from colleges they considered “safeties” rather than “matches.” In many cases, the news sent families reeling.

Mothers and fathers reported feeling “awful” or sick,” “unable to sleep,” and withdrawing from people to avoid having to talk about college. These initial reactions to disappointment are perfectly normal and understandable. By acknowledging our feelings, we are modeling for our kids that it is okay to be upset and distressed when they don’t get what they want–whether it’s a romantic partner, internship, or graduate school slot. And then we all have to move on.

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