Resource for Parenting

Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, best friends and co-founders of Your Teen Media, are bringing their magazine to life. From interviews with the experts and authors to discussions of trending topics and personal stories, Your Teen with Sue and Steph is an essential guide to raising teens today.

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Life Skills Your Teen Should Know Before Graduation

How do parents ensure that their college-bound kids have the launch skills they need to thrive on campus... and what are parents unconsciously doing to prevent these skills from taking shape? This week, author of How To Raise an Adult and former Dean of Students at Stanford University Julie Lythcott-Haims gives it to Sue and Steph straight up.

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Steph: Today’s episode is sponsored by College Board because your child’s road to college is full of twists and turns and College Board can guide you along the way. Visit them at sat.org/yourteen. You’ll be glad you did.

Steph: Welcome to your teen with Steph and Sue. I’m Stephanie Silverman.

Sue: And I’m Sue Borison.

Steph: And we were just musing about not being able to use the remote controls to any devices at home. So I’m going to just throw myself right under the bus. I honestly have no idea how to put the TV on. Well I take that back. I can put the TV on. From there it’s a complete, “Bleep Bleep Bleep.” I… Netflix could not operate on the TV. I can’t. A DVD? I don’t know. That’s probably showing our age, I don’t know if anybody else puts DVD in. But I don’t even know how to use it. I feel like a grandma. I don’t even know how to explain it but I have, first of all I have very little control over the TV. I feel like it’s not my domain that everybody else is always watching something and I fall to the bottom of the list. And even if I have something on, somebody else comes into the room, and it’s not necessarily a child, it’s often a husband, and then they change the channels if I’m like I have the invisibility cloak on and I’m like, “You know I was watching that.” Like why is that not— I don’t. Is that me? Do you have that too?

Sue: Never. No. Yeah. I don’t own the TV at all and no one would change it while I was watching but I don’t get a vote if there’s a roomful of people. I don’t get a vote for some reason and I’m always a little curious about that but there seems to be like a culture where everyone knows the show that they’re watching together because I don’t watch TV that much. And so when I come in and say, “Can we watch Ellen?” They’re like, “No no we’re in the middle of Game of Thrones. We’re all watching it.” And I’m like, “But I don’t wanna watch it.” And really the other problem is that I don’t watch enough TV to understand how to switch from whatever things they’re doing to make it go from—

Steph: HDMI 1—

Sue: One to three to whatever

Steph: Yes.

Sue: But I’m a little fascinated. I have to believe that we don’t understand our TV because with all the remote capability in order to switch you have to get up and go to the side of the TV and push a button. Is that possible?

Steph: Oh wait a minute. That’s what’s happening in your house? That’s how you do it.

Sue: No no. That’s the instructions. You can tell Google—

Steph: Uh huh.

Sue: You can tell Google to do everything in our house. You know you can tell Google to turn on the TV, you can ask what time it is. But you have to get out of your seat to switch from HDMI…

Steph: No that. Okay so—

Sue: That doesn’t make sense.

Steph: It doesn’t make sense because, okay now not that I can do it, but I’ve been a witness to people changing from HDMI one to two to whatever. Wait.

Sue: What does that stand for? Do you know?

Steph: I don’t know? High definition… Mom. [Laughter] I don’t get it. Well here’s the other thing we were talking to friends a couple weeks ago about different series they were watching. This was the conversation, “What’s everyone watching?” And then, it was a show that was maybe on Amazon Prime. I said, “Well we have Amazon Prime.” “Okay. Well then you can watch.” And I’m like, “No but I don’t know how to get it on my TV.” And they’re like oh, “Well you need a Roku.” I need a Roku because apparently I don’t have a smart TV. So this was the whole conversation.

Sue: Oh I’m so sorry.

Steph: I know. So we don’t have a smart TV—

Sue: Your SAT score wasn’t high enough. [Laughter]

Steph: That’s funny. Maybe I should pay someone to take my SATs for me. [Laughter]

Sue: Now we’re funny.

Steph: Now we’re very funny because it’s true.

Sue: Okay. Should we move into the topic of the day?

Steph: Yes.

Sue: Okay. So one of the things that we talk about all the time in our space of raising teenagers is what seems to have been a period of failing our kids, letting them grow up without skills to survive as adults. And everyone’s talking about it right now. You just have to open up any paper to find something about how we helicopter, they don’t have launch skills, all of that. The new language that comes around how we are over parenting our kids and not getting them ready for life. So let’s just talk a little bit about why it’s so important to prep our kids for moving out of the house. There’s a whole long discussion happening about adulting our kids, it’s now a verb. And it’s such an awesome verb because really if we think about being handed this newborn baby in the hospital and what our dreams are for that kid, maybe not at that moment, but they should be. Our dreams should always be looking toward the moment they leave us which is painful and hard but in fact we should be thinking about it. Because what do we do every day of our lives to help push them a little bit away from us so that they launch in a way that’s successful. And it’s hard to do that. Really really hard to do that. But in adolescence I think it gets a little easier because it’s closer and we see that they’re almost out the door. So Steph and I are going to talk about, what are the things that we did and some other people. Like there are people who teach us what we want to do as parents and people who teach us what we don’t want to do as parents. So I had the good fortune of learning what I didn’t want to do from one of my friends who had numerous examples of what we call rescuing her kids. They’d leave lunch home, often drove to school three times because the three kids could never be ready at the same moment. And my all time favorite was applying to college because she used the word we.

Steph: [Laughter]

Sue: “We’re applying to this college,” “We finished the college essay, in fact we submitted the college application.” And so I always thought, “Yeah that’s not going to be me. I’m not doing that.” And so I did have opportunities to put it to the test and I guess mine feels kind of brag-y. I don’t know if I should be telling it. Like times where I did it right because in the world of revisionism I can’t think of the times when I also— I mean I took my kids lunches to school. I probably rescued them.

Steph: To me it feels like the… It’s more the patterns of things, right? Listen, I forget things all the time.

Sue: Right.

Steph: I don’t mind… I call home and I’ll say to one of the kids, “Oh my god is the flat iron off?” That’s like my favorite one, right?

Sue: Yeah.

Steph: Which it mostly is except for the time I didn’t call home and it wasn’t. Because we all forget things. So that occasional one, I think that shows that we’re all flawed and we have a lot on our minds and we forget—

Sue: And we love our kids.

Steph: And we love our kids. It’s the repeated where I agree. Like you know I will talk to people like, “Oh yeah I take his lunch to school three times a week.” I’m thinking, “You know what will happen if you don’t? That kid’s gonna remember it the next day.” To me I think it’s more of the… I was thinking more of like when you were talking about adulting. My head immediately went to the things that you want to teach them that aren’t so big that they can just learn along the way. So like one thing I remember is when the kids were little and one of my friends who has four kids had said to me, something came about loading the dishwasher, and she said, “Oh yeah the kids are loading it.” And her kids were little. They were probably like ten, eight, six, and four. Or 12 10, I can’t remember. And I’m like, “You must end up with a lot of chipped dishes.” And she said, “Well you have to decide what’s more important. That they’re going to load the dishwasher, unload it.” Whatever it was, “Or that you’re dishes—” I’m like, “That is such a good comment.”

Sue: Yeah.

Steph: And so I did. I followed her lead and got chipped dishes. But I also have kids who can load and unload a dishwasher. Right? So yay me! What a win.

Sue: So we’re just gonna be honest that we’re gonna take a moment and brag about the times where we have launched our kids and adulted our kids. So I felt that getting your license was a huge adult responsibility. Like that is as grown up as you can get. And we do it at a pretty young age. Like where we live you get your permit at fifteen and a half. That’s pretty young. From my oldest to my youngest, I did not get involved in the process other than teaching them to drive. I felt like if you can’t make the appointment, schedule it, get all the paperwork together. I just wasn’t sure that you could manage the responsibility of driving. And I probably did it the first time maybe out of a little laziness and like you take care of it but then I really saw like, “Wow they should be able to do this.” And so I did it for all five kids and they all got their licenses literally on the day that they could and made the appointments and wanted that freedom. So for me that was like one of those things that, who remembers what the impetus for it was the first time, but it did play out really well.

Steph: Well and I took your lead. I think I’ve said this before because your fourth born is the age of my first born. And so I remember you going through all the driving with them and like, “Oh she’s so brilliant, that is so smart.” And then we arrive at the permit and I think Zach was getting his permit. We arrive on a Monday. They don’t do permits on a Monday because he didn’t look that up. And I just, right? I mean because I’m like, “Okay that’s so good. Sue said let them take the lead so smart.” I just kind of drove him or I must’ve driven home obviously he didn’t have his permit. Then the second time we went back and they asked for his socia— This time on like a Tuesday, maybe the next day probably, they ask for a Social Security card. Yeah. We didn’t have that because I didn’t look at it, right? Because I’m trying—

Sue: Do you wish you had taken away those two experiences from him or—

Steph: No I totally don’t. I was just so put out at the time because I’m like, “Oh… God damn it.” You know because there was more driving for me but whatever. But I do think, yes.

Sue: Well I mean to me it’s a little bit like we are actually going to get to talk to Wendy Mogul in another episode. And she wrote The Blessings of a Skinned Knee and The Blessings of a B Minus and I think about it all the time. So what did you actually suffer from driving two extra times to the BMV. Nothing right?

Steph: Nothing.

Sue: But the frustration means that like a lesson was learned there instead of you jumping in and saving him before that happened.

Steph: Yeah.

Sue: Like he probably looked, he missed the documents for the next time. Although I would argue that there was a period of time where you could never get it right when you were going for your permit and going for your passport. You could never have the right documentation.

Steph: It’s totally true.

Sue: And actually I think the new driver’s license, what’s it called, universal or something?

Steph: I don’t even know.

Sue: There’s a new driver’s license that’s going to be, I think required at the airports.

Steph: Yeah yeah yeah.

Sue: So I’ve heard of many people going and having to go a second time.

Steph: Oh God, shoot me.

Sue: It’s like no matter how many things do. Yeah right. You look at the list and it says, “Bring this or this.” Don’t do the or, do the and.

Steph: Yes. I’m thinking of places we hate to go which could be a whole other topic.

Sue: Post office!

Steph: I was just going to say where Sue would pay me mucho dollars to go. And she would pretty much give me maybe a firstborn to go to the post office. “Could you please just go.” Now we have someone who does it for us which is so lovely.

Steph: I’ve been thinking about how our kids prepare for a sport. Conditioning in the off season and practicing every day for a few months before the games begin. Taking the SAT is really no different. If your teen really wants to do their best, it’s because they have practiced the timing and the questions. There’s a good chance the first few times your teen practices their timing will be off and they’ll likely be nervous about this test they have heard has high stakes. But there’s great news in this story. Thanks to College Board, our sponsor, your kid can prepare for the SAT for free with official SAT practice on Khan Academy. They use your kids previous SAT, PSAT, or PSAT 10 results to give them personalized practice recommendations and a schedule that works for them. It’s super easy to setup and keeps them on track by sending reminder emails about when they should be practicing according to the schedule they built. There are so many resources on the site. Thousands of practice questions, video tutorials, even full length practice tests. I really love how it’s all in one spot, puts my kid in charge, and it’s free of charge. Check out sat.org/yourteen. You’ll be glad you did. And thanks to our sponsor College Board.

Sue: So we’ve adopted the word adulting as a verb. I love it. I think it’s such a great word but I actually think the origin has to go to Julie Lythcott-Haims. She wrote a book called How to Raise an Adult, which should be a goal of all of ours. When she wrote that book it went viral. She was the dean of students at Stanford University and what she was seeing was that students were coming to Stanford, you know, top two schools in the country, top three schools in the country, academically so overprepared and incredibly skilled but in life skills just underprepared. Not ready to leave home, not ready to live on their own. And it actually was affecting their ability to succeed in college. So she writes this book and launches a whole new career for herself. She’s everywhere right now and we’re so grateful and excited to have her on our podcast. And Julie I don’t know if you know this, but I was kind of the intro on the CBS segment that you were just on after the college scandal broke. They spoke to one mother who I guess was the helicopter mom. And then one mother who I think looked a little less crazy and I was glad it was me.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: That’s awesome. Good job.

Sue: So we’re so happy to have you here and your conversation about how to raise an adult is really touching a chord with everybody. And so we’re so grateful you kind of started the conversation for all of us.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Wow, thank you. I feel like I joined the conversation that was already under way but my vantage point as a college dean and as a mom in Silicon Valley I think gave me maybe a sharper lens on what was happening and the harm of it.

Sue: Also we don’t see our kids once they leave home. So you are a window into a world of things going awry. The first thing I’d like to ask you about is, and you started to answer it, is what prompted you to go and write the book?

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Yeah so I was the dean of freshmen at Stanford from 2002 to 2012 and every year of those 10 brought an additional set of parents who felt the need to be involved in the management of day to day life of their college students. And frankly at the outset of these behaviors which we began observing even in the late 90s on our campus, we laughed at the parents because we just thought, “This is absurd. Why do you need to track your kids deadlines? Why do you need to talk with a professor about a grade? Why do you need to register your ‘child’ for class?” This is someone who could have been in the army right now or the workplace. Instead they’re on this campus where there’s a lot of support and resources. Why don’t you trust your kid has any skills? We stopped laughing as the number of parents who behave this way grew. It really became quite worrisome because they were clogging up a system that was designed to be a set of interactions between college students and faculty and administrators. And then I began to really connect the dots and say, “Oh these students who have parents who can’t let go seem to not have the skills, seem to not have the drive frankly to do for themselves and are very accustomed to being handled and helped and fixed and managed.” And I worried for their sake, “Hey kid what’s to become of you if you never know how to hashtag adult.” I mean this is a term they themselves coined as they went out into the world. Millennials. I didn’t coin that term, they did. But I had that sense that, “Hey you don’t know how to be an adult and that’s gonna be a problem for you and maybe for all of us as a society. Because if a whole swath of you don’t know how to do this, how are you going to lead our homes, our schools, our government, our institutions of higher education, our businesses, our nonprofits”. And so I was very critical. And then, and I was giving speeches and saying, “Let go let go let go.” And then I came home one night after kind of seven years of preaching to Stanford parents, “Let go.” I came home one night to my own kids, who were then 10 and 8, leaned over my son’s plate at dinner and began cutting his chicken. And that was my come to Jesus, “Aha!” moment. Like I am one of those parents because I realized you can’t let go of your 18 year old if you’re cutting the meat of a 10 year old.

Sue: Wow.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Or put differently. There are heck of a lot of skills you have to instill in your child or your child has to develop on their own, you know, between cut meat and be ready to leave your home and go out to the world.

Sue: Well I have five kids and my oldest is 29 and my youngest is 17. So from my oldest going to college where we did a little more than just drop her off but we kind of did just drop her off, to my subsequent kids. I was expected to sit in parenting sessions at orientation and I was like, “I don’t want to be here. Why am I here?” And it’s a whole new industry of catering to the parents.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Well and it’s the schools usually take one of two tacks. One approach is let’s cater to the parents, let’s acknowledge that they want to be all up their kids business and let’s just kind of give over to that. The other approache is, let’s keep the parents informed about the things parents have the greatest rights to be interested in. Like safety, and bill paying, and financial aid, and you know kind of the realms that you’d expect parents in the olden days even to care about. Let’s keep them really informed about the ways in which, you know, about the topics of greatest concern and the ways in which they can support their students in becoming a more independent actor. So there really are two different approaches it depends on the school.

Steph: So question for you as we look at this new approach to parenting and think about how our kids are integrating that or not integrating. What’s the damage that we’re doing along the way? You talk about what’s going to happen when they get out there but talk it through with us.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: First of all let me admit, acknowledge, there’s a short term win or gain when we over parent, when we’re overprotective. We keep them more safe when we’re fiercely directive a.k.a. tiger type, forcing them down a path, conditioning our love upon how well they execute our plans for their life. They typically follow that path and it looks like they’re making progress and are successful. They never get a zero, or a hurt feeling, or a scraped knee because we’re sort of always there. So short term win or short term gain long term pain. The long term pains are these. First of all they lack life skills. They’ve never filled out a form. They’ve never had a conversation with an authority figure. They’ve never checked their own deadlines. They’ve never had to remember to bring their stuff because we’ve always kind of rescued them. So they literally don’t have the skill. And now they’re chronologically adult but they behave in ways that are still sort of childlike. Number two, that then becomes a problem in terms of workplace skills. They’re not ready to interact with a boss, a set of colleagues, they really don’t know how to complete tasks without a parent reminding them and maybe nudging them and maybe kind of partly handling the task for them. And finally the greatest harm is to their mental health. Research shows that this over parenting style is interrupting the natural development of self efficacy. Which is this really important base level sense that we all have to have to be healthy and well. We need to know of our own existence and we learn of our own existence by seeing, when I act there is an outcome. Whether the outcome is good or bad is immaterial. The point is our psyche needs to see the causation. I act, there’s a result. When we over parent, we’re interrupting the development of self efficacy, which leads to higher rates of anxiety and depression, which of course we’re seeing spiking in children and adolescents and young adults. So we are harming their mental health. A lot of people joke, “I’d rather have him depressed at Yale than happy at some state school.”

Sue: Wow. Really?

Julie Lythcott-Haims: And I think, “Really? Really? Have you really seen depression up close?”

Sue: Yeah.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Have you seen anxiety? Is that what you actually want for your child? How insecure is your ego that you need that outcome for your kid so badly that you’re willing to compromise their mental health. But here’s the point. When I’m still touring this book I go out to communities all over the country. I’ve been to four or five other countries and I’ve learned y’all, Sue and Stephanie, I have learned if I tell my own stories about my terrible decisions and “Aha!” moments, then I’m not lecturing at parents, I’m saying, “Look what we’re doing.” I know I love my kids. I know I’m afraid of the world just like everyone else is, I know I’ve got a bit of an ego involved in my kids lives. And when I can speak from this sort of look what I’ve done. Look at the stupid mistakes I’ve made. You know I’m sort of then saying we and then we’re in it together and then people don’t have to be defensive and we can laugh together which we do and we can cry together. And I hope that that helps people really examine their own behaviors and feel motivated to change some things up.

Sue: Well that’s the whole reason we did Your Teen was to kind of push away that isolation that everyone else is perfect. And I’m living an experience all by myself that I can’t tell anybody. So you’re sharing that, is it is really changing the world.

Steph: And I want to pick up on something you said before Julie, why don’t we trust that our kids have skills?

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Well interestingly this is what I asked in the beginning of this phenomenon. Why don’t “they,” these parents, trust their kids have skills? Then I came to appreciate, “Oh because their kids don’t have skills.” Because they’ve deprived their kid of developing skills because they’ve done everything for them every step of the way. Let me give you some visuals. When your 12 month old is sitting down at this lovely shape sorter box toy with all the cut out shapes and they’ve got the little cylinder toy that goes in the cylindrical shape. Do you know I’m talking about?

Sue: Yeah I love that toy.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: The right way to do it to teach your child is to say, “Oh look at this new toy we’ve got isn’t this wonderful? I wonder how it works!” And then you put your own hand on a block and you know there’s the rectangle and you’re like, “Does it fit here? No. Does it go here? Oh look it fits here!” Drop it. Boom. Then sit back. The over parenting method of handling this is to sit next to your child and kind of say, “Oh do you want to pick up that round one? I wonder where the round one goes. Does the round one go in the round hole? I wonder.” And then nudge her with your shoulder like, “Pick up the round one. Pick up the round one.” And then maybe even put your hand on her hand and lovingly squeeze her hands so she picks up the cylinder and lift it and put it right over the cylinder hole and have her sort of drop it in the cylinder as you press down on her hand and then go, “Perfect, great job!” BS, I call BS, your kid did not do that. Your kid has learned nothing other than, “Oh mom will always show up and help me do this.” Interrupting self efficacy. OK let’s advance to age eleven, you’re always unscrewing the sports drink, you know your kid plays soccer, your kid is on whatever team. They’re thirsty. You’re the parent that brought the organic gluten free bagels that you made in your own backyard. You know and you’re unscrewing the sports drink and handing it to them. That’s why they don’t have the small fine motor skill or strength to unscrew bottles. OK look we’re infantilizing our children. We’re turning them into veal. Of course they’re chronologically grown at 18, 22, 25 but we know they can’t do a damn thing because we’ve always been there. OK. We’re undercut— We’re supposed to teach them to do for themselves. Instead if we’re over parenting, we have done the opposite. We have fostered a dependency on us.

Steph: So you mentioned earlier that we live in a world where our children’s success is our success. That’s our parenting report card. So if that’s the world how do we move out of the way and say that you know really change this scenario and let our kids successes be theirs and get out of the way.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Get a life and maybe your kid can have one too. We are needing therapy. We are unwell. We are insecure. Our children’s achievements have become our sense of worth. So what the point is, we need some sense of who we are. That has nothing to do with how our kids are performing in the classroom, or on the playing field, or at the recital, or wherever. OK? We need lives that are full and rich that include work, volunteer work, hobbies, loving relationships you know with a partner. Friendships. We need, you know, we need a life. And instead we’ve decided our entire purpose is to manufacture this kid, almost like they’re a racehorse that’s going to run the Kentucky Derby or they’re a dog that’s gonna be in the Westminster Dog Show, where really you know we’re the one that’s gonna stand up and get the prize money and get the rose bouquet and and stand on the top of the podium. OK. We we act like they’re our pets, our project. That really reflects on our skills.

Sue: Ouch. Ouch.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: Right? Think about micromanagement in the workplace. OK. None of us is supposed to micromanage if we’re managers. It doesn’t make employees feel very good. It makes them feel like they’re in a cage, they’re constantly being watched, you don’t trust them, you don’t think their ideas have any merit. Right. We’re supposed to give people some instruction, set some expectations and back off and see how they do and let them try it. And you know if it didn’t go great, you know, you tell them what did go well then you give them some feedback of what they can work on to be stronger, better, faster, whatever next time. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It isn’t rocket science. And when we can disengage our own egos like, “Am I a good parent today? Did I bring my kid’s backpack to school? Did I help with the homework so that she’s going to get an A? Did I yell at the coach?” You know we have to stop seeing value in those things and instead delight in, "Oh my goodness she finally she learned to remember her backpack. She got a zero yesterday because she didn’t bring her homework but she remembered it today. That’s the parenting win. Let life teach your kid the consequences that attend actions. That’s how her or his or their brain learns to do it differently next time.

Sue: So I would say as I also have a senior right now and getting rejected from most of his schools put him really in a place of I wondered how he would respond. And he… I don’t think he looks at himself like he was a loser. I think good he looks at himself like I’m going to go with where I’m going and I’m going to make it great.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: That is fantastic.

Sue: So and I think part of it is the… The college scandal. I think that my kid and my family benefited from it because it was so extreme that it had to put a little bit of perspective for all of us.

Julie Lythcott-Haims: I think it did. I love that your son feels that way. I want to contrast him to some other kids I know about who didn’t come out of his room for days because he “Hadn’t gotten in anywhere.” He had gotten into places like Indiana University and Northeastern, a few other places, and when I heard this story I just said to the person who was telling me I said, “Stop the schools he’s gotten into are wonderful schools. The only reason he’s not coming out of his room is because the adults in his life and his peers have made him feel that those schools are not somehow worthy.” And we, society, our narrative has kind of imposed that on him. He’s obviously wanted to apply to those schools because he did in the first place but now you know since those are the only schools he got into somehow he’s like, “I must be a loser since I didn’t get into these other schools, therefore the schools that admitted me must be loser schools.” It’s this kind of weird tautology. And so I’m thrilled for your son that he’s feeling like, “I’m in charge. I’m going to make the best of the opportunity I’ve been given.” And you know that’s the right attitude to take out into the world whatever you’re doing.

Sue: Well you are fantastic. We want to be your friend. If you ever come to Cleveland—

Steph: If you’re ever in Cleveland.

Sue: Thanks so much.

Steph: Thanks Julie. Thanks for joining us for the Your Teen podcast. If you have any topics that you want us to talk about, let us know on our Facebook page or email editor@yourteenmag.com.

Sue: Your Teen with Sue and Steph is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to executive producer Michael DeAloia, plus producer Hannah Leach and audio engineer Eric Koltnow.

Steph: You can find more from us at yourteenmag.com, at evergreenpodcasts.com, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Sue: And don’t forget, if you like today’s podcast please leave us an iTunes review. Help other parents find our podcast.

Steph: We’ll see you next time.

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