Should You Make Your Child Apologize? A Therapist’s View

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


Like all parents, there are a lot of things I make my child to do.

I make her brush her teeth. I make her to go to school when she doesn’t want to. She is not allowed to ride her bike without a helmet or to walk around the block after dark.

But, one thing I don’t make her do is apologize. 

I realize this is different than a lot of parents. Like many things I do as a mom, not requiring her to say she’s sorry is something that has evolved as I’ve gotten to know the little person I’m raising.

Now before I get too much farther, let me point out that my child is not a brat who goes around hitting kids or calling them names. For the most part, she’s a kind child who deeply wants to do the right thing.

The other day she told me that while she was at a friend’s house, she dropped her friend’s small toy on the carpet and lost it. She didn’t tell her friend what happened.

She felt bad about this, and after holding it in for weeks she asked for my help.

We talked about what happened. I asked her what she wanted to do to make it better, and what would make her feel better. We called and talked with her friend and her friend’s mom about what she had done.

My daughter was sorry, and she told her friend this on her own, without being promoted, requested or required to. 

She genuinely felt bad, and knew that admitting what she had done and working to make it better would make her feel better. She wouldn’t have to carry that burden of guilt around anymore. And of course she felt tons better after confessing her secret and offering to make it right.

What is the point of an apology? 

Have you ever had someone say they’re sorry when you know they’re not? As parents, we want our kids to be polite and to do the right thing. We want them to know how to get along in the world and not stick out as someone who is rude or unkind. But fake apologizes aren’t the way to go.

If you say “I’m sorry” when you’re not, what’s the point? Do we really want to encourage our kids to say something that’s not true for an imagined sense of peace? 

I’m all for politeness and manners. “Please” and “Thank you” are important, as is “excuse me” and other formalities.

“I’m sorry” is not a formality in my opinion. It’s an expression of a feeling.

Forcing someone to lie about their feelings is ridiculous. I’m not saying that we should all go around saying every true thing we feel out loud. Auntie Mildred doesn’t need to know that you hate what she gave you for your birthday.

What we should do is be both compassionate and honest.

I strive to help my child recognize her inner moral compass, because I won’t always be around to tell her what’s right and what’s wrong.

I realize that each child is different, but I do not make my child apologize.

I want her to look inside herself, to think more closely about the situation.

I want her to consider what others feel and to develop empathy and sympathy.

I want her to live thoughtfully and consciously.

As the famous Jimminy Cricket once said, “always let your conscience be your guide.”

My daughter will always have her conscience, because she won’t always have a parent to guide her.  

There will be plenty of people in her life telling her what to do and say. Social media screams from the rooftops.

If I can help her develop and trust her own sense of right and wrong, that is a gift that will last forever, whether I’m around or not. 

A previous version of this blog post is from

photo from Shutterstock

Sadness or Depression? Recognizing Mental Illness in Tweens and Teens

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


Kids carry around a ton of emotion.

As infants, they communicate with cries, screams, and eventually smiles and laughter.

Toddlers grow and begin to use spoken language in addition to laughter, hugs, biting, hitting, and crying.

The childhood years are generally calm. A second grader has not yet entered the emotional turmoil of the teen or preteen years, and has increased social skills that they didn’t have as a toddler or even as a preschool child.

Once a boy or girl hits the preteen years, the hormonal changes that will eventually take them into adulthood begin.

If you’ve ever talked with a group of parents about their own adolescent years, you’ll hear words like “chaotic” and “angry,” “depressed,” “anxious”.

Teens and tweens are full of incredibly strong and complex emotions. Their moods change and shift. They can be explosive and angry one minute, and the next minute write you a sweet note about how much they love you.

As a parent, grandparent, teacher or friend, how can you differentiate between the mood swings of an emotionally healthy adolescent and a teen who may be struggling with a more serious mental illness such as depression?

Even with adults it can be difficult to tell the difference between feeling blue and having depression. With teens it’s harder.

As a parent, you know your child best. If something feels off with your child, talk with them further or seek professional help. If you’re a caring adult in a teen’s life and notice something that is concerning, don’t hesitate to reach out to the teen or their parents.

One thing I hear time and time again from adults who were depressed as teens is that they wish their parents had understood and gotten them help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help if you see some of these signs.

  • Engaging in self-injury. Any type of self-harm is cause for concern. Some teens cut or burn, others will pierce or scratch themselves. While it may or may not be a deliberate call for help, it’s a sign that something is wrong and should not be ignored.
  • Withdrawing more than usual. This is tricky because part of being a teenager is withdrawing from the family unit. And while adults with depression tend to withdraw from everyone, teens who are depressed will often keep a few close friends around, or they will change groups of friends.
  • Major change in school performance. If your previously A or B student begins failing tests, it’s time to look closely at what is going on. Depression can cause kids to not care about school or grades anymore, or it can interfere with their concentration in the classroom and cause grades to plummet.
  • Drastic change in eating and/or sleeping habits. Is your teen suddenly refusing meals or eating an excessive amount? Is he or she sleeping for most of the day? Spending days in bed is a huge red flag for depression or a physical illness, and should be evaluated by a physician. Huge changes in eating habits can be a sign of depression or an eating disorder.
  • Increased agitation. Tweens and teens don’t always manifest their depression in the same ways as adults. Instead of being mopey or sad, depression can show itself as grumpiness, moodiness, or agitation. A depressed teen may have explosive outbursts that seem uncharacteristic.
  • Saying that they feel hopeless or depressed. Some tweens or teens come right out and say that they’re depressed or even suicidal. Get them help, even if you’re not sure they need it. Having a nonjudgmental adult to talk freely to is never a bad thing, and could be life-saving.
  • Drug or alcohol use. Teens, like adults, sometimes seek out drugs or alcohol to improve their mood, and this can be an indication of depression or anxiety.

As smart as they seem, tweens and teens often don’t have the courage or the words to ask for the help that they need.

The stigma of mental illness has decreased during the past 20 years or so, but it can still be something your adolescent feels embarrassed about. They may not know the signs of mental illness or be able to see it within themselves, so it’s up to the adults in their lives to recognize it and find them the help they need.


photo from shutterstock

Mourning Robin Williams: The Tragedy of Suicide

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


I’m not one for celebrity gossip.

For the most part, I’m content to let the stars of Hollywood live out their drama in their own world of fame. There are very few actors whose lives I pay attention to, or whose deaths I truly mourn.

Robin Williams is one of the them.

And tonight I am saddened. I am grieved by the death of a man who made his living through his expression of joy and laughter, who lived with a kindness and dignity that is greatly admired.

I mourn a man who struggled with the massive burden of depression so deep that he simply could not find a way out, and took his own life.


He seemed so happy! She had so much to live for. How could he…how could she…why?

To the healthy, suicide makes no sense. To those on the outside of the intense pain and emptiness, the idea of ending one’s own life is horrific. This is as it should be.

But to those who have experienced that darkness and the feeling of unending despair, suicide can appear like the only way out of the pain.

Depression is a terrible illness that shows up in many ways. Some struggle with it their entire life, and for others depression manifests itself after a massive life change or trauma. Depression can be brought on by pregnancy or medical conditions.

Contrary to what many believe, your life can appear perfect and you can still be depressed.

You can be wealthy and still struggle with what Winston Churchill famously termed his “black dog”. You can have fame and fortune and love and admiration, and take your life. Mr. Williams did. While the world loved and saw a man full of talent and life, an actor whose work brought joy and tears and inspiration and understanding, he had a pain that was unbearable and unexplainable.

I believe that the line separating genius and madness is thin. Those with great talent can suffer unspeakable sadness, as Mr. Williams did.

We who sit and wonder at the reason behind his death will never be satisfied, because we will never fully understand. His wife, his children, his beloved family and friends will forever wonder why.

To those of you who have struggled with the weight of depression and thoughts of suicide, you are warriors who are fighting a beast, but you do not fight alone.

Like so many things that thrive in darkness and secrecy, depression grows when hidden and diminishes when shared. There is no shame in feeling hopeless, there is no shame in feeling helpless.

Robin Williams lived a life that shone with greatness and ended so abruptly, so tragically and in a way which few, if any, could have predicted. Suicide, unlike any other type of death, carries a weight with it, an intensity that defies logic.

And so I mourn a man whom I never met and never knew. I mourn not just because of the sudden loss of his talent or his greatness or his wit. I mourn because he died believing he was alone in his agony and pain and could not see beyond this falsehood.

I mourn for those left behind who would give anything to have him back.

If you are struggling with wanting to hurt yourself, if you feel like your life is not worth living, if you simply want to end, I urge you, I beg you, to get help. Find someone who will listen to you. Tell your doctor. Talk to your priest, your teacher, your spouse. Each death to suicide is one too many.



Do You Have a Challenging Toddler? 8 Simple, Proven Solutions

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

shutterstock_151353104Ah, toddler-hood: the years when a child’s mind is growing faster than their speech, where they have big feelings but little control. Parenting a toddler is challenging to say the least.

My daughter is seven now, but I clearly remember those days of leaving the grocery cart full and walking out of the store with a flailing, screaming 2 year old. Nearly anything can set a toddler off: a cat in her special seat, running out of Cheerios, or even the one-cent pony ride being out of service.

This is not to say that parenting a toddler is all pain and no joy. There were lots of wonderful moments as I watched my daughter learn language, when I saw the world through her new eyes and experienced her wonder.

But the crazy times? Yes. There were plenty of those.

Part of parenting is finding simple ways of making it through tantrums and screaming matches.

As a therapist, a mom, and a blogger, here are some tried and true suggestions for when your little one is out of control, and you feel like you’re going crazy.

  1. Give your kiddo a time-in, instead of a timeout. A time-in is where you invite your child to sit down next to you or near you or on your lap. You invite her to talk about her feelings and connect until the behavior storm passes. There’s a great article that explains the difference between time in and time out here. 
  2. Be silly together. Toddlers can get so into their cranky moods that they cannot pull themselves out of it. As a mom or dad, being silly or goofy can break that mood. I used to perform very poorly done magic tricks. Toddlers aren’t picky.
  3. Give yourself some space, if possible. With a toddler, it can be hard to find a moment of peace, but sometimes when you notice yourself getting angry or about to yell or hit, placing the child in a safe place (playpen, crib, having another adult watch him) and moving yourself to another room can be life-giving. The other night I told my 7 year old about how difficult she was to put down for a nap sometimes. One afternoon after trying unsuccessfully to get her to sleep for over an hour, I walked out of her room and screamed into a pillow. I then came in and could comfort and parent her without loosing my cool. I was taking care of myself, but also taking care of her.
  4. Breathe deeply. There are tons of good websites that tell you how to do this. One is found here. 
  5. Eat something. You know how it is when a 2 year old is hungry and cranky? It happens to parents too. Grab a cheese stick or an apple and peanut butter, or something else with protein.
  6. Put on music. It can be classic rock, top 40, heavy metal, whatever. It will give both of you something to focus on. If you can muster up the energy, dance. You might look silly, but that kills two birds with one stone (see suggestion #2).
  7. Take your toddler outside. Going outside provides a change in temperature, things to look at, things to feel. Walk barefoot on the grass. Touch the bark on a tree. Splash in a puddle, swing on a swing together.
  8. Call someone – a friend, your mom, your partner. One person I know posted a plea on a parenting board for someone to call her because she felt as if she were loosing her mind. Someone reached out over the phone and was able to help her through. Everyone needs assistance sometimes, and other parents who have been there and done that can be great resources, even if it’s just to tell you that you’re not crazy, it’s okay to cry, and it will get better.

The biggest mistake a parent can make is not reaching out when things get tough. You are not in this alone.

Find others to help you out. Connecting with other parents who are struggling or who have been where you are is crucial, even if it’s through the internet or on the phone. 

The toddler years will soon be over, and the next challenge will come. 

Write down your toddler stories, because someday the two of you will laugh about the time your child pulled the fire alarm at Target or peed in the neighbor’s flower bed.


Photo from Shutterstock

Animal Assisted Therapy

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

Eini, therapy bird at New Wings Counseling

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) has become the new buzzword in the field of mental health.

While animal assisted therapy was previously seen as an alternative treatment, it has become more main stream, and it’s now common to find animals in the therapy office, retirement community, and hospital.

All animals can provide love and friendship to those around them, but therapy animals are specially trained to be comfortable around people with disabilities, to not bite when startled, and to accept petting from people of all ages and conditions.

What is animal assisted therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic,  “pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer, and mental health disorders.”

Animal assisted therapy has been studied and proven to work with children who have experienced abuse or neglect and for people recovering from cancer and other diseases. It’s been shown to be effective with veterans and their families. Nursing homes, libraries, schools, and even prisons have had success with bringing trained animals in to help ease tension, provide support, and comfort. Animals are able to reach people in ways that nothing else can. 

What makes animal assisted therapy work?

  1. Animals offer unconditional love. When someone struggles with depression, anxiety, grief, or loneliness, the world can seem a barren and hostile place. Animals can show a kindness and acceptance that bring healing. The simple act of petting a cat or dog lowers blood pressure and reduces tension.
  2. Animals can connect with people who have a difficult time connecting with people. This is particularly true for people with autism.  A wonderful resource is ASDA, Autism Service Dogs of America. It is not only individuals with autism who benefit from animal assisted therapy. As a therapist, I use my therapy bird Eini to help connect with people and bring down emotional barriers that are often present. What makes Eini a great therapy animal is that he loves everyone. He is aware of those who are uncomfortable around him and at those times he stays with me.
  3. Animals help in a unique way. There is no judgement with an animal. A dog won’t roll his eyes when you are sobbing. He won’t tell you to get over it or give you unwanted advice. Animals have no expectations. If you want to sit in silence, they’re okay with this. If you want to talk and talk and talk, they will listen indefinitely.
  4. When combined with a trained therapist, therapy animals provide the best of two worlds: an animal to provide comfort, love, and a sense of calm, and a counselor to help work through the issues that come to the surface.

The connection between animals and humans has been present since the first wolves became companions to our ancestors tens of thousands of years ago.

shutterstock_139369085-2As researchers grow in their understanding of what this connection can do and how it can help heal those in need, people will continue to seek out the healing relationship that our furred and feathered companions bring.

The Fat Shaming Epidemic

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


I’ve been thinking a lot about body shaming and fat shaming.

It’s all over the media lately. And although kids being teased for their weight is nothing new, the power of the internet takes it to an entirely new level.

Carleigh O’Connell, a 14 year old girl from New Jersey, became a viral sensation and anti-fat shaming advocate when she posted a photograph of herself in a swimsuit in response to a graffiti message spray painted in her home town. Carleigh was recently a guest blogger on the site called Mighty Girl. She states:

What I now know…

I have realized that so many people, kids and adults, have faced and can relate to this type of negativity.

I have realicarleighzed that sometimes you have to stare cruelty in the face and not drop your head.

I have realized that owning who you are and how you are made is much better than feeling ashamed or bad about yourself.

I have realized that is okay to not have everyone agree with you and your actions, because sometimes negativity can bring bigger and better things.

What happened to Carleigh is awful. No one should have to feel objectified like that. But Carleigh took the bullying and turned it around. She refused to be shamed. Because of her courage she has become a role model and hero to many.

There are many websites that exist for the sole purpose of fat shaming; websites that post pictures of overweight people and make degrading and cruel remarks about them. Sadly, some bloggers and writers believe that fat shaming helps people lose weight.

Fat shaming does absolutely no good and causes significant harm. If you’re a person who has experienced fat shaming, you know that being made fun of or mocked for your weight does not help you loose any pounds.

Despite what proponents of fat shaming want to believe, when people are humiliated due to their size,  they gain even more weight.

Being overweight means that according to the medical establishment, you are carrying more weight on your body than is considered normal or healthy for a given height.

Being overweight does not mean that you are lazy. Being fat does not mean that you have poor hygiene, or that you can’t control your impulses. A large size doesn’t mean that you’re dumb or worthless.

You know those nasty comments on photos that spread online? There is not much you can do about them. You can’t control what people say to you or think about you.

Shaming does not make fat people thin. It doesn’t make racist people accepting or hateful people loving. It doesn’t turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

I don’t see an end to fat shaming. So what can be done?

For moms and dads:  teens who grow up with moms who have poor body images can end up with body image issues themselves, even if the kids are active and healthy. However parents, especially moms, who can love themselves, set the foundation for children to know that they are more than their size.

And moms, listen to your children when they say you are beautiful.  Your body has nurtured them, your arms have hugged them.

You are more than your dress size, more than your cellulite and more than your sagging chin. Let your body be a home for your spirit and your energy. Work to keep it healthy because it is the only one you  have, not because you feel ashamed.

Photo from Shutterstock

8 Easy Ways to Reconnect with Your Teen

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


The teen years are a developmental time when children begin to distance themselves from their parents and families.

This is necessary and healthy.

But sometimes the emotional distance can become too extreme and you will feel the need to reconnect.

Your job as a parent parent is not an easy one: to allow your child to grow an independent sense of self, yet remain close enough to provide support and guidance when needed.

As your teen grows in maturity and independence, keep 8 these ideas in mind to help you reconnect when the distance grows too great.

  1. Encourage appropriate independence. Teens are searching to find their own identity. This may mean making choices that you find strange or shocking, or it can mean changing rules to fit their growing autonomy. It’s importance to balance independence with behavioral expectations to keep your teen safe. A teenager’s frontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps them make decisions and allows for impulse control, is not fully formed until the age of 25, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, so try and help them when they are making dangerous choices, but allow them freedom when it’s appropriate.
  2. Recognize when your teen needs you to be closer. The teenage years can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Some days your child wants nothing to do with you, other days they talk your ear off and you feel like you can’t get a moment’s peace. When they are seeking connection, do your best to provide it, and if they withdraw again, realize that this is all part of the process of growing up.
  3. Lay off the lectures. Sometimes the fewer words that are spoken, the better. At this age, consequences speak volumes. If your teen knows she broke curfew and knows the consequences that are in place, she doesn’t need a lecture. If the problem is serious and needs to be addressed with a conversation, it helps if everyone involved is calm. Allow your teen to be part of the discussion. Even if you as the parent have the final word, teens need to feel like they are heard.
  4. Be positive, in both actions and words. When the day has ended, it should be a goal of yours to have said more affirmative words and engaged in more uplifting and positive experiences than negative ones. This is great advice not only for your teens but for other members of your family as well.
  5. Listen without judgement. It’s tempting to want to give advice or express your negative thoughts, but when your teen comes to you and wants to talk, your job is simply to listen at that moment. You’ll be amazed at how much more your child will say when you say less.
  6. Choose your battles wisely. You cannot and should not make every disagreement into an argument or fight. It is perfectly fine and healthy to change the rules as your child gets older and to reconsider some ideas of yours, and to talk with your teen about disagreements. Like in many other relationships, compromise is often appropriate.
  7. Don’t forget the power of touch. A hug or a hand on the shoulder can be a very positive way to connect with your child.
  8. Have fun and enjoy one another in ways that are meaningful to both of you.

Connecting with a teenager can be difficult; they experience the world in a different way and have a unique outlook on life. Embrace the journey, with all of its ups, downs, and crazy turns.

Keep your sense of humor and remember that, above everything else, it is the connection with your teenager that matters most in the end.


photo from Shutterstock

Can an App Save Your Marriage?

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


There are apps for everything these days.

There is an app that makes fake working noises so you can secretly nap.

There’s an app to translate your baby’s cries.

One app wants you to pay $.99 to have a staring contest with a poorly drawn cartoon monkey.

Apps can help you run a marathon, stick to a diet, learn tai chi.

But can an app help or even save your marriage?

Continue reading… »

When a Pet Dies: Helping Your Young Child Grieve

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S


When your child’s pet dies, it can be a stressful and confusing time. He or she may not behave in a way that seems normal or natural, or their sadness may seem to linger for an extended period of time.

For many kids, the death of a beloved pet can bring nights of sobbing and tearful questions.

Even if the pet seems insignificant to adults, like a goldfish won at a fair, a child may feel as if their world is falling apart and mourn deeply.

On the other hand, some children appear nonchalant and unfazed about the death of a pet cat or dog. They may talk about the death in a matter of fact way and become focused on getting a new animal.

Parents may be struck by their child’s lack of intense feelings and worry that he or she isn’t crying or appearing to mourn. This can be especially true if the parents feel the animal’s loss deeply and are grieving.

Just like adults, no one child grieves in the same way as another. So whether your child reacts with nights of sobbing, pictures drawn, and an  elaborate funeral complete with a decorated box and flowers, or if he or she shows very little outward sorrow, your role as a parent is to help your child through their loss at their pace and in their unique way.

Here are some suggestions to help your child when they are grieving the loss  of a pet.

Continue reading… »

10 Simple Ways to Beat the Blues

By Jenise Harmon, MSW, LISW-S

shutterstock_158743448There are some days you just feel down. Sometimes you know why: a fight with a friend or spouse, financial troubles, difficulty with your kids. Other times a low mood can come out of nowhere.

But however or whenever these blue days come, it can make the entire day seem like one big long struggle to get through.

You may find yourself watching the clock, just hoping to get done with work or school, or waiting for your kids to go to bed, or waiting for your partner to come home. Time seems to drag on and on. Your energy may be lagging. It’s not depression as much as just feeling out of sorts.

There are countless ways to break out of that blue space. We’ve chosen 10 of our favorites.

The next time you have difficulty getting out of bed or you feel blah and low, try a couple of them out. We’d love to hear what you think.

  1. Reach out. When you feel low, it can seem like no one cares. That’s not necessarily true. When you feel out of sorts, it can change how you perceive others in your life. Take a moment to reach out to two or three people. Walk over to a coworker and ask how his weekend was. Call your sister up. Even say hello to the cashier at the grocery store. When you interact with people, you will feel less alone and less down.
  2. Take stock of your life. By this we mean think through what is going right and what you want to do differently. Think about positive relationships in your life. Make plans to take a class or trip. Allow yourself to dream about the future. When something negative comes to mind, acknowledge it and move on to something more positive.
  3. Do something good for your body. This could be eating a healthy meal, doing a few minutes of yoga, taking a walk or run, riding your bike, or drinking some water. Getting a massage is also a good option. Also see #9.
  4. Express yourself. Write a journal entry or a poem. Sketch. Paint. Color in a coloring book. Dance. Write a song. Sing a song! Allow your emotions and feelings to come out in any way you wish. Keep it private if you wish, or share it. Be silly or serious. Just be real and be yourself.
  5. Distraction. Sometimes one of the best things you can do to get out of a bad mood is to get involved in something that takes all of your attention. Go to a movie. Research the strange trend of coloring dogs. Find the answer to a question that’s always bothered you.
  6. Get outside. Being out in the air and sun/rain/snow/fog has an energizing effect. Try and use all your senses to experience where you are. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you feel? What do you taste?
  7. Take a shower or a bath. There is something about being clean that feels amazing. Take a long shower and enjoy how the water feels on your skin and how the soap smells. Stay in until your fingers get wrinkly if you want. If you’re a parent and have small kids around, this might need to wait until someone else can watch the kids. Having to hop out of the bath every 2 minutes to break up a fight or get a glass of milk is not relaxing.
  8. Fake a laugh. This is especially effective when doing it alongside children. In most cases, faking a laugh will turn into a true laugh. If this is too difficult, find a comedian on YouTube and laugh for real.
  9. Stretch for 3 minutes. Starting at your toes, slowly stretch every part of your body, working up towards your head. Take deep breaths. Enjoy the sensation of your body tensing and relaxing. Appreciate your skin and muscles and bones.
  10. Remember the last time you felt wonderful. Close your eyes and think about the last time you felt great. Where were you? Who was with you? What were you doing? Put as much detail into your memory as you can, including what you felt, tasted, heard, smelled, and saw. Take a few minutes to enjoy that memory.

Everyone feels down now and then, but you don’t have to stay feeling blue. Sometimes the first thing you try may work perfectly; other times it may take 3 or 4 things to begin to feel better.

If your low mood continues past a couple of days, it may be time to contact your physician to rule out a more serious illness like hypothyroidism, depression or dysthymia.


Photo from Shutterstock


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