Category Archives: Parenthood

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Teenage Child


Because I’m only 20 years old, I’m in that awkward stage where I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to be an adult. So while I may very well be as far away from being a parent as a person can be, when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the complicated vortex that is the teenage mind, I like to think I have a pretty good knowledge base. After all, I was still considered a “teenager” last year!

When I was younger, I remember wondering why my older sister always wanted to hang out with her friends, never missing a chance to escape any family plans we had. She was moody and mean, and always seemed embarrassed to be seen with us. As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why my sister was acting so strange. What could be more fun than hanging out altogether as a family, going on adventures, and spending time with each other? But a few years later, it became my turn to begin distancing myself from my parents. I distinctly remember that wave of embarrassment I felt when my mom tried to hold my hand while walking me in to my middle school orientation. I pulled away instinctively, not wanting the “cool kids” to see, afraid my social standing would be tarnished before classes even began. Being 12 years old, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being caught holding my mom’s hand.

Maybe you’re a parent struggling to understand why your child is growing moody and irritable, confused as to why he or she groans every time you suggest spending time together. But try to recall your own adolescent memories, and how you felt when you were around the same age. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, and try to understand that their main concerns right now are how many likes they received on their last Instagram post, and whether or not their crush likes them back. It is easy to lose that strong parent-child connection you once had when the world of new friendships, romance, and parties takes over. This is the time when your teenager is learning about what their passions are, what new hobbies they want to explore, and their strong sense of self begins to develop. It may be frustrating to feel neglected and abandoned, but try and remember that your teenager is not intentionally trying to hurt you. They are just absorbed in their own worlds, and haven’t paused to consider how these changes are affecting you.

When we’re five years old, our parents are our entire world. They are our superheroes, always to the rescue, saving us from the monsters under the bed, and waking us from bad dreams. As babies, we are entirely dependent upon our parents for our basic survival. But as we grow and develop, we slowly gain a new sense of independence. As humans we like to feel needed, to know that our existence is important. So it hurts to acknowledge that your child no longer runs to you to save them. But its because they are slowly discovering that they can be their own hero, and are capable of rescuing themselves.

As we know, life is a crazy unexpected rollercoaster, and we will never be able to fully anticipate the ups and downs that we inevitably face. So as a parent, your presence is still enormously needed. Regardless of age, people need to feel supported and understood, and as a parent, this support is something that you can offer your child. While you may no longer need to wake your child up from a bad dream, what you can do is be there for when, for example, their first crush breaks their little teenage heart. You can let them know that it’s okay to not know who they are, and help them understand that while they may feel misunderstood, that doesn’t change the fact that you will always love them unconditionally. They may not know it now, but they will later appreciate that they were lucky enough to grow up with parents who cared for and valued them.

By: Talia Main 

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

Truth about Postpartum Depression

A woman’s body goes through hormonal changes during and right after pregnancy. These hormonal changes that occur after delivery can cause many women to experience something commonly known as the “baby blues.” This condition affects 1 in 7 women and causes women to feel sad, nervous, lonely, and/or stressed. When these feelings are experienced more intensely and for a longer period of time the condition is known as postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is a mental health disorder that could be debilitating to everyone involved in the arrival of the newborn baby.

The distinction between the common “baby blues” and PPD can at times be difficult to diagnose. They both manifest in similar ways involving mood swings, irritability, sadness, and fatigue. However, in the case of PPD the symptoms are more extreme and longer-lasting and can cause the individual to experience suicidal ideation or the inability to take care of their newborn baby, even up to four weeks postpartum.

The biological foundation of PPD misleads us to think that mothers are the only ones who experience PPD. But it is also possible for fathers to experience PPD. Although there is less research on paternal PPD, it has been established that maternal and paternal PPD are highly correlated. It has been suggested that when a couple has a baby, they are highly influenced by each other, meaning that if one partner is depressed, the other one is more likely to be depressed as well. This is especially the case in paternal PPD, which occurs when a father starts feeling that his partner is not as reciprocating and supportive, leading to feelings of depression. In fact, the strongest risk factor for paternal PPD is maternal PPD.

When mothers are afflicted with PPD, it has been reported that infants are breastfed for a shorter amount of time, have temperamental difficulties, suffer from sleeping problems, and experience emotional maladjustment. On the other hand, when fathers have PPD, there is a higher chance of increased family stress, spanking rate, and child psychopathology such as conduct disorder and emotional difficulties. So it becomes evident that regardless of who is depressed, it leaves a serious footprint on the baby’s life. Fortunately, when only one of the parents are experiencing PPD, the other parent can work as a “buffer” against any adverse effects by taking up both parents’ job in taking care of the baby. However, if both parents are suffering from PPD, it can be extremely problematic, as research has shown that these parents perceived their babies in a significantly more negative light and considered them to be below average overall.

A quick and easy way of assessing PPD is to use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, an easy 10-item scale questionnaire that is globally used to determine PPD. If the total score is above 13, PPD is a serious possibility and action should be taken accordingly. It is also crucial to keep in mind that if the answer to question 10, “the thought of harming myself has occurred to me,” is anything but “never,” even when the total score is below 13, the respondent must entertain the idea of PPD.

It is important to keep in mind that when a couple decides to start their own family, they really are in it together. It is certainly the mother who goes through the physical changes after the carriage of the newborn baby, but nevertheless, the father is also an active member who has to get used to new routines and changes that occur. It is therefore very important for both parents to keep each other in check. If either parent notices signs of PPD from their partner, it is key to maintain open communication and be supportive. If you find that your PPD is not going away on its own, try setting up some counseling appointments in order to work through it with a professional who specializes in PPD.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Talking to Kids about Relationships

Talking to kids about relationships may seem like a challenging task, and it actually is. I do not have any children myself, but I did grow up in an environment where I was able to witness a lot of parent-child interactions. I noticed that parents often tell their children, in regards to romantic relationships, to “wait until you’re older”. Even though this may seem logical since kids are not going to be in a romantic relationship anytime soon, I believe there are many aspects of relationships that children should be told about before they are “old enough” to be in a relationship. They include but are not restricted to:

1. Know your self-worth. 
I believe that it is very important for kids to be explicitly taught what self-worth is. When kids are taught that they should give and be given respect, they will be more likely to enter and maintain healthy relationships in the future. Cultivating the habit of giving and receiving respect will pay off both now and later.

2.  Know that it is okay to say no.
It is important for kids to know that they do not have to accept anything that they are not fully comfortable with, whether it is a person that they do not like, or a whole relationship that they are not comfortable being in. When this is taught at a young age, kids will learn that sometimes they need to place their own happiness first. This will make it less likely for these kids to remain in an unhappy relationship when they are older.

3. Know that you have support.
Parents should let their kids know that they are always there to support them. Even though this may seem like a natural thing, yet you will be surprised as to how many parents do not explicitly say this to their kids. By hearing that they have their parents’ support, kids will feel secure and will know that they always have someone to lean on when times get tough. When these kids grow up and enter relationships, they will know that they have their parents there to give them relationship (and any type of) advice.

4. Know that everyone has their ups and downs.
When kids are taught that they should be considerate and mindful of other peoples’ needs, they will be able to have more realistic expectations of relationships in the future. These kids will later know that when their partner acts off sometimes, it is not necessarily because of them, but it could be because they simply had a bad day or a pending issue worth an open discussion!

Some parents might think twice before starting a “relationships conversation” with their child, which is completely understandable. Things can progress slowly, but there are long-term positive effects with starting the conversation at a young age. By teaching your children some basics that pertain to relationships, they will have a solid base when they grow up and become romantically involved with someone. This will make their transition into romantic relationships easier and more satisfying.

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!

Tips on how to Cope with a Parent with a Mental Illness – From a Child’s Perspective

Mental-Health-Month-resized (1)As a child, it can be hard to see your parent going through the symptoms related to their mental illness. Below are 3 tips on how to cope, based on my personal experience.

1. Remember that no family is perfect. Every family experiences their own unique problems and difficulties. It may be hard to deal with your parent at first, but you must realize that every person faces obstacles within their life and this is simply another challenge you must tackle. From a personal perspective, thinking negatively and letting frustration consume your thoughts will do no good. It is important to find the light within the darkness and be supportive of your parent.

2. It’s okay to have your emotional breakdowns, but it’s necessary for you to communicate and express your feelings. You shouldn’t have to feel like having a parent with a mental illness is a heavy burden or a deep dark secret. It’s merely another step in your life that you must bravely overcome. Although you must stay emotionally and mentally strong, talking to people about your parent’s mental illness can relieve a lot of stress and emotions you may be feeling. I’ve always been too embarrassed to tell people about my mother, but after meeting another person who also had a mother with bipolar disorder, I felt like I could relate and share my feelings. For once in my life, I didn’t feel lonely and I was able to relate to someone who had experienced the same thing I did.

3. You should learn to familiarize yourself with your parent’s diagnosis and learn how to respond to them when they are dealing with one of their negative symptoms. There will be good days and bad days, but familiarizing yourself with their mental illness can help you cope and know what to expect. Don’t expect them to solely be by themselves in this treatment process, as you can contribute to their recovery process. Never give up on the idea that your parent will get better because although it may take time, with the right services, such as therapy, they CAN get better.

By: Priscilla Chou

Behind a Child’s Eye

f6a1959d69cb327431d3308f06268725I believe every individual tries to reflect upon the happiest memories of their childhood. We tend to block out the negative experiences that we have encountered, solely focusing on the times of endless smiles and laughter. People claim that an individual’s childhood should be a period marked by innocence and purity and I agree, but I also believe that traumatizing events can leave permanent scars.

When I was a little girl, my mother was my idol for everything. I always looked up to her and she was constantly my chosen role model for those silly projects. My mom was a brave woman, never once did she shed a tear around me. Instead she put up a strong front. It wasn’t until one day when I witnessed her faint from getting up from a nap, distinctly seeing her pale and limp body, did I begin to worry. I found it even more strange when we went to go eat dinner at our favorite restaurant and she barely touched a thing. I distinctly remember asking her what was wrong, but she shrugged it off, giving me that smile and reassuring me that everything was fine. Little did I know that my life was about to change.

The whole concept of mental illness was confusing to me. Eight year olds aren’t supposed to understand the idea behind wanting to kill yourself. They are all led to believe that they will have happy lives and only die from old age. It was absolutely terrifying to see someone you looked up to screaming, shaking, complaining of hallucinations, and wanting to die. And of course, because I was that innocent and pure child, I was beyond frightened. It felt like I was witnessing a monster who had possessed my mother’s soul. All I could do was hide and pray that this demon would go away.

Kids aren’t taught at school how to deal with having parents that suffer from mental illnesses. They are taught to be good citizens, obey laws, and study content like simple mathematical skills. I had no idea how to deal with something like this, I had never seen these types of situations in cartoons, so I didn’t know how to help. Each time my mother had a bad moment, all I could do was cry because the truth was, I was scared. Every single time my mom had a bad episode, I tried to reassure myself I was a big and brave girl, but I couldn’t stop the tears from shedding down my face.

I think it’s safe to say that after my mom’s diagnosis became reality, my life changed. I was forced to accept that life was not a perfect fairy tale and not all childhoods were happy. It eventually became a ritual and I recognized that my mother would have her ups and downs. However, despite her episodes becoming more routine, I would be lying if I said that the little girl in me didn’t feel lonely and scared.

Rather than solely focusing on content, such as physical exercise and learning the periodic table, schools should also be teaching children about the world behind mental illness. People are often uninformed regarding the issues behind mental health disorders. Our first instinct is to call these individuals “crazy”, contributing to the negative stereotypes that are prevalent within society. If schools were to place a greater importance on mental health, children wouldn’t be so afraid and confused when witnessing their parents or family members dealing with, for example, a depressive episode. It would allow children to feel like they’re not alone and allow for an open line of communication.

 By: Priscilla Chou 

 

Talking to your kids about sex and sexuality

family_couchFor many parents it can often seem like a daunting task filled with awkward conversations and maybe a clumsy demonstration or two. Conversations about sexuality don’t have to be awkward at all! Engaging in healthy conversations about sexuality sets the stage for talking, without guilt or embarrassment, about body parts and their functions. Setting them up for success to feel positive about their own bodies and to make conscious, well informed decisions that protect their sexual health.

Here are five suggestions to help parents de-stress and raise kids to become sex positive adults:

1. Think about your early experiences with sexuality

Take some time to really dig deep into your memory banks as you attempt to remember how and when you first learned about sexuality. Reflect upon those early conversations about it. Were they positive, negative or did they fall into a gray area? Would you change anything about the ways in which you learned about sexuality?

It’s important to tap into these early experiences as they play an integral role into how you feel about sex and your own sexuality throughout your life. Your feelings and experiences may then be passed onto your children in a variety of manifestations whether they are presented as fears, insecurities, shame or positive views of sexuality.

The key here is to own your feelings by acknowledging and owning them whether they are good or bad. Knowing the “how” and “why” behind your views of sexuality can then be used as invaluable tools when the time comes to take your own child on the journey towards understanding sexuality in all its forms.

2. Use the correct language for body parts

One of the most important things you can do for your children and their understanding of sexuality is to refer to body parts by anatomically correct names. Making an effort to do so from birth will serve as reinforcement for your child as it will be considered normal and they will follow your lead.

The use of the proper names of body parts fosters a positive body image and self-confidence.

3. Keep things casual

Feel free to forgo the urge to tackle one big discussion about sexuality at once. Instead, find ways to approach the subject during normal conversations and activities while avoiding scare tactics. Make it a point to keep things fun while you’re at it, too. It’s totally acceptable and encouraged to get a little silly with things if it helps.

Try to look for teachable moments when attempting to relay information in an inviting way. Doing so will teach your child that sexuality is a positive part of life all while providing them with age appropriate information. Finding opportunities to discuss sexuality with your child will be relatively easy. Do not shy away from using TV shows, music videos and overheard conversations when looking for an excellent starting point when you want the time to come to discuss sexuality.

Definitely encourage your child to come to you with any questions they may have and keep the conversations going.

4. Keep it age appropriate

A large part of sex positive parenting lies within your ability to discuss sexuality with your children from an age appropriate perspective. However, we must first jump the hurdle of the common misconception that “sex education” should be relegated to the annals of reproduction, sexually transmitted infections and contraception. When we abandon and de-stigmatize the standard views of what sexual education “has” to be, we then can openly communicate with children about sexuality in a more honest and informative manner.

Opening this dialogue encourages you to inform your child in an age appropriate manner about a wealth of topics that are crucial to developing a healthy sex positive attitude. The list of topics that are vital to furthering sexuality education includes: love, pleasure, empathy, consent, sexual assertiveness, diversity and preferences, self-image, gender stereotypes, respect for all, boundaries, healthy relationships, intimacy, safety and trust.

5. Lastly, remember it takes a village.

If you’re ever at a loss, talk to your friends, family members, family physician, teachers, community agencies, or your local clinical sexologist for support.

By: Kelly McDonnell-Arnold

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Sex After Pregnancy and Baby

GTY_baby_166272556_jt_131103_16x9_608“Not now, honey, I’m tired” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re a new parent. You’re exhausted, sleep deprived and have a world of new responsibilities. You barely recognize your body in the mirror, let alone want someone else to see you naked. Sex may be the furthest thing from your mind. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. It’s normal to lose your libido after having a baby. There are ways to put the desire back into your relationship and balance family life with sex life. Here are my top three tips to finding (and keeping!) that balance in your relationship:

ONE: Be Realistic

Accept that you are both going to be over extended and less likely to be jumping each others bones. Being a parent is tiring. That’s just a fact of life. Your whole perspective and focus also changes when you become a mom. Yet, it’s still important to nurture your relationship with your partner(s). Just because you are now a mom doesn’t mean you stop being part of a couple. Try to focus less on the lack of wild sex and more on what you can do that feels comfortable. Even simple things like more eye contact, heartfelt compliments, and a long hug can go a long way in fostering that connection and intimacy as a couple instead of just parents. Everyone likes to be told they look nice – especially after having their body changed after pregnancy!

TWO: Channel Your Creativity

Sometimes, it really is the small things that make the biggest difference in our day-to-day lives.  Sure, you may want a weekend get away, but that’s not always feasible. Instead, try a ‘stay-cation’ by spending time relaxing in a bubble bath after baby has fallen asleep. You could even spice it up a bit by inviting your partner(s) to join you in the bath. You’re going to have limited time and energy as a new parent. Ask yourself “Do I want to spend my time picking up toys and making complicated dinners, or do I want to enjoy time with my partner(s) and order takeout?” The exhausted stage isn’t forever. Don’t put your energy in places you may regret, like vacuuming the house just because you are worried about what visitors may think! What do you think? You’re more important than a house guest.

THREE: Let’s Talk About Sex Baby

Communication is an important part of any relationship. The most effective way to get more of what you want is by talking about it with your partner(s). Open lines of communication about wants and needs in the bedroom are key to a happy relationship and healthy sex life. Think about it. You talk about money and parenting style, why not talk about sex? Just like anything else, if it’s not talked about, the problem will fester and become a bigger and bigger issue in the relationship. Don’t let your fear or talking about the subject inhibit you from building a stronger relationship. The bond is more than just physical. By talking through all aspects of your relationship with your partner(s) – from money, to parenting style, to sex – you only make the relationship stronger, not weaker. Talk it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Having a baby doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. It just brings a whole new dimension to your family and relationship. Savor your relationship with your baby, but also savor your relationship with your partner(s). You deserve to have it all.

By: Kelly McDonnell-Arnold

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Young People and Social Media Use – How Parent’s can support them Mind to their Mental Health

socialmediatree-540x440For young people today, social media is an integral part of their world. Parents accept this to be the reality but because parents of today have only ever experienced social media as an adult, it can be difficult for parents to know how best to support their child to mind their mental health while online. Parents can find it hard to relate to what it is to experience social media use as a young person, as they never had the chance to experience social media during their adolescent years. Supervising their child’s interactions online may work at the start for parents but eventually, young people will seek greater independence from parents and that is normal for them to do. Therefore, it is good to think in terms of equipping young people with tools and strategies to mind themselves mentally as well as physically online. There will be times when parent’s are not there by their side so it is good to see the value of preparing young minds for what they may encounter going forward.

One tool or strategy that works well for young people is having knowledge about how their mind is working. For young people about to start into adolescence, the task they are beginning to face in their mind is the task known as identity formation. That means that young people are beginning to look outside of their own small world of family and close friends more. They are beginning, on an unconscious level, to ask themselves who they are in the world and what their place within the world is. Because this task is faced in the unconscious part of their mind, it is therefore not within young people’s awareness. Because of his task, young people can become very fixated on feedback from others online as a way to garner information about what others think of them and therefore, what they are like as a person in the world. This can be a difficult process in many ways for young people as social media is a very narrow filter through which to work out your worth. If young people are given information about their stage of mind development and if this task that they are facing in their mind is explained to them, they at least have the knowledge in their conscious mind and have awareness. They will have awareness about the fact that they are trying to work out their identity. They also will have the knowledge that other people their age are busy working out identities too and that gives them a context within which to understand the behaviour of their peers. Knowing themselves on the inside is a vital tool when it comes to young people minding their mental health. Giving them information about their own mind is one step parents can take; mental health matters so much.

By: Anne McCormack

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How to Deal with Bullying

Unfortunately, many of us have been or will be bullied at some point in your lives. This can take a serious toll on your mental health and self-esteem.

Bullying happens when a person abuses their position of power or authority, physical strength or position in life to hurt someone else, whether that is emotionally or physically. This is done due to a need to boost their ego for personal satisfaction or even to impress someone else. The truth is that a bully has personal issues that they refuse to deal with head on, so they use relieve their frustration by taking it out on others.

So what can you do to stop or avoid being bullied?

It all depends on your situation.

In most cases, the best thing to do is nothing. This shows the bully that you are not affected by their actions. Bullies thrive off of making you uncomfortable and putting you down. So showing that you are not affected by their antics actually makes them lose their interest because they also lose a sense of accomplishment. Most bullies are acting out to get attention, so if they are not getting a rise out of you, they are likely to move on and leave you alone. It is also important to have someone that you love and trust to talk to for support while all of this is going on.

In other cases, it may be necessary to have a parent, counselor, or teacher get involved. You will know that this is the right thing to do if the bullying has gone beyond the limits of your ability to cope with it on your own.

People often think that if you remove what makes you different and if you conform to the norms of society, that you will reduce the chances of being bullied. But we must realize that those things that make us different and unique are also what makes us special and can take us far in life. So go forward boldly and unapologetically because the world needs you just as you are, regardless of anyone else’s opinion.

5 Tips to Help Deal with Sassy Kids

kids-on-grass-2It seems to be that there comes a time in every child’s life when they transition from a cute and loving child, to a snarky and sassy tween or teen.  In this phase, kids go from good-natured to short-tempered, accommodating to resisting, happy to hold your hand to embarrassed to even be seen with you.

 

Let the eye-rolling begin.

Some parents roll with this change with remarkable good humour and grace; the rest of us may end up resorting to less-than-helpful responses to our kids.  If you think you may fall into that second category, here are five tips for getting your relationship back onto a better path.

1. Take a deep breath and don’t take it personally. 

Yes, it’s true that sometimes our kids can find just the right thing to say to cut us to the quick.  But they’re not necessarily trying to wound us that deeply, they’re often just trying out different ways of relating to others and seeing which ones give them a feeling of control and confidence.  It’s ok to respond calmly with something like, “That was very disrespectful.  I don’t like being spoken to that way, and I’m going to leave the room until we can agree that we’ll speak to each other more pleasantly.”

2. Harness the power of role modelling. 

As much as parents like to joke about the “do as I say, not as I do” method of parenting, children don’t tend to see the humour in it.  While there’s no doubt they can quite effectively push our buttons, a part of them is watching us to see how we’ll handle it.  Our kids look to us to learn how to behave in the world, and if we respond to them with anger, or an attempt at control by trying to put them in their place, then they learn that this is an effective way of responding to someone who is upsetting them.  While it might not seem like it in the moment, continuing to model respectful behavior towards our kids (and ourselves) does give them a blueprint for how to stand up for themselves appropriately and how to navigate difficult conversations.

3. Take a time out. 

We often get into the habit of believing that every parenting issue must be dealt with immediately.  But the reality is that sometimes we all need space to cool down, before we can get a real handle on the situation and think about the big picture.  It’s ok to tell your children, “We’ll talk about this later,” and then follow through and do it.

4. Catch them being good. 

You may have heard this phrase before; it’s something of a staple in parenting.  If we catch more flies with honey, than we want to be on the look-out for opportunities to acknowledge and appreciate those times when our kids express themselves assertively while still being respectful.  They don’t have to be talking to you; if you happen to overhear a conversation between two of your children, or one of your kids and a friend, it’s ok to pull your child aside later and quietly let them know that you thought she handled herself very well in that difficult situation.

5. Keep a healthy perspective.

While you may worry that the attitude demonstrated at home may be transported out there into the world at large, you can breathe easy knowing that it typically isn’t the case.  Kids generally reserve their worst behavior for family (lucky us), and they have a pretty good idea of what would and wouldn’t be considered acceptable with friends and other adults.

These little moments may not be the best part of parenting, but hang in there.  Keep in mind that a strong relationship is your best insurance against the dismissive and disrespectful attitude from our children, so don’t lose touch with them.  Find opportunities to chat and share, create little moments of connection, and soon the scales will start to tip in the other direction.

 By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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