Teasing and Friendship

by Honolulu Mother

Recent articles from New York Magazine and Quartz suggest that kids need to learn to distinguish between good-natured teasing, which can be an important part of friendship, and the kind of unfriendly jibes we might consider bullying.

Teach Your Kids to Take a Joke or They’ll Be Bad at Friendship

Teasing has many benefits, when done right

From the NYMag article:

Boston University psychologist Peter Gray tells Quartz that if parents and teachers try and shield their kids too much from any sort of smack talking, then they don’t learn to enjoy the crass banter that’s such a part of growing up or to stand up for themselves when it goes too far. Those sheltered kids have “heard from adults that [light-hearted teasing] is bullying and so they get really upset about it rather than knowing how to roll with the punches,” he says. It’s like the social equivalent of the microbiome: If your parents didn’t let any microbes into your house growing up, there’s a better chance you would develop asthma. And if they didn’t let you exchange barbs with your friends growing up, it might be harder to accept the vulnerability that’s a part of talking shit as an adult. . . .

We do a lot of teasing within our family, which I think has helped our kids to see it as an affectionate thing within the right context. In the school context, I think that kids teasing one another often are honestly uncertain themselves whether they mean it as friendly banter or mean teasing — often it’s the target’s reaction that decides it for them. So I do agree with the article that it’s helpful for kids to experience teasing as a part of normal social interaction, so they can distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ teasing as they grow up.

Can your kids join in to friendly teasing, and give as good as they get, or do these interactions upset them? Are your family members fond of teasing one another?


105 thoughts on “Teasing and Friendship

  1. This is timely. A couple of weeks ago, I took my daughter and two friends (one of whom I’ve never been around before) to a camp out for the purpose of working on a service project. All three girls were reading the same book this summer. My DD wasn’t too interested, skimmed through it and was done. Girl 2 read every word quickly and wanted to examine the ideas in the book in detail. Girl 3 had not finished and was reading in the car. Girl 2 made several harsh sounding (to me) comments about Girl 3’s slow reading ability. Girl 3 seemed to take it in stride, but I couldn’t tell if this was their normal banter or if it crossed the line. I later asked my DD, who said she felt is was border line. She did say that Girl 3 can take care of herself and if she thought it crossed the line would have called out Girl 2.

    We do tease in our family and our girls interact with other families that tease as well. I think it helps them “get” adults with dry senses of humor and to evaluate their and other’s reactions to teasing. We do talk about watching for other’s reactions to teasing and taking responsibitliy if you hurt other’s feelings.

  2. Mmmph. I want a finer set of distinctions about the role of gender, race, power, etc. I rarely tease anyone anymore, except VERY gently, because in my experience even friendly teasing can wind up hurtful. So I just don’t do it. DH doesn’t like it either. One of my high school friends finds it hard to talk to me now because he’s used to insulting banter, and I just don’t do that anymore. It’s boring. If anyone did the “slap the drink out of my hand” as described in the first article, I’d just leave. So would DH. I don’t spend time with friends just to put up with “funny” aggression.

  3. Both of those articles really aren’t selling me on the idea.

    “We’ve all got flaws,” he says.

    That’s just silly nonsense that people tell themselves to feel better. At least in terms of kids your lack of perceived flaws is directly proportional to your popularity.

    One bro smiled at Jack, and, with zero hesitation, slapped his wine, spilling half of it. Jack went to take a sip, and the same bro smacked it out of his hand.

    That’s just being a dick.

  4. “I rarely tease anyone anymore, except VERY gently, because in my experience even friendly teasing can wind up hurtful.”

    I agree. I get teased fairly frequently by my sister about how cheap I am and how boring I am (I don’t like to travel as much as she does). After the ninth or tenth time, it gets annoying. I think the teaser thinks it’s “all in good fun”, but the recipient may not think so.

  5. I think what we are OK being teased about relates to those things we poke fun at ourselves about. But, I agree with Houston, being teased all the time about the same thing gets annoying.

  6. We tease each other all the time, but when that article came out I realized that my kid doesn’t really know how to accept teasing from anyone else. He takes it as negative, same as he takes any kind of touching, jostling, anything like that. Now that he’s back in school and seeing other kids all the time, I’m trying to talk to work on that with him.

  7. Friendly teasing was a huge part of my high school and college social dynamic, and for a couple years thereafter, but only among what was our tight-knit group of friends, and in terms of social friendships, I was never happier. I think the anecdote about the guy spilling his friend’s drink on purpose was odd, though.

    Now, for reasons we’ve all shared, what friendships I have are nowhere near that level where we’d be inclined to do this.

  8. I think the subject matter of the teasing makes all the difference. If you were going after what you know is a sensitive spot with someone, you’re kind of a jerk. If you are lightheartedly teasing about something it doesn’t really matter, I think it’s fine. That means you have to know the person well enough to know that you can tease them without hurting them. For example, teasing me about my weight would probably bother me. When my kids tease me about my occasional forgetfulness or distractedness, they can make me laugh. But if I thought my forgetfulness was something to be concerned about, I wouldn’t think it was funny at all. So I really only tease people that I know really well, and never in a way that I think could hurt them.

    I have a very funny family that jokes a lot, but we were told repeatedly growing up that a joke is never funny if it is at someone’s expense. So that is something I’ve always been sensitive about.

  9. Absolutely Rocky, power plays a huge role in all our relationships, and needs to be examined all the time. It’s kind of tricky for me to figure out how to do that with Isaac at his high school. For example, he told me that he stands next to a bunch of thugs in lunch line as protection. I asked him if they like being called that, and he said yes. He said that one of them is 22, and that being held back is a badge of honor for them. That makes it hard for me to know where the lines are. And yes, slapping a drink or pretty much anything for that matter, out of someone’s hand is just being a jerk. It’s not a good example of friendly teasing

  10. “I think the subject matter of the teasing makes all the difference. If you were going after what you know is a sensitive spot with someone, you’re kind of a jerk. If you are lightheartedly teasing about something it doesn’t really matter, I think it’s fine. That means you have to know the person well enough to know that you can tease them without hurting them.”

    I think this is exactly why it is important for friendships and relationship-building – because it shows closeness and understanding while also adding some humor & lightheartedness. We do some lighthearted teasing in our family including with DS, and my college friends & I definitely tease each other. I kind of feel like this is an area that we need to model even more for DS because he is an only. Siblings usually test the boundaries of teasing with each other, in my personal experience, and that is one thing that he is missing out on.

    I do think that the line can be blurry between lighthearted teasing that cements friendships with humor and that which crosses the line into mean girl behavior. That is why I really only do this with my closest old friends and not coworkers. I think it could be even more confusing for kids who haven’t “practiced” a bit at home.

    The wine spilling sounds like jerky behavior though, not friendly banter.

  11. Even if it is never his preferred mode of socializing the way I enjoy that kind of relationship, I want my kid to be comfortable being on the receiving end and know where the lines are for when teasing hurts most people. He just honestly doesn’t get the concept that it can be friendly, in either direction.

  12. My kids are exposed to a lot of verbal interactions. There is trash talking on the soccer field and the games get physical and verbally intense. This is looked on for most part as part of the game but there are situations where coaches have been kicked out for yelling.
    They interact with kids in various spheres – in school, with neighbors, at camp and activities.
    There is teasing and horse play along with some cussing. Sometimes interactions can be upsetting but these have been one offs and when I checked in with them, they said that it was not bullying. On the whole kinder interactions than I had growing up.

  13. Louise, I don’t picture as being the teasing type at all! Was there any friendly teasing in your childhood?

  14. ‘Saac, I am pretty impressed by that 22 year old “Thug”. Simply because he’s still in high school. It disproves my theory.

    Every time some well-meaning person wants to hold Junior back a grade or suggests a detour in public school for a year so he can fail and qualify for a scholarship of some sort, I say, “NO! I am absolutely not wasting a year of my son’s time. Even if I have to move to the worst high school in the worst school district in the country, my son WILL graduate from high school and WILL graduate on time. How many 20 year-old males do you see hanging around high school taking 11th grade English Lit?” Well, the answer is none and everybody knows it, because most young guys have better things to do at 20 (or 22) than hang around a high school studying Romeo and Julliet– things like working, supporting baby mama(s), dealing drugs, doing time etc.

    Really, I give that thug and his parents a lot of credit.

  15. “’Don’t tease,’ is a standard admonition of any parent.”

    Really? I can honestly say I have never said that. What I have repeatedly and fruitlessly said is “don’t be mean.” Or “back off.” Huge difference between the two.

    My family was the verbally quick family growing up; my stepfather was the undisputed king. I had a huge adjustment period, but around 12 I matured enough to understand the difference between teasing/banter and being mean, and dinnertime through jr high and HS became my single-best all-mushed-together-collage memory. The things that I have noticed:

    1. Kids frequently struggle to “get it” until about 12. Younger kids, at least the ones in my family, don’t always quite have that fine-tuned social interaction skill to distinguish good-natured teasing from picking-on. Or maybe it’s that the power imbalance in the family is just too great until the kid gets to that adolescent full-of-self and begins to see a place for himself in the world outside the family home.

    2. Teasing requires a great deal of intimacy to avoid being mean. Don’t presume, and don’t extend. I went hugely wrong trying to export my family’s dinnertimes to my Girl Scout camp.

    3. When you have that intimacy, use it wisely. Don’t pick a known sore spot (e.g., DH used to joke about his “fivehead” (because it’s bigger than a forehead); now that his hairline is working its way toward his dad’s, I don’t make that joke quite so much any more). Pick something completely absurd (a/k/a “your momma wears combat boots”). Or pick something that is a compliment in disguise (e.g., back when I was running regularly, my kids could have teased me about being stinky or investing in lycra or whatever for hours, and I’d just have laughed). Tease people about things they feel good about instead of things they feel bad about.

    4. When in doubt, find something to mock about yourself, or make wry observations about the world in general. There are many ways to be funny or lighten the mood that don’t require insults.

    5. You can’t tease a kid out of being sensitive. If the kid isn’t getting it, piling on to “toughen him up” is just going to do more harm than good.

  16. My kids all engage in good natured teasing with their friends, and more competitive teasing with each other (car trips can be a constant barrage of trash talk). However, there have been cases where the line has been crossed, most especially with DD. She has gotten slanty eye jokes, which I just don’t get because there are so many East Asian kids in our district. And there is a kid in her afterschool program who is simply a bully. He is both a physical bully and a verbal one, and has really upset her many times with racist teasing as well as the meanest sort of adoption related comments. I think the kid has some kind of emotional and/or developmental issues, and I try to explain it to her. I told her that when he crosses the line, she should not engage (she is the sort to hit back, which makes it worse) but to go tell the teacher. And she does that, and so do the other kids, so this mean kid is always in trouble. But still he continues…

  17. “ Tease people about things they feel good about instead of things they feel bad about.”

    Yes, so I might tease one kid about his encyclopedic knowledge of WW2. Yet, that same kid might cringe when the jocks at school tease him about the same thing. So it’s all in the nitty gritty details.

    “You can’t tease a kid out of being sensitive. If the kid isn’t getting it, piling on to “toughen him up” is just going to do more harm than good.”

    Yet some parents and teachers do try to toughen up a kid this way. Makes me think of how one kid could learn to swim by being thrown in the pool, but another kid could develop a life-long fear of drowning.

  18. We tease a lot in our family, and have much the same approach as LfB. I also told the kids that teasing was only ok when it made everyone feel good. The person doing the teasing, the teasee, and anyone else who was in earshot.

  19. That was my reaction about the 22 yr old in HS too. DS thinks he’s there for the free breakfast & lunch. Not a snide comment. He has more chance to observe than I, so I’m speechless on this.

    Laura, those are great rules. Thank you!

  20. One example of friendly but not politically correct teasing from my childhood. Some of my friends and myself were overweight. We were fat bottomed girls. So, among those of us who weren’t thin, we would think of some round object and call each other a tomato or a watermelon or a beach ball. Totally different from snide mean comments and endless advice on eating less, exercising more.

  21. I was very sensitive about being teased as a kid (even when they weren’t being mean spirited about it, like others said, maturity has to come to be able to tell the difference

    I love to tease DH and my nuclear family

  22. Mooshi, she’s probably at the age where kids start that. At ‘saac’s sixth grade school would ever have been permitted. When he started seventh grade (11 years old), I was stunned to learn that he was being called N____ all the time, and not always in friendly ways. I know you stay in touch with a bunch of other kids who were adopted at the same time & place as your daughter. What do they say?

  23. Arg! Talk to text to trash.

    At the school where my kid went to sixth grade, there is no way any teasing would have been permitted.

  24. One of the downsides of having the youngest kid in the grade is that while some classmates have the social experience to distinguish friendly and mean spirited teasing, mine does not. We have had a lot of conversations about just walking away and not engaging.

    I don’t know anyone in my day to day life that I can still tease – just a few of my old school friends.

    LfB, those are good rules and I may borrow them :)

  25. Yes, so I might tease one kid about his encyclopedic knowledge of WW2.

    Off topic – there is a life size sculpture on Comm. Ave of a man sitting on a rock that I walk by when walking the dog and I finally googled who it was. Samuel Eliot Morrison author of the History of United States Naval Operations in World War II (in 15 volumes.)


    There is a two volume abridged version that might make a good gift.

  26. There was a lot of teasing and banter when I was growing up and in our own household. Siblings are natural teachers of teasing and being teased, and only children can be at a disadvantage in this regard. Learning how to tolerate teasing and when to say “enough is enough” is very important, especially for kids who are naturally shy or self-conscious or who have physical characteristics that make them an obvious teasing target. “Just ignore him” didn’t seem to work for my kids any better than it did when my parents suggested it back in the day. IME, even at schools where teachers emphasize kindness and respect, a *lot* of teasing happens under the radar, and we do our kids a disservice by not letting them learn how to handle it on their own, within reason of course.

  27. We used to make up songs about family members. Like, the opening verse of this song:

    only the words were changed to

    Open the door [mom’s name], turn on the light
    Let’s get the kids up even though it’s still night
    For some hiking [doo, doo, doo de doo]
    For some hiking [doo, doo, doo de doo].

    Yes, my dad liked to get an early start to the day when we were on vacation somewhere, and yes, his idea of a good time always involved a ton of walking. The funny part is that I do the same thing now.

    For my brother, we had “Bufo the Toad” set to the tune of Felix the Cat with highly insulting lyrics.

    My mother recalls a tune she and her sibs sang to her mother all the time, based on “It Ain’t Necessarily So”:

    Methuselah lived 900 years
    His grandmother lived even more
    If you want to see her she lives in our house
    And her voice is a crackling roar.

  28. We tease quite a bit within the family. It is very helpful for one my children, who has nonverbal learning disability. She misses a lot of social cues and has a hard time understanding friendly teasing and hurtful teasing. We constantly practice what is a friendly teasing and when it is hurtful. She has been on both the receiving and givings ends of hurtful teasing, and majority of those times she doesn’t even realize that it is hurtful.

    One of the problems we are finding is that the school is so big into anti-bullying. While this is good to some extent, my daughter can’t decipher between when it is bullying and when it is just kids being mean. At some point everyone is going to be labeled a bully…

  29. Lemon, your kid has nonverbal learning disorder? I did not know that! ‘saac does too. You are the first person I’ve run into in since his Dx who has hard of it!!
    Do you want to email me and chat? Same handle, on hotmail.

  30. “can’t decipher between when it is bullying and when it is just kids being mean”

    Honest question: what’s the difference? Isn’t there significant overlap?

  31. I think that there is significant overlap, but one difference IMO is that true bullies revel in seeing their target collapsing and dissolving in tears. Sometimes kids who are just being mean are embarrassed and ashamed when they realize that they have gone too far.

  32. Finn, I posted this on FB yesterday:
    I absolutely agree about the power differential. The response of adults can make a huge difference. Refusing to see ongoing power plays (in our case physical), to take action or to comfort/encourage the bullied child send a message that “you are not worth protecting. This behavior is OK, because you’re bad and deserve to hurt”. That latter phrase is taken directly from my son’s comment about himself several years later.

  33. @HM — we do that too! For each of my dad’s past few significant birthdays, I have rewritten one of his favorite songs (eg, “Red-Headed Stranger” became “Grey-Headed Stranger”; of course, “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” needed no renaming). We also use to make up little ditties about each other on skiing trips, usually on the lifts, all to the exact same tune. I believe the most famous one was:

    Daddy loves to teach us how to ski.
    “Shoulders downhill! Bend those knees!”
    Skiing with daddy would be nice
    If he’d only take his own advice.

    For my mom’s recent significant bday, we wrote poems with a similar bent, using her infamous catchphrases and foibles. As a lit prof, she got a huge kick out of that.

  34. bullies revel in seeing their target collapsing and dissolving in tears

    Sometimes. More often it’s a kid in the bottom third of the social hierarchy trying to increase his/her stock. It’s not about the bully or their reaction its about their own relative status.

  35. It’s not about the bully or their reaction its about their own relative status.

    I mean it’s not about the victim or their reaction…The primary motivation is an attempt by the bully to change their relative status.

  36. Rhett, if a kid tries to bully someone “above” them and they don’t care, does it make a noise?

  37. @SM: ITA with those distinctions. Although I am not 100% sure about the power imbalance issue — I know that is the most common version we talk about (a/k/a “mean girls” bullying those below them in the social structure), but my worst bully (the ES one) was basically at the same social level I was (low). And come to think of it, the worst mean-girl behavior I ran into in jr high/HS was also from a friend I made when we were both on the low end of the social scale, before I found my tribe.

    So maybe it’s not so much the existence of a power imbalance as that the behavior is undertaken to establish the power of the one over the other. I do think power is key — but it can be asserted by those who already have it as a way of maintaining control, and it can also be claimed by those who don’t have it as a way of fighting their way up a rung on the social ladder.

  38. I rewrote lyrics to quite a few lullabies for my baby, some of them extensively to be all about him/us, others just a little like “Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high. You know we’re rich, and we’re really good lookin’, so hush, little baby, don’t you cry…Until that morning comes, they’ll be no one can harm you, with your loving mama standing by”

  39. Rhett, did you ever read Blubber as a kid? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blubber_(novel)

    The dynamic of the formerly bullied kid being more than happy to join the bullies when there’s a shift is something you definitely see. I remember seeing it as a kid on occasion. Being victimized doesn’t necessarily make someone a nice person, and as you noted, bullying the new victim du jour can seem like a way for yesterday’s victim to improve status.

  40. “Rhett, if a kid tries to bully someone “above” them and they don’t care, does it make a noise?”

    Snort. But actually, I doubt that anyone would just not care. The difference is that kids who are high on the social scale has a bunch of friends who would come to their defense and turn the tables on the bully. Which is why I suspect you don’t see a lot of bullying “up” — it would have the opposite effect from the intended.

  41. LfB, that makes a lot of sense.
    Rhett, isn’t that who we’re worried about? Bullies do need to learn other ways to feel important, or at least worthwhile, but the destruction to the bullied is more immediate.

  42. LfB, that and your post before last that I was just referring to and both right on target.

  43. Only children without nearby cousins or the equivalent get very little training in the nuances of teasing, or in a number of other socially useful skills. I often say that we act in the presence of others in ways that are only appropriate or advisable when alone, for the reason that we had no sibs to smack us verbally or physically when we behaved that way. That being said, I have zero tolerance for teasing. As an adult I have learned to grit my teeth and endure what I believe others intend as teasing, but I have no ability to tease anyone – I am incapable of uttering something semi humorous and socially acceptable that I would perceive as hurtful if said to me.

  44. I agree with Izzy Kalman’s take on bullying – see bullies2buddies.com. It is a tool in the human tool box. Everyone of us who has a sibling or more than one child can attest to how much kids pick at each other and try to gain the upper hand. Kalman’s take is that you can’t stop a bully by changing the bully’s behavior but how the victim reacts to it (please note this does not include bullying that has escalated to violence or repeated threats of violence).

    But since everything now gets labeled as bullying and there is zero tolerance, kid’s are using teachers and administrators as the new weapon to bully each other. Kid’s who are bullied today at school will turn around and bully their sibling, someone at dance or a kid in the neighborhood if it suits their needs all without acknowledging that they were upset with being bullied themselves. Another of Kalman’s points is that bullying is not really a result of low self esteem but a way to control the social conditions one finds him/herself hence the why it is a tool in the toolbox.

    That is why I think it is important to teach your kids how to laugh at themselves and to roll a bit with what life throws at them. I do agree that teasing at home or with friends does help kids learn how the world works and prepares them for more difficult challenges.

  45. One way I have noticed that adults interacts is to throw out a teasing comment, the recipient reformats it, and then tosses it back. It is a game that continues until someone gives up or starts laughing. For example, several years ago, DH and I, and some of DH’s college friends were at a fundraiser. A group from DH’s college put on the fundraiser, featuring a speaker from my college. in the area, there is a bit of a rivalry between the two. Some comment was made why DH’s college had a speaker from the rival school, what was the issue that his school didnt have one of their own. After a bit, DH’s friend commented that, well it WAS a charity event.

    Snickers, he won.

  46. “If we were to replace our zero-tolerance-for-bullying policies with this simple expression of the GR–Love your enemy (bully); be nice to people even when they are mean to you–bullying would disappear. And if we were to teach it on an international level, we might achieve peace on earth.”

    I call bullshit on that. My bully wasn’t mean because he hated me in particular, or because I was mean to him. He targeted me because I was the new kid and smart and had glasses and was poor, and he could improve his social standing by asserting his dominance over me — and because he knew he could get away with it. I didn’t “act like a victim” (boy, what an offensive line there); I didn’t show fear, or cry, or let him know he got to me at all. I tried ignoring him, even as he was following me down the hall and taunting me. Turning the other cheek and being nice to him? That’s just laughable. The only thing that stopped the little sociopath was when he attacked me and I physically fought back.

    I am all for teaching victims how not to act like victims, and ITA that zero-tolerance has gone too far (and in a weird way become the source of more bullying). But saying we could cure bullying if the victims were just nicer to the perpetrators has it completely bass-ackwards. It’s like saying, well, honey, he wouldn’t have raped you if you’d just worn a longer skirt and not had so much to drink.

  47. DH’s older sisters were really nasty in their teasing, and it’s one reason why he doesn’t tolerate it now. It’s also one of many reasons why I don’t particularly care for either of the sisters. So having siblings isn’t an unmitigated good.

  48. UL, welcome! Can you tell us a little more about your family to contextual use your comment?

    Meme, interesting. I think I became a fan of teasing because I was socially clueless, and probably didn’t differentiate well between whether it was meant well or not. Before first grade, I often played with boys who were slightly older than me. Looking back, I highly doubt they were nice to me. That was probably true for decades. I think I’ve mentioned before that the one prof who I really had trouble with in college was the one who singled me out as a girl for preferential treatment. I didn’t know how to deal with that! Being told “your job is to stand there [ie out of the a tion] and look good”

  49. I have 4 brothers who basically only communicate by teasing or punching/wrestling each other. The ones closest in age to me treated me in the same manner. It was, um, character building.

  50. Kate, when my brother finally gained brothers-in-law (having suffered with only sisters up till then), they all began a running joke about who is the biggest clown. It kind of went on the back burner as children arrived, but I’m sure as we all get toward the empty nest years the rainbow wigs in the Xmas stockings and the floppy shoe references will start back up again.

  51. Having children has not altered how my brothers behave, unfortunately. A couple years ago at Xmas time, one ended up with a broken nose and one ended up with a broken hand. In 2 different instances (we are all in our 30s/40s). My husband cannot believe how they act when they are together (he does not have any brothers). If only two are together, they can usually keep it together. Any more and it is very Lord of the Flies.

  52. My kids wrestle and chase each other around. My DD after too much of rough housing will yell saying that DS is troubling her. But both are active participants in the wrestling. It is mild and not injury producing as Kate. I grew up with cousins (boys) who were prone to play wrestling. They loved wrestling on the sofa or the bed.

  53. Laura, I agree about the victim-blaming. But you didn’t say where that quote is from and I’m afraid it might be from the extended version of the thing I posted. Is it?

  54. LFB, so that will teach me to give a web address for a site I haven’t gone to in years. When I read Izzy Kalman’s work it was from an article addressing general school bullying not violent behavior, rape or achieving world peace. It was about how to teach your child not to overreact to a bully resulting in becoming that bully’s target but how to diffuse the situation. His site was different many years ago. Though I won’t be telling folks to go to his site anymore, I still agree with the techniques he was laying out in that article and teach my children when a bully initially attacks how to convey with a smirk and pointed look that the bully speaking is basically a *****nozzle. 90 percent of the time this works for them and the situation is diffused and not escalated. I also teach my kids how to defend themselves and others. And if I catch them being the bully, I put a stop to it. That being said, I also understand from my own upbringing and from watching them interact with each other and friends – teasing and pushing it too far is a fact of childhood and for many people this still occurs in adulthood.

    I have to step away for an appointment but SM, I address your questions later.

  55. I’m sorry to miss this discussion. I perceived what little teasing that occurred in my family of origin as mean-spirited and seldom participated. I was a clumsy child in an athletic family. Mr WCE thinks I’m overly sensitive to his teasing (perhaps true) but to me, continuing to emphasize a known area of problematic difference/disagreement is rude. I don’t think we’ll resolve this.

    I concur with Kate that three close-in-age brothers degenerates into Lord of the Flies behavior without an attentive parent. (I am the army that’s going to make you…) One of my twins’ friends is an almost-only (6 years older than his now-baby-brother) and his mom helps him understand my boys’ behavior sometimes when they play.

    My favorite play behavior I would call joking rather than teasing and I can only do it with a few friends who “get” me, not with most people, especially women. My SLAC French major friend with one son won the local spelling bee. We are very different (I have four kids, she’s the SAHM of one, I like math, she hates math) but we “get” each other despite my laid-back parenting tendencies. Since she won by spelling lots of French-origin words correctly, I informed her that her coop-dee-grace (not coo-deh-grah) was only possible because the moderator mispronounced most of the words. She doesn’t let her son wear licensed character clothing/wear licensed character toys so I try to give her my non-licensed character hand-me-downs, but I joked that I would be sure to save her all the Thomas the Tank Engine and Star Wars shirts. (Her son is a year younger than my twins and they are low income and appreciate my hand-me-downs.) I e-mail her my funniest math jokes (her brother is a statistics PhD) in an effort to bring her over to the dark side. She’s one of few friends who is different from me with whom I can make these types of jokes.

    At work reading the blog today, I sat by a sign that said, “U.N. studies confirm that when someone breaks wind at work, 95% of the time, it’s a man.” Another sign jokes about someone’s ongoing annoyance with his specialized software analysis package being referred to incorrectly. And I sit in a cube with three guys named Tom (next to a dual cube with two guys named Jim, and on the other side, another quad cube with 2 guys named Mike).

    The Tom jokes are too funny to stop.

  56. Usually lurks, I just noticed that my lovely phone split “contextualize” into two words. And it just tried to do it again. Sorry!

    I just came from a Parents Advisory Committee at my kid’s high school, first time I’ve been at one since elementary a few years ago, and someone asked the same damn question: xyz is being done for kids at the lower end of the scale (the lower 25% is lower than the average lowest quarter in the county) and the higher end kids can take care of themselves, they’re fine, but what are you doing for the kids in the middle?
    What the bloody hell? The smart kids are so emotionally advanced and mature, with perfect social skills and nothing more to learn? Ha! Are they finished products so they should be stacked on the loading dock until it’s time to move up to the next level? I absolutely believe every kid deserves the opportunity to grow, to be challenged, to learn, and to know–not just feel, but know–that their development and well-being are important. I’m not asking for a bigger share of the time and resources, but don’t you put my baby in the corner!

  57. Saac, I think the kids at the higher end need more “help” than the kids in the middle. Obviously we all see things through the filters of our own experiences. My experience is most schools are designed to provide for the average kids. Then everyone agrees that the kids at the bottom need extra help. But few people seem to understand that the kids at the top also have “special needs.” I think there’s a greater awareness of it today than when I was growing up, but IMO we still have a long way to go.

  58. The parents of “average” kids see all sorts of special programs aimed at kids with disabilities or special learning needs (many of which are not, like blindness or Down Syndrome, immediately apparent to others). Even though they may proclaim that the kids at the top are fine on their own, they usually also know that there are classes or programs for smart kids and that their own kids don’t have the test scores or grades or teacher references to get into them. But they don’t see any special counselors or programs for *their* kids. It’s easy to conclude that the kids in the middle are left out, and, in some totebaggy schools, there is some truth to that.

  59. “Left out” by having the main thing designed for them and their needs? If they’d set up a school around twice exceptional kids, then they wouldn’t other lanes. It’s not as if kids learn differently on purpose; they can’t do anything about the way their neurons and synapses are set up, unless the schools provide brain cell-killing substances.

  60. I think the issue is that all school systems are dealing with insufficient budgets to teach all kids optimally, so they aim for the widest swath. If not given extra help, the kids at the bottom will drop out, or stick around until they’re 22 without learning, and likely end up costing society much more down the road. If a bright kid doesn’t achieve to his max potential, people figure he’ll still land on his feet. I’m not advocating for this philosophy, but in a world where no one wants to pay taxes to support anything yet we continue to push more responsibilities on to schools, it is no surprise that when they look for where to cut back it is on the segment that will not bring down their ratings even if ignored.

  61. I wasn’t being haphazard with my comment about being left on the loading dock. I think that is the competing philosophy. Some (like me) see school as getting kids started down a path, and want kids to be encouraged and learn habits that will lead them to do more after this chapter. For others, it seems to be about getting a certain set of knowledge into each head. But if that’s really what it’s all about, then my kid should not be sitting in an honors English class with straight 100%s and acing the pretest; he already has that set of knowledge, so by that logic, he should move into some other class.

  62. And the average kids usually don’t have effective advocates. Special needs and gifted kids often have assertive and persistent parent groups speaking up in their behalf, at least in the Totebaggy Fairfax public system we were in. You can point out that the whole system is set up for average kids, but it’s easy to miss that in the sea of special programs and extra counsellors for other groups.

  63. Off topic but of paramount importance – Milo – did I overlook your Counting On summary this week? DD and I watched last night and after, she said, “Now let’s read what Milo said about it!” It’s like our Counting On After Show.

  64. In my experience, the objective of most middle of road public schools is to get the largest number of students through without imploding or exploding. If they emerge as ill prepared as Mooshi’s average freshman, that is not seen as a failure of mission. There are legal mandates to spend money for special needs, including those needs that are not readily apparent to the naked eye. There are usually AP classes or advanced track which give the appearance of serving the state flagship or private college bound. But vocational training in most systems is a shadow of what it was 25 and certainly 50 years ago. The parent and grandparent of the average academic track kid sees less rigor in the instruction than InHisDay. Formerly routine arts classes or school based clubs, if they even exist today, are now funded by parent contributions, fundraisers, or outside money.

  65. DD started school earlier this week, and she keeps talking about how great her math class is this year. It finally hit me why it’s so much better this year. It’s her 8th year in the district, but the first time ever that they separated the kids into accel math. She is finally with 23 other kids at a similar level.

    She will have this opportunity again next year in science, but it’s not until HS that she will really be with her academic peers in most classes.

    On the other hand, her friends with learning issues have been in special Ed or co taught classes since K. They’re pulled out for extra reading, speech and math in elementary school. By middle school, they have an extra math lab and two teachers in a class.

    I’m ok with this because I know several of these kids. They want to succeed, and I hope the extra help will eventually produce positive results.

    DD coasted for years because they have teach to the middle. Some teachers were great and were able to really differentiate in the classroom.
    I don’t think she’s suffered, but she is not a genius. Also, the reading and writing became more challenging when the common core curriculum was utilized by the ELA teachers.

  66. If they emerge as ill prepared as Mooshi’s average freshman, that is not seen as a failure of mission.

    That assumes they have the ability to be prepared according to MM’s standards. I don’t get the sense that many of them have that kind of raw ability.

  67. The worst thing to be (in terms of resources) in our school district is average. It is a big reason we aren’t doing public. They have a huge program for the “gifted” kids and quite a bit of support for the kids who have special needs. The kids in the middle get left out and behind. I especially dislike how they move kids to other schools for the accelerated program (which includes a very large % of kids) once they are in third grade, so you end up with kids at different schools. One of the main benefits I think public schools offer is a neighborhood school, and they pretty much eliminated that where I live.

  68. On Risley’s off-topic – Milo, would you consider writing a weekly summary as an individual post? It could be like the election topic and allow those of us who love the dirt to gossip and not detract from a post, even if it is yesterday’s…

    On schools – totally not there yet. But my city re-organized their HS and MS to close 1 of each. It’s been a clusterf*ck to say the least. From what I hear, the MS isn’t completed, students don’t have supplies (like enough chairs, or computers with the necessary software), and the science teachers are using carts to do labs (that may involve electricity, water, and/or fire) because the infrastructure isn’t completed. Lots of safety issues, and very unhappy parents.

    So, of course, at the first meeting of the school committee in the new year, the committee pitched the idea of re-organizing the elementary schools to close 2. And did not speak about cleaning up the mess with the HS and MS.

    This meeting made the state news (not difficult in this state), but the meetings rarely muster coverage in the city paper.

  69. Hearing all your comments, I don’t know how my kids’ school compares to the public schools y’all describe. My kids are not in the genius category but do well enough and like school most days. I think the instruction is fine but I don’t know if they will come out prepared enough freshmen to Mooshi’s standard. So, I guess college acceptances will be a way to tell ? Some days I just shrug it off but some days I get concerned.

  70. Kate, what you said, YES! That is why we sent my son to a private school. So grateful we can do it, but I worry about the kids of the families who do not have that opportunity.

    Late: I love teasing. I think it is so important to be able to laugh at yourself. One of our family rules is if you are going to dish it out, you have to be able to take it with grace. My mother HATES teasing but my dad, brother and I love it. Can’t tell you how many times she has stormed out of the room after a rather benign jab. We pretty much leave her alone but she misses a good deal of the fun because of it.

  71. Louise, I have every expectation that your kids will be fine no matter what. How old are they again? If they have your patience, intelligence, and work ethic, they will succeed.

  72. We had the same experience as Kate and Moxie, and it is part of the reason that we shifted to private school.

  73. Based on my experiences with public schools in four unexceptional states, I agree with Meme about the goal of public school. I’ll add that compared to 25 or 50 years ago, there are either far more English language learners or far more emphasis on helping them reach their academic potential quickly, and that in my district, ESL students have grown from ~5% to 11% of the student population, which means resources have had to be shifted from elsewhere and class sizes increase. (26% of payroll going to the public employee retirement system doesn’t help either.) I’m contrasting the current ESL approach to that in my FIL’s school in South Dakota in the early 50’s, where he was paired with the kid who came to school speaking only Norwegian because FIL was bright and could help/tutor the Norwegian-speaking kid. They became lifelong friends.

    At least in my area, it’s not just whether people will pay taxes (there’s a bond coming up for schools, right after the bond passed last year for a new police/fire station) but whether those taxes support the education of middle-of-the-road, English-speaking kids.

  74. Ugh, anyone have experience getting rid of bed bugs. It looks likely that we have them in our house and the pest control inspector is coming tomorrow. It looks like we’ll be throwing out lots of stuff. :(

  75. “LFB, so that will teach me to give a web address for a site I haven’t gone to in years.” — Hah. BTDT. FWIW, I do agree with the “training” you mention, as a practical matter (it’s unreasonable to assume the bullies are ever going to go away, so protective coloration is important so you don’t look so obviously like the injured wildebeest).

    “If a bright kid doesn’t achieve to his max potential, people figure he’ll still land on his feet.” This is definitely my school district’s approach; they practically said as much when they got rid of the G&T program in ES. But the flaw in the reasoning is that many of the smartest kids *won’t* land on their feet. What was that study a year or so ago that said that something like 50%+ of HS dropouts were high-IQ? Kids who are that smart think and learn differently than others; if they are not challenged, they tune out and underperform. And worse, when you are both way smart and have a learning disability, the “smart” can keep you from getting the support you need, because the standard school response is that it’s not bad enough to require services if you’re not failing.

    Of course, this is not an issue for us here; we tend to have sufficient ego to believe the school system should give our kids what they need and the resources to fight the fight (and then opt out if we’re not getting what we want). But it is much more unfair to kids who are MC and below, whose parents don’t know how to fight the system and don’t have the resources for independent evaluations, lawyers, and private schools.

  76. Thanks RMS ! For me, regarding the education system I don’t know, what I don’t know. So, I am not sure whether to be concerned at certain points or just go with flow. I show up at every parent meeting afraid I will miss something. So far, the teacher been great at answering my questions and every year I have to trust that they are doing their jobs.

  77. Although I don’t watch a lot of gossip tv I love Milo’s summaries.

    Saac – I sent you an email.

    Evil Twin – I had bed bugs many years ago on study abroad. The whole house had to be fumigated and all our clothes and bedding were sent for dry cleaning. From what I recall high heat is really the only way to get rid of them. I’m sorry that you have to go through it.

  78. Many of the high IQ high school dropouts I know still went to college and some went to graduate school. I would have done that if the school board hadn’t approved a waiver for me. I agree that many of those dropouts won’t “reach their potential” in Totebag terms, but most of them will become employed and stay out of prison.

    It was ever thus.

  79. Talking about teasing – DS had seen ITT Technical Institutes ads and was asking me if that was a good college. Yesterday, I had to inform him that his favorite college was closing.

  80. Re teasing – For Moxiemom’s mom and me, listening to teasing among others is enduring either a smoke filled room or a room with 25 years of smoke in the drapes, depending on ferocity. For teasing directed at us, it is like having the cigarette applied to our palm, duration also dependent on ferocity. The difference is that we are supposed to enjoy it, and because we don’t we are considered outliers, missing out on the fun, maladjusted. So be it.

  81. Milo, would you consider writing a weekly summary as an individual post?

    Oh God no! That’d be way too much pressure.

    Milo – did I overlook your Counting On summary this week? DD and I watched last night and after, she said, “Now let’s read what Milo said about it!” It’s like our Counting On After Show.

    No, you didn’t overlook it. When you watched this week’s episode, did you think there was anything worth mocking? I wasn’t planning on writing anything because there was essentially nothing new under the sun, to paraphrase an old English teacher of mine.

    Suffering missionaries Jill and Derrick celebrated their two-year anniversary by accepting a gifted reservation for one night at a nearby Central American hotel and resort. In yet another reference to the crime-ridden lives they endure on a daily basis, the best feature at this hotel, a very satisfied Derrick noted, was its surrounding 10-foot concrete wall topped with razor wire. The poor guy gets 24 hours to finally “let down [his] guard” while he gave 15-month-old Israel his first “swimming lesson” by dunking him in the pool. Other highlights of the romantic getaway were introducing Israel to heretofore unknown First World luxuries such as bathtubs separate from the sink, and mass-produced wall-to-wall carpeting.

    Part of me thought it was disappointing that they couldn’t get away on their own (there was a Pack-n-Play set up next to the hotel bed), but it likewise reminded me of a trip DW and I took over a long weekend, back when we were new parents of just one, to Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We were, of course, restricted by feeding and nap schedules, we took turns swimming in the surf, and at night we were limited to relaxing and drinking on our hotel room’s balcony, but it’s a very special and even romantic memory in its own right.

    Jill and Derrick got dressed up for their fancy dinner out at the hotel’s restaurant, where they opted for the buffet, and if I were more of a Totebagger I’m sure I would be more snarky about this, but the food looked good and one of the chefs seemed excited to present it. So I don’t have it in me, because it looked fun. Derrick could not have seemed more genuine when he talked about how much in love he is with Jill. They exchanged handwritten letters to each other to mark the occasion, and I made a mental note to do the same at my next anniversary. Hey, even they get a few things right.

    As for the others — the adult kids whose “season of life” right now is the Do Nothing But Wait for Someone to Court and Marry Season — Sigma 3 Survival Training in the temperate and bountiful woods of southern Missouri grew much more rigorous. Drinking water was the first order of the day, so the trainees (and we viewers) learned that as long as there is a river within easy walking distance of your drop point, you can be assured of finding trash on its banks, such as a plastic water bottle, which any Sigma 3 alum can fashion into a charcoal water filter. Fortunately, our party located exactly one useable littered water bottle (undoubtedly, the instructors take repeated groups to the same spot for this lesson, so unless there’s a perpetually overflowing plastic bottle plant a mile upstream, you’ve got to figure they’re re-stocking this “trash” for every group). No matter, though. Grab your trash bottle, make a fire (see last week’s lesson — you can do that from any old pieces of steel and fire-starting flint you happen to find on your person), and voila! You’ve got yourself some charcoal. Why they seem to think that any charcoal filter (let alone one that’s put together haphazardly with garbage) is capable of disinfecting water of bacteria or other microorganisms, and more importantly, why, if they already have a fire, it didn’t occur to anyone to maybe *boil* the water, is not for us to question. These guys are the experts.

    Thirsts quenched, we moved onto food. There are plenty of leaves in the woods that you can eat, but not all. For example, you wouldn’t want to eat that one. But this other one is OK, try it. The Duggars tried chewing on a few of the seemingly arbitrarily approved leaves that were handed to them and pronounced them not to their liking. They returned to the campground for more hot dogs.

    Finally, shelter. The campground had some preexisting shelters made of sticks and leaves, and this program really tests their mettle by requiring them to take down and rebuild one or two of them. It’s not easy, but it should be comforting to know that if they ever find themselves in the wild, they’ll confidently know how to take apart any shelters they may stumble upon.

    Last and least, and since the show is, technically, titled “Jill and Jessa,” it wouldn’t be complete without following Jessa and Ben around for at least one afternoon of their mostly rudderless lives. Spurgeon’s getting big. At nine months old, he’s wearing clothes for a 12-month, or even 18-month-old. With nothing else to do, they went to visit the house of some friends occupying the same Season of Life, where Jessa was immediately grilled about all things New Mom: “What size clothes is he in? Did you use a teething ring? …” The much more laid back two fathers quietly held each other’s babies on the sidelines and looked contented enough pondering the many more to come.

  82. Thanks, Lemon. I’m learning more about the timing of treatment. For instance, I guess I shouldn’t wash clothes until after the house is treated. Apparently my choices are chemical or heat treatment for the house. Looks like lots of work ahead in any case. Meantime I’m feeling very itchy. :)

  83. but it should be comforting to know that if they ever find themselves in the wild, they’ll confidently know how to take apart any shelters they may stumble upon

    crying. too funny.

  84. “but most of them will become employed and stay out of prison.”

    Again, I don’t take that for granted. I think a lot of kids in that category turn to drugs as an escape from their intolerably dull life/relief from the pressures of constantly failing to fit in and meet expectations. This is especially true with ADHD, where kids can be both impulsive and craving stimulation.

  85. Milo – I am surprised by the crime issues you describe Jill and Derrick facing. I know of relatives who worked in secure compounds in Africa but somehow I wasn’t associating Central America with the same issues. I read about the crime in Rio but still didn’t think it was that bad.

  86. Thanks everybody for the comments on gifted ed. At the lower grade levels, there is a problem of parents paying for tutors and testing to get kids into gifted classes, even though they learn the “normal” way, so many that the instruction is really just the same type as usual. By now, classes are mostly weeded out by ability, but I’m still planning to talk to teachers in four of his classes at conferences tonight about what he should do when he’s finished his work. His honors English teacher doesn’t allow him to read then.

    As for schools neglecting average kids, I don’t think that’s the case here. Yes, the school is over 10% ESL, and yes there are 25-30 AP classes; but with a 40-pg course catalogue (~8-10 classes/pg), it isn’t as though any group has nothing. There is AVID, with a stated mission of getting kids in the middle through the rigorous (their word) college-prep classes. And besides the college prep track, there is this, backed up by pages of classes in ag or business or whatever.

    This course of study includes one of the following career/technical education programs and prepares the student to attend a community college or an adult technical center: Agriscience, Business Technology, Health Science, Family and Consumer Sciences, Industrial Education, Marketing and Diversified Education, Public Service, or Technology Education. Students attempting to earn a Gold Seal Vocational scholarship are encouraged to contact a counselor for additional information.

  87. LfB, do you think that high IQ kids turn to drugs/alcohol at a higher rate than low IQ kids? Some of my techs are very bright people who spent some years indulging in drugs/alcohol and then turned their lives around. It would be an interesting study, in any case.

  88. @WCE: I honestly don’t know, and I think it would be a really helpful study to get more data on. I know there is a demonstrated correlation with ADHD kids, but that doesn’t answer the direct question.

    But I guess my larger point isn’t necessarily that it’s higher — it’s just that the school structure seems built on the assumption that high-IQ kids will be fine, so in a world of tight resources, let’s focus on the bringing up the lower kids to average. There is some data to suggest that ain’t necessarily so, and that in fact these kids need support in the same way the kids on the other end of the bell curve do — that it’s not just about parents wanting the schools to fork over $$ to help exceptional kids live up to every inch of their potential, it’s about parents needing the schools to teach these kids in a way that will keep them in school and on track.

    I do understand that some kids can drop out and ultimately make it back through college, or get addicted and then get over it and get their lives together. But how many parents would accept that as a reasonable outcome? And for a gifted kid? I think there is this perception that the dropouts are the kids who are at the low end of the IQ perspective, so that’s where the extra support needs to go — and if they still drop out, well, who could really expect all of those kids to graduate anyway? But the limited data we do have suggest that a very significant number of the kids who drop out are on the other end of the IQ spectrum. I think if we had clear data that half of the dropouts are kids with an IQ of (say) 120+, it would be very clear that if you want to reduce the dropout rate — and help *all* kids make it through — then you need to fundamentally re-think how you allocate those resources.

  89. LfB, those are good thoughts. I would have to be convinced that we should reduce the dropout rate. When (here and elsewhere), I hear comments like, “We should require all high school students to take a personal finance course”, my mental response is, “Just shoot me now. I’d rather drop out than endure a semester’s worth of that.”

  90. Louise – I don’t know if their fear of violent crime where they are living in El Salvador is founded. The resort did have the wall with razor wire, so it’s probably not totally without merit. But the way their life during this missionary work is portrayed on the show, all they ever do is complain about the crime, and they are never shown doing any actual missionary work.

  91. When (here and elsewhere), I hear comments like, “We should require all high school students to take a personal finance course”, my mental response is, “Just shoot me now. I’d rather drop out than endure a semester’s worth of that.”

    Ha! I absolutely agree.

  92. “I would have to be convinced that we should reduce the dropout rate.”

    Well, that’s a different discussion. :-) But that is one of the major stated reasons that my district, at least, made the change away from G&T in ES.

  93. I think some students self-medicate for things like anxiety, depression, etc. And some of those things have higher rates in higher IQ people.

  94. I recently read an article about a longitudinal study of highly gifted kids that I’ll be submitting as a future topic.

    “Kids who are that smart think and learn differently than others”

    One of the things found in the study was that this isn’t the case for many highly gifted kids. They don’t really learn differently so much as they learn a lot faster. This suggests a number of things, one of which is that the shift from homogeneous to heterogeneous ability grouping hurts the brightest kids (I think WCE agrees with me on this).

    More generally, a lot of the gifted kids don’t need special programs so much as they need more flexibility to place them in the appropriate levels of classes, e.g., perhaps more fluidity WRT considering ability in addition to age in grouping

    Perhaps this is also why many parents of gifted kids like Montessori schools so much, especially for young kids, as those schools typically don’t hold back bright kids and make them wait for those who learn at lower rates.

  95. Evil, IIRC a couple of things that can get rid of bedbugs are freezing for a few days, and bagging stuff (e.g., bedding) in air tight plastic bags for longer than the life cycle of the bed bugs.

    If you have a 2nd freezer, it might not be hard to fit some linens, and maybe even some pillows, in one of your freezers.

    This is just from memory; I suggest you verify these before you try them.

  96. I think there are a number of reasons gifted kids’ needs are often not well addressed in public schools:

    -NCLB and its corollary (No Child Gets Ahead) incentivized schools to focus heavily on students performing below grade level, often at the expense of those performing above grade level.

    -As mentioned above, moving from homogeneous ability/level grouping to heterogeneous typically is to the detriment of the brighter kids.

    “26% of payroll going to the public employee retirement system doesn’t help either.”

    Yes, earlier generations’ educations are being paid for by today’s taxpayers.

    And of course, we can’t forget that many of today’s female engineers, doctors, and lawyers would’ve been teachers (and nurses) a generation or two ago.

  97. “I think a lot of kids in that category turn to drugs as an escape from their intolerably dull life”

    This brings to mind Sherlock Holmes and his 7% solution.

  98. It’s her 8th year in the district, but the first time ever that they separated the kids into accel math. She is finally with 23 other kids at a similar level.

    I’ve said it before. It just floors me that this out of the ordinary. When I was in school, they always separated students for math and language arts by ability. My kids’ school has done this since first grade. I can’t fathom that there are schools (apparently a whole ton of them) that try to teach math to kids oft markedly different abilities in the same class.

  99. ” I can’t fathom that there are schools (apparently a whole ton of them) that try to teach math to kids oft markedly different abilities in the same class.”

    Yup. They call it differentiated instruction, but most teachers find it very challenging and it doesn’t work well for many students. Plus it often pushes up costs.

  100. My grade school had two classes of 30-32 students per grade. Language arts and social studies were mostly at our own pace, but everything else was as a group. In sixth grade I skilled out of math skills classes and was in a class with eighth graders. It was great that year, not so much by the time I was in eighth

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