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Understanding Your Teenager’s Mood Swings

Adolescence is a time of storm and stress. Cultural, spiritual, and familial factors play a role in whether or not an adolescent will experiences mood swings. A teenager’s mood may suddenly shift from elation and euphoria to extreme sadness or frustration – and then on to another emotion. In some cases, mood changes are reactions to the teen’s environment or circumstances (although the intensity of the mood might seem out of proportion with the significance of the event). In other cases, mood swings may occur for no apparent reason. Most researchers agree that it is a combination of emotional and biological factors that affect an adolescent’s mood.

Adolescents have not yet developed the skills to deal with the pressures, frustrations, and worries of life. As their lives become more complicated and adult-like, they don’t have the built-in coping strategies that grown-ups have developed. Thus, they are prone to react very emotionally to certain circumstances. Also, adolescents are typically very preoccupied with identity formations and becoming separate from their moms and dads. While the world seems to be changing constantly around them, they feel as though they can’t handle the pressure, and this will inevitably lead to a slightly off-balance emotional state. This is one reason behind adolescent mood swings.

Researchers have discovered that the brain continues to grow and develop through the teenage years much more than originally thought. Because the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the age of 6, it has historically been believed that it had also reached almost full development. Now it is believed that the brain changes much more during the teenage years than previously believed. One of the last areas to go through this change process is the prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain responsible for planning, judgment, and self-control. This means that while adolescents have very strong feelings and passions, they don’t have the mechanisms in place to control these feelings. This is yet another reason for adolescent mood swings.

Adolescence is a time when the body starts producing sex hormones and goes through a major growth spurt. The physical changes that adolescents experience cause them to feel strange, confused or uncomfortable, and this often erodes their sense of security. Because of the effect that this has on their psychological state, they may strike out or experience conflicting moods.

Mood swings can leave adolescents feeling like they’re out of control. If the mood swings are severely abnormal or prolonged, the adolescent should see a professional about other possible issues. Normal adolescent mood swings can make the young person feel unbalanced, though, and are not to be taken lightly.

A teenager’s mood swings may accompany other psychological or cognitive symptoms including: 
  • Withdrawal or depression
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Reckless or inappropriate behaviors
  • Poor judgment
  • Mood depression or elevation
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Anxiety, irritability or agitation
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Drug use
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
  • Racing thoughts and rapid speech
  • Difficulty with concentration or attention
  • Changes in mood, personality or behavior
  • Boredom

Mood swings may also accompany symptoms related to other body systems including: 
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Missed menstrual cycles
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Incontinence, weakness, or sensory changes
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough that gets more severe over time

Parents should try to get answers to the following questions related to their teen’s mood swings: 
  • Is your teen using any illicit drugs?
  • Does he drink any alcohol?
  • Does she have any other psychiatric or medical problems?
  • Do he have any other symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression)?
  • Does anything make her better or worse?
  • What medications is he taking?
  • What behavior does she exhibit when she has mood swings (anger, lethargy)?
  • When did you first notice your teen’s mood swings?

Here are some tips for dealing with teenage mood swings:

1. Behavioral therapy helps to weaken the connections between troublesome circumstances and habitual reactions to them. Reactions common to mood swings (e.g., fear, anxiety, depression, anger, etc.) can be controlled. Behavioral therapy teaches your adolescent how to calm the mind and body so he can feel better, think more clearly, and make better decisions.

2. Cognitive therapy teaches your adolescent how certain thinking patterns are causing unwanted symptoms (e.g., having a distorted picture of what's going on in her life that makes her feel anxious, depressed or angry for no apparent reason – and provokes her into negative actions). Resolving the cognitive aspect of mood swings can mean improved social interaction, more confidence, and a more positive outlook on life.

3. Communicating with your physician is an important part in the diagnosis and treatment of mood swings. By talking to your physician openly, you allow him to provide your teenager with the best mood swings treatment program possible.

4. Exercise releases endorphin into the blood stream, and these chemicals can help to regulate mood and ease frustration.

5. Literary therapy incorporates articles, books, and other research materials into the process of healing. By gathering information about mood swings, your teen can acquire in-depth knowledge about his problems. This knowledge can provide the essential tools for controlling and resolving his issues. There is a lot of information available from a wide range of perspectives. Many books can be checked out from a local library, and most internet information is presented free of charge.

6. Painting, drawing, writing, or building something can help an adolescent to express his emotions in a healthy way.

7. Regular sleep helps keep the mind in top shape.

8. Stepping back and trying to look at the situation from another angle, counting to ten, or just sitting with the uncomfortable feelings for a moment will help the adolescent to realize that it’s not as bad as it seems.

9. Talk therapy involves the idea of healing through communication. Talking to friends, parents, or a therapist can help your adolescent to find support for dealing with mood swings. Communication comes naturally to people, and the simple act of discussing life’s problems can be extremely helpful in the healing process.

10. Talking to a friend who is dealing with the same issues will make your teen feel less abnormal and help her realize that she is not crazy.

11. The mood may pass as quickly as it struck, so wait before acting out on extreme emotions.

12. There are many non-prescription alternatives on the market today. Some of these alternatives contain supplemental vitamins and minerals, while others contain herbal alternatives that have been used to naturally treat mood swings. Clinical evidence for Kava Kava, Valerian, and St. Johns Wort suggests that these herbal supplements can provide significant benefit in helping to relieve negative mood and other symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

13. Avoid negative sighs when your adolescent is having a hard conversation with you. Don't roll your eyes, look in a different direction or shake your head no.

14. Don't demand that your teen wear a certain outfit.

15. Don't treat your teen like a little kid.

16. If your teen tells you to stop doing something (e.g., singing, whistling, humming, dancing), stop!

17. Learn about what your teen does at school and who he hangs out with (but don't ask questions about who's dating who).

18. Let your adolescent finish her sentences without interruptions. Most adolescents, whether they are moody or not, hate when their mom or dad interrupts because it makes them feel as if you weren't listening to what they had to say.

19. Listen with your heart, be all ears.

20. Never act like your teen’s friend, as in, if you are with her and her friends, don't try to include yourself in her conversations. This won't only bother her, but it will bother her friends.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Over-Negotiating with Your Teen

If you are the parent of a defiant teenager, you probably discovered a long time ago that whenever you tell him or her "no" – it automatically turns into a power-struggle. Even the most simplest of requests can often result in very stressful parent-child conflict. As a result, many parents (in an effort to reduce their stress) find themselves “over-negotiating” with their teenager ...anything to eliminate the drama and backtalk.

While negotiating is certainly an important parenting tool in many situations, if it is used to simply "keep the peace" and avoid arguments at all cost, the result is over-indulgent parenting. And unfortunately, there is nothing that feeds “defiance” more than over-indulgence.

Appropriate negotiation would look like this:

Your teenager feels like he should get a raise on his allowance. He recently turned 16, and feels that $15 per week is not enough. So he asks if you would be willing to go $20 per week. You come back with, "Yes I am willing to give you a five dollar raise if you will start taking responsibility for the yard work. That will include mowing, trimming, as well as raking leaves in the fall." If your son agrees to these terms, it's a win-win situation. If he doesn't, then he gets no raise in allowance - period!

Now let's look at an example of over-negotiation (used to avoid another tug-of-war):

Your teenager states that all of his friends are getting $20 a week for allowance, and he feels like you're a cheapskate. So he says, "You should start giving me $20 a week. I'm not a kid anymore." Then you state that you would be willing to go $20 per week if he would do the yard work. He contests that notion, stating that none of his friends have to do yard work. With an attitude of self-entitlement, he asserts that he shouldn't have to work for an allowance. You come back with, "Fine …if you don't want to do the yard work, then you only get $15 a week." An argument ensues, it goes back and forth for 5 minutes, and you finally say, "OKAY! I'll give you $20 a week if you’ll just stop arguing with me, but it wouldn't hurt you to start doing some chores around here."

In the example above, you did indeed avoid a lengthy power-struggle, but unfortunately you also fed defiance. Now you're teenager knows that all he has to do is pressure you and you will "wave the white flag" and let him have his way. So the next time he wants something, he won't be up for compromise or negotiation. Instead, he will push for a one-sided deal once again.

So how can parents avoid over-negotiating while at the same time lessen the risk of initiating a tug-of-war? Here are a few ideas that can help you with this issue:

1. As much as possible, involve your teenager in the decision-making process. Many (if not most) situations are negotiable to a certain extent. For example, if your teenage son wants to have some friends over on a Friday evening for pizza and watch a movie, you could say, "I might let you have your friends over. What are you going to do to earn that privilege? If I'm going to rent a movie and buy pizza, what do I get in return?" Then let your teenager come up with some ideas about what he can do to earn this privilege. If his proposal sounds reasonable, then you may want to accept it.

2. When you're teenager tells you that she wants something (e.g., your 16-year old daughter wants to go watch an R-rated movie with her friends), rather than simply saying "no," you could say, "Let me think about that and I'll give you an answer in a few minutes." In this case, you get on the computer or your smart phone to watch the trailer of the movie your daughter wants to watch. If it seems to be appropriate, then the answer can be "yes" (however, if you are paying for her movie ticket, she needs to do something in the way of chores to earn that money). If it appears that the movie has too much violence, profanity or nudity, then you can say, "I don't believe that is an appropriate movie. Are there any other ones that are playing that you might be interested in? I was just on the movie theater’s website – go check it out and see what else is playing?" In this way, you're not verbally saying "no" (even though the real answer is "no"), and you are offering an alternative. Of course, this doesn't guarantee that you will avoid a power-struggle, but at least you're engaging in proper negotiation as opposed to over-negotiation.

3. Sometimes your teen will want something, and your answer could be, “I’m saying ‘no’ to that for now, but my answer might be ‘yes’ if you change a few things.” For example, let’s say your teen wants to spend the night at a friend’s house on Friday night, but she has volley ball practice the following morning (Saturday) at 8:00 A.M. – and you know that she will likely miss that practice because she and her friend will probably stay up most of the night. So you could say, “The answer is ‘no’ for Friday night because you have to get up early for volley ball practice. However, I would not have a problem with you spending the night with your friend on Saturday.” In this way, you’re really saying “yes,” as long as the activity occurs on a different day. That’s good negotiation on your part.

4. If your teenager wants to do something and your answer is going to be "no" ...before saying "no," take a few minutes to think about why you don't want him or her to do this particular activity. Sometimes parents automatically say "no" without considering if the answer could really be "yes." For example, your teenager asks if he can go to Kings Island with his new friend and his friend’s parents, but you instinctively say, "No, I've never met your friend and I know nothing about his parents. Plus, I can't afford it right now." But after you said "no," you regret the decision because it was a missed opportunity for your son to have a really cool trip -- and he would be out of your hair for the day. So, after rethinking the situation, you tell your teenager that you will reconsider IF he brings his friend over so you can meet him, and you will also discuss this with the friend's parents. This is another example of proper negotiation.

5. Of course, there will be times when the answer is "no" and there is ZERO room for negotiation (e.g., your teenager wants to go to a party where beer will be available, but he promises not to drink any). So you will do one of two things: either you will stick with "no," or you will cave-in and over-negotiate just to stop an argument. Assuming that you're going to "stick to your guns," you can say, "I understand that you really want to go to that party. But I have thought about this long and hard, and I'm not willing to negotiate since there will be alcohol involved." In this way, you're not using the “N O” word, which may make it less likely that your teenager will pressure you into a power-struggle and your subsequent caving-in.

When we as parents over-negotiate, it usually creates a lose-win situation. Parents lose, teenagers win. While it's true that sometimes it's much easier just to give in, it's important to remember that once you "cave" to avoid an argument, you have also greatly increased the likelihood that your teenager will use pressure tactics in the future. In other words, with over-negotiation, you may avoid a power-struggle FOR NOW, but you inadvertently create more struggles for later.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How To Get Teens To Cooperate With No Nagging From Parents

Do you remember the last time you asked your teenager to do something, and she actually followed through fairly quickly – without you having to ask a second time? If you're like most parents, you do not remember the last time this happened, because your teenager has not responded to your "first requests" in a long time. Whether its chores, homework, turning off the computer, or stopping a fight with a sibling, most parents of defiant teens find themselves forever nagging and pleading and threatening.

Is it even possible to get a defiant teenager to respond to your first request? The answer is "absolutely." But it's going to take some time and effort on your part. Also, it's going to take some time for your teenager to get used to your new method. In this article, we are going to look at a simple 4-step method for getting your teen to cooperate fairly quickly. And as an added bonus, this method will also save you a lot of time and energy spent nagging – no more repeating your requests over and over again.

Step #1: At a time when you and your teenager are on good terms, the household is fairly quiet, and your teenager is calm, have a short conversation with her about how you are “tired of nagging.” For example, "There are many times where I have to ask you three or more times to do something, like chores and homework. I get tired of nagging, and you get tired of hearing me nag. So from this point forward, I'm going to do us both a favor and only ask one time; however, if you choose to ignore me, you will choose a consequence."

Step #2: Talk to your teen about rewards and consequences. Tell him you will be sure that “following through with requests” results in privileges, and “ignoring requests” results in consequences. Also let him know that the consequence will always fit the "crime." For example, if your teenager violates curfew one evening, then an appropriate consequence would be grounding him for the next evening – instead of withholding computer privileges. In this case, the computer had nothing to do with the rule violation. Pulling any old consequence out of your hat at the spur of the moment will likely make a bad problem worse. So, talk with your teenager about some specific examples of what he has to gain by following through on your first requests, and also talk about the specific consequences for lack of cooperation.

Step #3: While it's true that you are not going to nag anymore, you ARE going to allow more time for your teenager to follow through with your request than you may have in times past. In other words, you're not going to ask twice, but your teenager doesn't have to jump immediately to the task at hand (e.g., homework, chores, etc.). So in this way, your teen does NOT have the option of ignoring you, but he can choose (within a reasonable amount of time) when to honor your request. For example, instead of saying, "You haven't fed the dog yet. That's your job, and you need to do it right now!" ...you could say, "I noticed you haven't fed the dog yet. I'll give you 15 minutes to get it done." Then you can also add a rewards-consequence statement like, "If you feed the dog within the next 15 minutes, you can get on the computer for an hour. If you don't, then you can’t."

Note that in step #3, you are giving your teenager some choices, specifically whether or not to feed the dog - and when! This gives an element of control to your teenager, which will make it more likely that she will respond to your request rather than engage you in another power struggle. If she doesn't want to feed the dog within the 15-minute time frame – fine! You feed the dog, and she loses computer privileges.

Step #4: Here you're going to employ the "countdown." In other words, you will be giving one or two reminders as the time counts down. For example, at the 10-minute mark, you could say, "You have 10 minutes" ... and at the 5-minute mark, you could say, "Only five minutes left." So in all reality, this is similar to making three requests rather than one, but it certainly doesn't fall into the "nagging" category because you are not repeatedly saying, "Feed the dog ...you need to feed the dog ...have you fed the dog yet ...how many times do I have to tell you to feed that dog."

When you first begin using this 4-step method, bear in mind that your teenager will have to practice his new response a few times. If you have been resorting to nagging and pleading and threatening for many years now, your teenager is not going to now magically jump whenever you say “snap to.” He's going to test the system. So it's important that you be consistent with both the “rewards for cooperation” and the “consequences for noncooperation.” Know that your teenager is going to fail the first few times – and that’s o.k. Only through consistent practice will he fully understand that things have changed and he can no longer ignore your requests or put you in the position of having to repeat yourself multiple times. So, when he tests the limits and resorts to the usual "request-ignoring behavior," you simply follow through with what you have already told him you would do in steps 1 and 2.

Of course, there will be situations where a countdown is not possible. For example, if your teenager is having a tantrum and punching holes in the wall, you wouldn’t want to say, “You need to quit punching holes in the wall. You’ve got 15 minutes to stop it!” In situations like this, you obviously need to step-in and issue an immediate consequence (which in this case may include calling the cops).

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

How to Pick Your Parenting Battles: The Prioritizing Principle


As a parent, you have probably often heard the phrase "pick your battles carefully." Of course, this means that some battles should be fought, and some should be left alone. In other words, the really important matters need to be addressed (e.g., drug use), whereas some smaller issues can simply be ignored (e.g., sibling rivalry). However, there is one crucial component to "picking battles carefully," and that is prioritizing.

While it is important to pick your battles carefully, it's even more important to pick them one at a time. Too often, parents attempt to address multiple behavioral issues at once. For example:

Your teenage son comes home and tells you that he has been suspended from school for two days because he cussed-out his teacher (problem #1). So you wisely state that he will be "grounded" for those two days as well. Upon hearing this, your son becomes belligerent and calls you a "bitch" (problem #2). Your reaction to that is to add another consequence, specifically no television or computer privileges for these two days. This angers your son even more, so he stomps-off to his bedroom and slams his bedroom door so hard that the clock hanging on the wall crashes to the floor and breaks (problem #3). The next day, you discover that your son left the house while you were at work when he was supposed to be grounded (problem #4). So, when you get home, you tell him that he is now grounded for the rest of the week. He gets even angrier… and on it goes!

So, in this scenario, the first problem (a two-day suspension from school) resulted in four additional problems. Now let's replay this scenario and employ the "prioritizing principle":

Your son tells you that he has been suspended from school for two days. Since you don't want him to be running all over town during that time, you state that he will be grounded during the suspension. This angers him and he calls you a bad name. Being aware of the prioritizing principle, you calmly state, "Using that language is not acceptable. I understand that you're upset about being suspended and grounded for two days, but you surely don't expect a two-day vacation with a free pass to do whatever you want. I could ground you for a week - since you called me a name like that - but I'm willing to overlook it for now since we have this other issue to deal with."

In this way, the problems are less likely to pile-up. Now, here are the exact steps involved in the "prioritizing principle":

Let's assume that your teenage daughter has five behavioral issues that you want to address:
  1. spending too much time texting her girlfriends instead of doing homework,
  2. not cleaning her room,
  3. chronically coming home about 30 minutes after curfew,
  4. dating a much older boy that you do not approve of,
  5. and constantly arguing with you about why she should be able to get her lip pierced.

Rather than fighting all these battles at once, you are going to pick the most urgent issue, and then break that issue down into even smaller sub-steps.

So, step one is to identify the current “most problematic” issue. The big question to ask yourself in order to identify this issue is, "Of the five problems I am currently having with my daughter, which one puts her safety at risk the most?" Some parents might say that curfew violation is a big safety issue. Others might believe that dating an older boy who may not be a good influence is the larger issue. But the point here is this: of the two top issues to address, your job is to only address one! So, let's say that you view curfew violation and dating an older boy as equally problematic. In keeping with the prioritizing principle, you choose to deal with the dating issue.

In step two, you have an agenda: to get your daughter to stop seeing her boyfriend. But you're going to break this down into small, manageable sub-steps. For example:
  • Sub-step one might be to have a heart-to-heart talk with your daughter regarding your concerns about her older boyfriend. After you've spoken, you allow your daughter to speak her mind. Then let it rest. Don't fall into an argument. Both of you have said your piece – that's enough for now.
  • Sub-step two might be to make contact with the parents of your daughter's boyfriend. Get to know them. See what they're like.
  • Sub-step three might be to invite this boyfriend over to the house so you can get to know him.
  • Sub-step four could include your evaluation of the boyfriend and his parents (now that you have met them) to see if this boy is, indeed, a bad influence. If not, you might consider allowing your daughter to see him – but only on certain occasions, in certain places, and at certain times. If the boyfriend or his parents do seem to be a poor influence, then you can create another sub-step. Perhaps this new sub-step would include a new house rule (e.g., "No boyfriends 18 years of age or older") and a consequence for violating the rule (e.g., "If you choose to see this young man, you also choose the consequence, which is grounding with no privileges – the duration yet to be determined").

So in the example above, you picked just ONE battle, but you also picked just ONE intervention at a time while dealing with it.

In summary, take time to understand the complexities of adolescence. This will help you empathize with your teenager when parent-child conflict arises. Remember that constant changes, pressure to conform, worries about the future, and personal insecurities produce an enormous amount of anxiety. The teenage years are some of the most trying years to manage, and the battles at home are usually a direct reflection of your teenager's emotional state. Thus, don’t forget to use the prioritizing principle when attempting to resolve behavioral issues. Prioritize the issues that are the most important to address. Both mother and father should discuss which issues are non-negotiable, then communicate these expectations to their teenager. Keep in mind that these issues will differ for every family. Although teenagers will still push the boundaries, pre-emptive communication and use of the prioritizing principle will help defuse battles more quickly – and will also keep problems from piling up.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

No Emotional Pain = No Behavioral Change

This guy influences people to change :)
What can parents do when their defiant teenagers refuse to do chores, refuse to do their homework, refuse to get home by curfew, and even refuse to go to school? The unfortunate truth is that you, as a parent, cannot MAKE your child do anything he or she doesn't want to do. If yelling, bribing, threatening, nagging and pleading changed unwanted behavior, then you wouldn't be having any parent-child conflict today.

When parents have made a habit of trying to "force" behavioral changes versus trying to "influence" change, they literally create defiant behavior in their teenagers. The defiant teen will fight against all attempts made to control him or her, whether it's by parents, teachers, or any other authority figures. Thus, one of the most important things we can do is decipher what we can control – as well as what we cannot. We get into trouble on multiple levels when we "struggle" to get our children to behave. In other words, we make a bad problem worse. We have to think in terms of "influencing" our teens rather than (a) trying to dominate them with an authoritarian parenting style, or (b) giving up and letting them have their way with a passive parenting style. In addition, we need to relegate ourselves to those situations where we DO have control, and operate within those parameters – only!

What CAN you control as a parent?  
  • You can control your own thoughts, words, behaviors, and attitude.
  • While it's true that you cannot control your child's behavior, you do have control over his or her privileges (e.g., digital devices, allowance, car, etc.).
  • You do have control over your own expectations.
  • You have the ability to let your teenager know what those expectations are.
  • You also have control around the consequences that can be issued when your expectations are not met (i.e., the withdrawal of privileges).

A defiant teenager will never work for what his parents want, but he will work for what he wants – and he wants certain treasured privileges. Parents can use this strong desire for privileges to their advantage. And this is where influencing comes in. For example, you may not be able to get your teenage son to stop slamming his bedroom door when he's angry; however, if you state that one of your expectations is "no door-slamming," and the consequence for door-slamming is the removal of the door, then your son may be influenced to avoid door-slamming in the future (assuming he values the privilege of privacy).

Think of it like this: the last time you got a speeding ticket, you had to give some of your hard earned money away, which in turn, probably made you think twice before speeding on that same stretch of highway ever again. That's the power of influence. You paid the price for breaking a rule – and that price was significantly painful. I once ran through a railroad crossing while the gates were coming down. That incident cost me $115.00. Was the cop being an asshole? No. I knew the law and the potential consequences for violating the law. But I chose to violate the law, which meant I also chose the associated consequence. The same principle holds true when it comes to parenting defiant teenagers. Poor choices must have a painful price tag. It is human nature to want to avoid pain, and most people are willing to change their behavior if it keeps them out of the "pain zone."

If you are parenting a defiant teenager, you need to understand that the only thing he or she will understand is the emotional PAIN associated with poor choices. Nagging, pleading, threatening, bargaining, yelling and bribing are NOT painful to your teen. In fact, these attempts to change unwanted behavior create an excitement in the defiant teenager that influences him or her to engage you in a “war-of-wills.” Conversely, not having a bedroom door, not having access to the computer, not having any minutes on the cell phone, not having access to the family car, and confiscation of all digital devices is VERY painful. So painful in fact, that unless your teenager is a masochist, he or she may be influenced to meet your expectations in the future. So, emotional pain equals behavior change. Never forget this. And never feel guilty for being influential.

My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents
  
BEST COMMENT: Great article. It makes sense to inspire children to focus on putting out effort for what's important for them vs. because we say so! I would like to add a plus one to the article. When your child asks for a privilege, you can always validate by agreeing first "I would love for you to be that, do that or have that...what do you need to do to make that show up for yourself?" This way, you are empowering your child or teenager vs. devaluing by saying something like "You didn't do this, so you don't get that." Kids respond much better to positive statements of what they can do, and what does work vs. what they can't have because of what they didn't do.

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