a peek inside the fishbowl

05 Feb, 2010

Hyper parents and coddled kids

Posted by andrea tomkins in: sanity saving parent tips|Yaktivism

So who watched the Hyper Parents on CBC’s Doc Zone last night?

Some random thoughts while I drink my coffee:

Hyper parents and coddled kids have been around since the dawn of time, when cavemoms protected their biggest and strongest sons to help ensure long and prosperous lives. I think these feelings are unavoidable, and even hard-wired. We want to protect our kids because we love them and want them to survive in this world of ours. It’s in our genes.

The thing that’s different between us and the cavemoms is the technology available at our disposal: cellphones, GPS units, nanny cams, software to enable computer keystroke logging etc.

Here’s a thought. As a kid, how did you feel when your parents read your diary? Or snooped in on your phone calls? Or went through your pockets? I bet you felt pretty crappy. So why would today’s parents want to do this to their kids? What kind of relationship does this create?

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When I was in j-school I was part of a team of reporters who put together a series of articles about gambling for our little newspaper. This wasn’t a university or class newspaper, it was actually distributed to the larger community. (I should know, because the students also did the distribution part.)

My article was about the local bingo hall, and to make a long story short, I got in trouble for it. I had hung out at the bingo hall for a long time, people watching and making notes. I deliberately picked the one person in the entire place that looked, well, let’s just say she was the one who looked like she was most likely to be a bingo fanatic.

I interviewed her and she gave me a fabulous quote about how dangerous it was to play bingo… because the winners are paid in cash and sometimes BAD GUYS wait for you to leave and they jump you in the parking lot and steal your cash.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I corroborated this part of the story with anyone, and my editor (the teacher!) got a phone call from an angry bingo hall owner. I was wrong for running blindly with this juicy little tidbit, but I also remember the teacher telling me that I shouldn’t have picked one bingo-crazed lady to represent the entire world of bingo.

That’s what I felt when I was watching this documentary at times. I know where the producers for this doc are coming from (I graduated from the journalism program with the goal of being a documentary film producer, so I get it) and it truly is a double-edged sword. On one hand you only have a certain amount of time to get your point across so you want to pick great examples to prove your point. On the other, doing so is almost unfair, and makes your sources amount to one huge generalization.

These parents didn’t represent all parents. I hope the non-parents out there get it. There are an awful lot of us who are not enrolling our children in wall-to-wall extracurricular activities to pad future resumes, praising them up and down for everything they do, or planning lavish birthday parties.

I would have liked to see a conversation between a “normal” parent and one of the helicopter parents. Now wouldn’t that be interesting?

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I liked Rebecca’s comment in my short post about this the other day. We’re all a little hyper sometimes, aren’t we? It depends on the situation. My mother thinks I’m crazy that I provide homework help when my kids need it. She just doesn’t get it.

There is a fine line, isn’t there? What matters is the big picture overall. OVERALL, are you the type of parent who lets their kid do it for themselves? Do you give your kid age-appropriate responsibilities? Who’s in charge? You? Or your kid?

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There’s a scene near the beginning of this documentary of a mom and a $4000 party she planned for her one year old daughter. Ironically (!), it’s a princess party, complete with a giant custom birthday cake and a Disney-costumed storytelling princess. The mom said that this party was actually very middle-of-the-road. If that’s the middle, what else is there?

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What I found the most interesting about this documentary is to see how these coddled kids end up. Parents calling up the university, decorating their workspaces, negotiating salaries? Yowza.

These poor parents think they’re helping and protecting their kids, but they’re really not doing them any favours. In fact, they’re just setting them up for failure later in life.

We parents have to let go. It’s hard, but we have to do it. And it starts when they are small.

For my next post I am going to jot down a few niggling thoughts I’ve had about how to play with our kids. It’s something I have been dwelling on for awhile now and it’s time I get it down.

I think this whole issue starts with play … what do you think?


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25 Responses to "Hyper parents and coddled kids"

1 | bushidoka

February 5th, 2010 at 9:41 am

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I don’t have TV so I have not seen it yet – waiting for it to show up on the CBC website. Sounds like a good watch.

2 | Rebecca

February 5th, 2010 at 9:52 am

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Absolutely agree that it certainly isn’t representative of all parents, but does highlight how healthy ‘hyper’ parenting can get out of control.

I love your connection to history.

I tweeted during the birthday party scene because I just couldn’t believe it. I make little cupcakes, make games and just have kids over to play for my kids’ birthdays – at my home. It seems ‘old school’ compared to those types of parties – and certainly very different from this big bash that mom on the show held. I don’t know anyone who spends that kind of money!

Ann Douglas wrote a very interesting review of the documentary with some valid points that we are seeing a shift away from this type of parenting because of necessity (ie. recession) and she questions if it’s valid now: http://thestar.blogs.com/anndouglas/2010/01/hyper-parents-coddled-kids-documentary-review-airs-on-cbc-next-week.html

While I think overall it was a highlight of extreme situations, there is one extremely relevant point that I hope people take away from it (and this applies to coddled kids or not) – the issue of mental health/anxiety in young people (and young children) is very real and needs to be addressed.

3 | kaitlin

February 5th, 2010 at 9:58 am

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I thought it was fairly well done, but then again I’m also a non-parent whose friends have lots of kids. Age old wisdom shows, it’s easier to parent when you’re a non-parent, right?

It was odd for me, seeing friends in the parents and weirdly, seeing myself in the kids (though mostly the grown up ones). I think, if nothing else, it gave me a better sense of my own identity, as someone’s child, but also in thinking about the type of parent that I want to be five or ten years down the road.

Rebecca is right, we can all be a little hyper. But, it starts with the small things, like play, as well as the big things, like trust.

I’m an only children of older parents and that’s always been my excuse for having been coddled. But, the documentary also made me realize that my parents have lived viacariously through me, and have often been jealous of my experiences. I think once a notion of trust and independence is developed, that’s when we’ll start to see a decrease in anxiety.

4 | andrea

February 5th, 2010 at 10:00 am

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I read Anne’s take on it, and she makes some great points.

I do think this documentary is *less* valid today because of the economic meltdown we’re having… lots of parents are starting to get it. But it’s weird. How do we then explain thriving boutique children’s stores? Designer jeans for toddlers, designer bikinis for infants etc. ?

I would love to know what the parents who were interviewed think of how this piece turned out. Did the doc give them some new perspective they didn’t have before? Are they still happy with the choices they make as it pertains to their kids?

5 | Helen

February 5th, 2010 at 10:06 am

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I agree with Rebecca we can always be a bit of any type of parenting.

I understand what you are saying that it being kind of one sided but I didn’t think anything of it as it was about THAT type of parenting, and what CAN come from it. (My f.i.l. is a Prof and he has had the phone calls from the parents…even those in graduate school).

I do like what Honore’s son said about how parents take everything and go too far with it. My husband and I find ourselves having to pull back from thoughts such as that.

Truth though…we do know of some families that could have been in this doc. and most of the time we use them as our ‘what not to do in parenting’ examples.

6 | andrea

February 5th, 2010 at 10:14 am

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Not sure who said it, but I like the thought that good parenting should encourage INDEPENDENCE, not DEPENDENCE.

7 | Josée

February 5th, 2010 at 11:05 am

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Your comment about technology allowing us to monitor our kids like never before is right on…these levels of helicopter parenting would not be possible without it. There is also another factor that has changed our attitudes towards how we raise our kids – fear. We can’t let our kids run around in the streets anymore (as I did growing up – as long as I was home by dark everything was fine): we believe it’s too dangerous. We monitor every activity and every friend to make sure our kids aren’t getting into trouble. But when we do this we aren’t giving them the room to make any good choices on their own; we aren’t developing trust, and we’re keeping them from growing up.

8 | Stefania

February 5th, 2010 at 11:20 am

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I haven’t watched the documentary yet. I will this weekend.

Lots of parents and grandparents talk about the good ol’ days when kids played outside all day, unsupervised. These days are viewed as innocent. I had an interesting discussion with a social worker (and parent) and a woman who suffered abuse as a child and they both agreed that the good ol’ days weren’t that good. “Things” still happened except kids didn’t talk about it because of fear and other consequences. We now have a more open society. So, are we more vigilant parents because more stuff happens these days or because we know more and have the technology, time, money, etc?

9 | Scattered Mom

February 5th, 2010 at 12:09 pm

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I caught the tail end of the program.

Here’s the thing-I don’t think it’s just parents, I think that society at large is coddling kids. There have been many times where Jake’s elementary schools either insinuated or outright said that we were depriving him (or just being bad parents) by not enrolling him in a bunch of after school activities.

Jake preferred to play outside, unstructured, with his friends. We thought that was healthier considering his difficulties at school, and went that route despite the naysayers.

Secondly, with the way the school system in BC is now structured, in jr high it’s almost impossible to fail a course unless a kid REALLY tries to fail. Kids never receive a zero anymore, and are given a huge amount of leeway to make up the things they have missed/not finished. In some cases, this might be appropriate. However, I find it ridiculous when I actually have to ask for people to back off and ALLOW my child to mess up. If he misses instructions because he wasn’t paying attention, or forgets to hand something in, let him suffer the consequences. No job is going to give him that amount of leeway, nor university course. Why not learn responsibility now, while he has support and it’s safe to do so, then have a huge shock down the road? I mean good God, he’s going into grade 10 next year! Especially since he’s been asking for that responsibility, and wants to take charge of his courses, why not let him?

Some people get it, others just don’t. Helicopter parenting does spill over with those who WORK with kids, and I find that incredibly frustrating.

The documentary did give me a lot of food for thought and made me consider what I do for Jake now. I think there’s always room for improvement, but we’ve done pretty good so far.

I still make his lunch every day (because I enjoy it, not because he can’t) and drive him to school (because he hates the bus and I can sympathize) He does his own laundry, knows how to clean a bathroom and cook, and takes charge of his homework. I had him come with me and observe when I was dropping off resumes and talking to people to apply for a job. I want him, more than anything, to be prepared when he’s independent so we take on new things each school year, bit by bit.

We all have helicopter tendencies, like you said. I think in the end it’s if we control them, or let them control us.

10 | Jenn

February 5th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

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I find it interesting that teachers and administrators are complaining about getting phone calls from parents who are stretching their limits and yet all the while, programs are being set up specifically for parents.
The other night my son’s school hosted a parent evening regarding course selections for next year. When we were in high school those info sessions were held as assemblies during the day. I believe the form had to have a parents signature but the decision making process not a joint process all the way through.
Point is, the school sets up these meetings with the expectations that parents will attend. My son attended on his own. Between what he needs to take for the Ontario H.S. Diploma and what he needs to get into university, there aren’t really many choices to be made and if he is going to follow his own interests, I don’t want to interfere with that.
The real challenge as a parent is knowing that your less helicoptered child is having to compete against the heavily helicoptered ones for school placements, jobs and experiences that you hope will ultimately shape them to be the best they can be. I guess that is what we all want for our kids but the ones may deserve it more will have to work much harder to get it.

11 | Meghan

February 5th, 2010 at 1:15 pm

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I agree that parents have a lot more pressure put upon them to be involved-from school administrators, extra curricular activities and from the competition of other parents.

A friend was telling me yesterday that parents can hire “coaches” for their kids to get into the local arts high school in Ottawa. The kids can then better prepare for the interview for acceptance. Same goes with school projects that are done at home by Mom and dad while Jr. is fast asleep. Who is really being interviewed and who is really getting an A on the science fair project?

12 | Vicky

February 5th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

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My mother raised my brothers and I with this philosophy, ‘give them a nest to grow in, and wings to fly’. Kind of corny, but it’s something I strive to do as well. I definitely agree with encouraging independence. I do offer a lot of praise, but I also reframe it this way “you must be so proud of yourself for X’. That way the reward is self-motivated.

Just like Helene, I do look at what other parents are doing for ‘what not to do in parenting’ examples.

Andrea I look forward to your post about play!

13 | Stefania

February 5th, 2010 at 4:50 pm

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I watched the documentary. There were some good examples but I didn’t think the woman who dropped her son off at university was in any way coddling. I really didn’t see anything wrong with dropping your kid off at university, helping him get things set up, making sure he calls and getting teary-eyed.

I found the psychologists boring and long-winded but I always prefer hearing more examples rather than hearing the science behind something.

14 | karen at virtually there

February 5th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

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I haven’t seen it yet either being that we don’t have a t.v. but will definitely watch it online when it becomes available. However, i did want to add that my husband has experienced this firsthand. He’s a prof and Carleton and has had parents (more than one I believe) call him to argue about a grade their children received in his classes. He was flabbergasted. Unfortunately, he’s also become accustomed to it.

15 | coffeewithjulie

February 6th, 2010 at 8:16 am

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Hi Andrea – the whole doc was fascinating, wasn’t it? It just brought up so many issues … like the play issue (I can’t wait to read your post on that), the consumerism issue, and the countless others.

I can’t stop thinking about it and what it all means for the future — if these kids can’t function as adults, how will our economy survive! I need someone to pay for my CPP! :)

I too would love to hear how the interviewees felt about the final doc. Let’s start an email campaign to beg them to do a follow-up! And like Stefania, I found the female psychologist dull and not really of particular value. I did enjoy hearing Honore. And I would have REALLY enjoyed hearing the author of Free Range Kids even more (as Ann Douglas suggested on her review post).

I had so many thoughts spinning around my head that I too did a post on this. It’s up now if you’re interested.

Julie

16 | Stefania

February 6th, 2010 at 8:40 am

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Yes, Honore was a very good interview. I would have liked to see more of him.

17 | Miss Vicky

February 6th, 2010 at 1:57 pm

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I’ve been mulling it over. I’m not sure I agree with the automatic association with rampant consumerism and heliocopter parenting. I know plenty of helicopter parents who eschew the consumerist model, but don’t set limits on their kids, don’t correct aggressive or inappropriate behaviour, don’t allow the kids to learn by messing up and so on. There are parents who prolong dependence by doing everything for their kids, there are parents who feel the need to buy everything for their kids, and there are parents who do both of these things. I felt the doc conflated these behaviours into one “hyper-parenting” label. Because it’s easy to say “well, I don’t spend 4 grand on my kid’s birthday, so that’s not me”, while continuing to “hover” in other ways

18 | Nadine C.

February 6th, 2010 at 1:59 pm

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I feel that when parents are the ones paying for the entire tuition (3 or 4 years at University) , they should be able to know a bit about what is going on in their teenager’s life. That is not to say that I agree with the part where these parents are litterally acting as “big brothers watching” and using all the technology devices available to do so. On the other hand isn’t this the way companies are behaving today when hiring new employees? My parents covered my entire undergrad expenses about 20 years ago so it is fair to say that they had a right to know where their $$$$ were going! I have heard of too many parents today who send their teenage kids to college all expenses payed, only to realize that junior has been using most of his/her rent money towards boozing and partying and cutting tons of classes in the process. These cases are rampant , just hang around Carleton Campus (or any other institution in the country) on a Saturday night! So yes without a doubt, parents should have their say in what sort of lifestyle their kids have at college and be informed about the dangers and pitfalls that they may encounter once away from mom and dad. I’ve never felt that my parents pushed me to come home with straight A’s or to be in competitve sports or have a busy agenda , they were always satisfied with my being just a regular kid that can play outside and yet can easily take responsibilty for her actions and have good work ethics, somehow I was the one always begging to go to swim meets and dance and music lessons. I remember competing in sevaral sports growing up and truly loving it . I never had a breakdown or a depression because of a schedule that was a bit busier than others. I did very well in school because I worked hard and enjoyed it and no one ever had to tell me how special or amazing I was in order for me to get top grades. Nowadays , it is my daughter who seeks afterschool activities and loves everything about being part of a dance school that competes . She also loves taking piano lessons and participates in every intramural offered at her school. She has no aspiration of becoming a dancer or a pianist or a professional athlete but really enjoys doing all of these things at the moment and forming many friendships along the way. She is doing very well in school because she loves learning , does her work on time and has amazing and caring teachers . And no, she is not a genius or a music or dance prodigy and doesn’t feel that she has to jump right into her homework as soon as she steps through the front door. I think that the documentary was indeed very interesting and entertaining yet I do feel that it was a tad too subjective and truly showed you a small percentage of disfunctional kids and parents who would probably end up having nervous breakdowns no matter what type of lifestlye they grew up with!

19 | coffeewithjulie

February 6th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

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Miss Vicky – Yes! You’ve managed to summarize what has been “not quite right” for me with this doc. I know soooo many parents who don’t overindulge with consumer goods, but set no limits and allow their chidren to virtually run the household. Thanks for that clarity. Hyper-parenting and consumerism are two different things and the doc got us all distracted from that with the 4k birthday party.

20 | How to play with your kids >> a peek inside the fishbowl

February 6th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

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[...] been dwelling on yesterday’s Hyper Parenting post and this has all been percolating in my brain a little too long. [...]

21 | andrea

February 6th, 2010 at 4:02 pm

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Maybe the connection between hyperparenting and consumerism is weak, but I think it’s still there.

I think there are lots of ways end up being a coddled kid, and this is one of them.

Think of the girl at the end of the doc, the one who couldn’t keep a job and then quit a good job to start her own business. She didn’t want to give up her stuff! Is the culture of entitlement not partly rooted in consumer culture?

22 | cgb

February 7th, 2010 at 9:42 pm

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I didn’t see the documentary, but have heard a lot about it. Its funny – I remember recently reading a blog somewhere where the person was complaining about the “slacker mom” trend. I’d never heard of it, but after Googling it seems that “slacker mom” is parenting style opposite to “helicopter mom”, sort of anti-schedule I suppose. So we complain about helicopters, and we complain about slackers – it seems that we moms just can’t win!

23 | Rose

May 28th, 2010 at 11:12 am

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I was fixated with this show last night. Usually I can catch a show and watch just 10 minutes and leave the room. I was so thankfull for this show. There are so many helicopter parents out there now. One school down the road has a no-touch policy. So kids can’t even play-fight, wrestle, hold hands while playing “house”, etc. YIKES!! I have 4 children and I allow my oldest (12) easily walk to the corner store by himself for a treat. I allow my 7, 10, and 12 year old wait for the bus by themselves at the bus stop. My father-in-law is semi-retired and drives bus and he sees kids who are 14 years old who have parents who drive them to the school or bus stop when they live only 4 blocks away!! I feel bad for the teachers of helicopter parents who think their children are so perfect. How about teaching children to be humble and put others first rather than teach them to be prideful and full of themselves? I think it was another comment above here by Andrea who also liked the comment on the show that said something like “Good parenting is having a child who is independent when they leave for college not dependent”. It always amazed me when I was at college and there were women and men who were in their 20s who had never operated a washing machine, dryer, stove, etc. YIKES!!! Coming from a home with 5 kids, that would have never happened. We had to be taught to be dependent and cook, clean, etc. otherwise my mom would have been overworked. They showed the extravagant birthday party and I think of women getting married and having their parents pay for the whole event and then expect and feel entitled to a honemoon triip to somewhere exotic with the in-laws paying. Whatever happened to paying for your own wedding, paying for your own college tuition, etc.? First time ever that I have written on something like this. LOL…I just feel so fed up with entitled ungrateful thankless children who turn into adults!! Pray for teachers!!

24 | Rose

May 28th, 2010 at 11:15 am

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Sorry, in the above comment by me, I meant to say “. We had to be taught to be INDEPEDENT (not dependent) and cook, clean, etc. otherwise my mom would have been overworked.

25 | Rose

May 28th, 2010 at 11:18 am

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I was fixated with this show last night. Usually I can catch a show and watch just 10 minutes and leave the room. I was so thankful for this show. There are so many helicopter parents out there now. One school down the road has a no-touch policy. So kids can’t even play-fight, wrestle, hold hands while playing “house”, etc. YIKES!! I have 4 children and I allow my oldest (12) easily walk to the corner store by himself for a treat. I allow my 7, 10, and 12 year old wait for the bus by themselves at the bus stop. My father-in-law is semi-retired and drives bus and he sees kids who are 14 years old who have parents who drive them to the school or bus stop when they live only 4 blocks away!! I feel bad for the teachers of helicopter parents who think their children are so perfect. How about teaching children to be humble and put others first rather than teach them to be prideful and full of themselves? Somehow pride has become the acceptance sin. I think it was another comment above here by Andrea who also liked the comment on the show that said something like “Good parenting is having a child who is independent when they leave for college not dependent”. It always amazed me when I was at college and there were women and men who were in their 20s who had never operated a washing machine, dryer, stove, etc. YIKES!!! Coming from a home with 5 kids, that would have never happened. We had to be taught to be independent and cook, clean, etc. otherwise my mom would have been overworked. They showed the extravagant birthday party and I think of women getting married and having their parents pay for the whole event and then expect and feel entitled to a honemoon trip to somewhere exotic with the in-laws paying. Whatever happened to paying for your own wedding, paying for your own college tuition, etc.? If parents want to help that is wonderful and a privilege not something that should be assumed or expected. First time ever that I have written on something like this. LOL…I just feel so fed up with entitled ungrateful thankless children who turn into adults!! Pray for teachers who deal with these kind of parents!! Pray for psychiatrists/counsellors who deal with the emotional side of these children who have so much pressure!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (15) and Sarah (13). I am the editor of the Kitchissippi Times, Capital Parent Newspaper, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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