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Episode 120: Unveiling the Dark Side of Social Media (Part 2) with Dr. Kardaras

Brief summary of show:

In this episode, Dr. Kardaras and I explore various aspects of technology's impact on our lives. Join us as we delve into the process of undoing and reprogramming what's already been done, unraveling the effects of our digital habits.

Discover the potential detriment of hyperfocusing on our kids and how many young people say they use devices to escape a “smothering” parent. We also explore the intriguing concept of "gender geographic" and its implications in today's tech-driven world. To help you navigate the ever-evolving landscape of technology, we share valuable tips and strategies to strike a healthy balance in your digital life.

Dr. Kardaras is an Ivy League educated psychologist, best-selling author, internationally renowned speaker and an expert on mental health, addiction, and the impacts of our digital age.

​He was a professor at Stony Brook Medicine and has developed clinical treatment programs all over the country. He is the founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Maui Recovery in Hawaii, Omega Recovery in Austin and the Launch House in New York. He is also a frequent contributor to Psychology Today and FOX News, and has appeared on Good Morning America, ABC's 20/20, CNN, the CBS Evening News, PBS, NPR and FOX & Friends.

Tune in for an enlightening discussion that will inspire you to reflect on your own relationship with technology.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:25] Undoing and reprogramming what's already been done

  • [9:15] The detriment of hyperfocusing on our kids

  • [12:45] Gender geographic

  • [22:10] Tips to help you navigate technology use

Notes from Natalie:

Connect with Me

Connect with Me

View Transcript for this Episode

Natalie: How to help someone who has a digital addiction. We know there's a problem, but what's the solution?

Natalie: Hi everyone. It's Natalie. I hope you're having a wonderful week so far. Growing up, I remember playing outside all day long. In the summer, we went to the pool, we ran around the neighborhood. We rode bikes. We may have watched one 30 minutes that come after dinner, but we certainly didn't look at screens all day.

There's some good things that we can do with technology. I'll be the first to admit it, but we are just, Beginning to see the impact of devices on the generation that grew up with them, and that impacts them physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Today is part two of my podcast on digital addiction.

Last week I spoke to Dr. Nicholas Cardis about the impact of technology and digital devices. We talked about his research and the book's, glow Kids and Digital Madness. Please take the time to go back and listen to that episode from last week. You'll find a link in the show notes. If you need it this week, we're gonna go.

Even deeper into how to help someone with a digital addiction. Dr. Cardis is the foremost expert on the topic. He's been interviewed hundreds, if not thousands of times on this topic. I wanna point out, he doesn't say that all technology is bad. It's part of our world. He actually helps us understand how to build our own.

Immune system, if you will, so we can better handle technology and limit it emotionally and psychologically. You'll find transcripts for my interviews, more articles, plus access to other topics like this one on my website, natalie And please reach out if you have a suggestion or a topic or some feedback for me.

I love hearing from you. Let's get started today with part two of this interview with Dr. Nicholas card.

I wanna go a little bit deeper into what to do. So, you know, I think there are many people listening who are thinking, I messed up. I didn't know my kids had phones when they were 10, and I have a son who plays 10 hours a day, or whatever it is. Let's, let's talk about your treatment programs and how ca.

Can we, first of all, reprogram? Mm-hmm. Can we take away what we've already given? I often like to use the analogy of once you open that door, it is hard to close it. But just like any, once that horse

Nicholas: leaves the barn, right? Once the horse leaves the barn, it's hard to get 'em back in. That is

Natalie: so, so true.

So can we spend some time here talking about reprogramming your treatment centers, what they are? What can be done and maybe some success stories from people who found themselves here. Yeah.

Nicholas: And I think, you know, parents who, look, we were all, you know, to some degree, we all drank the Kool-Aid. You know, we were all told that this was gonna be the way of the future, and we didn't.

And you know, I think the narrative for a lot of parents was they didn't want their kids to be behind in the digital age. Right. God forbid little Johnny and Susie weren't gonna be digitally, you know adept. And, and I think. Part of the problem was we conflated the modern screen world with television, and most of us grew up on television.

So we said, these are just smaller TVs. What can go wrong? But these were. Algorithmically fueled, ubiquitous. These were significantly more impactful than television. And even television as you know, you know, you were on TV for a long time you know, wasn't without its issues. So, so having said all that, you know, I think, the good news is there is treatment of people cross the tipping point into really, I mean, the people that come into my treatment program, I have a program that specializes in with.

Well, young adult distress, we treat 17 to 30 years old and it's the failure to launch profile. It's that 18, 20 year old who's just not thriving. And it's usually a combination of some mental health issues, some screen time issues, and you know, maybe some self-medicating with substance use. So it's like the, our, our textbook client is that 19 year old who went their way to college and once they went their way to school and their parents weren't there, helicoptering and helping 'em through their lives.

We're unable to navigate on their own and then all of a sudden flunked out cuz they stopped gonna classes cuz they stayed in the dorm room on their computers all day and then are back in mom and dad's basement. So there is treatment, you know, we do a digital detox for six weeks. We do a lot of cognitive behavioral therapy, we do a lot of life skills, how to relaunch into the world and have healthy resilience and resources to be able to navigate because you're not gonna be digitally abstinent, you know, in 21st Century American.

Mm-hmm. Unless you're. A reuse or hermit or Amish. Yeah. You know, the world's not gonna go Amish at this point. So we have to teach people how to do what we call mindful digital usage. But you do, if you've crossed the line of having a real problem, you do have to unplug for a few weeks to reset your self.

You know, cuz everything's been dysregulated, neurologically, adrenally people that have been on screens for 14, 15 hours a day, they need a reset. And so we do that in addition to teaching these skills. Prevention is better than treatment, right? So we talk about, you know, let's, that's why I talk about delay, delay, delay.

But if you're that parent that you know through no fault of your own, then I want there to be no shame involved or no parents to the best that they could. And look, we're working against very powerful marketing entities that Oh, yeah. Sold us their products and, and, you know it's hard to unring the bell once that bell has been rung and you've, if you've given your five year old a tablet or gaming, But you can, you know, you can begin to try to reset and go back towards more healthy, moderate habits.

But you have to lean into filling their lives with other activities rather than taking away. So it has to be a program of addition rather than subtraction, right? So, cuz you could take your child's device away, but are they gonna sit in the room and stare at the wall? As opposed to getting them signed up for.

Activities and events and face-to-face things. And let's face it, we all went through Covid. And Covid was a nuclear bomb on kids who were already struggling with screen time. So now you had two, three years of kids who were doing remote schooling and Zoom schooling and, and that only was kerosene to fire.

So now we have to lead into face-to-face activities with kids physical activities, cuz that's the antidote and, You know, I, I have, as in my book, digital Madness, part of the antidote. You know, I, I use a, an archetype of the philosopher warrior. A philosopher was known for their ability to use their reason.

Being ethically sound the wisdom of a philosopher to be able to be critically think critically thinking. Cuz part of the things that I write about is one of the things that I see working with young people. And I've, I was a college professor for a long time as well, and I noticed that my younger students in graduate school were much more highly emotionally reactive.

Would they, they couldn't handle conversation language became overwhelming. So we've created a generation of what some are called an anti-fragile a fragility culture where they don't have the resilience to be able to navigate through things. So how can we teach our kids the traits of the warrior, which is grit and resilience and stick to ITM and, and to stub their tone, be able to get up?

Because to some degree we've overly coddled and helicoptered our kids for. Fear-based reasons. We thought that the world outside might be a dangerous place, and we've kept our, our kids indoors. And that's one of the biggest generational shifts that I've seen in ways that kids have been brought up is, you know, historically most of the, when I speak at conferences or I'll ask people over 30, how many of you were raised.

Sun up to sun down, you'd go outside and play and almost every hand goes up. How many of you raised your kids that way? And almost nobody has People talked about being afraid to let your kids go outside to play. And so we created these indoor kids and now we're wondering why they're so hooked on their devices.

So I think it's leaning into not being afraid to let your kids. Be able to be outdoor kids again. You know? Yeah. There, there's the free range movement, right? Lenore Eskenazi has the free range movement that, you know, she might go a little too far in terms of letting your, you know, eight year old take the subway into New York City by themselves.

That might be an extreme version of it, but you know, to be a little bit more, let your child find their own way. One of the most successful parents that I know is a good friend of mine, he's a professor and they've had a wonderful outcome with their daughter, and I said to him, what was. What was the secret of your success?

And he said, benign neglect. Benign neglect. He was the opposite of a helicopter parent. He let his daughter figure it out. And so he kind of had, I'm there if, if you need me, kind of a more of a hands-off approach. Mm-hmm. Which served her well because, you know, I mean, I was raised by. Working class parents who probably in hindsight were neglectful because they were too busy working.

Mm-hmm. And so I had to figure things out for myself, and that served me well later in life. And, but yet my generation, our generation

you know, we tend to sort of hyperfocus on our kids to the point where it could sometimes not be productive. And then that, and a lot of the tech addiction clients that I work with, One of the main narratives that they'll say is, I've got a smothering mother and when I go into my screen world, it's an escape from her.

And, and that's been a fairly consistent narrative that I've gotten where it's, I hate to call it like a demonization of the mother, cuz in psychology they used to have an old saying, the schizophrenia mother, they used to blame moms for everything. But, but there's a little bit of that tendency where I've heard it over and over again where these young male gamers are saying, I don't feel any, any sense of autonomy or freedom in my my, I feel smothered, but when I get on my gaming platform, I feel empowered or free.


Natalie: Yeah. Right. Wow. And I know as a mom who. Probably has a tendency to smother however I'm aware of it and I can back off. Well first we have to admit it that, you know, we're fearful of how our kids are growing up. And so smothering is a way that we think we're loving them.

Nicholas: My wife is right there with you and I've, my wife and I have had, we'll call them conversations slash arguments about where, you know, I'll see it and I'll be like, Take, get, give 'em some breathing room.

Like, like she's a, you know exactly what you just said, but I love them. I'm just trying to Yeah. Get it. The, the tendency is to, to kind of help and nurture and support. But, but there's, you know, because we've lived in such a toxic world of fear messaging, you know, I think it, it, it, it increases that tendency to lean in closer as a mother or as a father sometimes too.

Yeah. And we have to sort of say, we really serve our kids well when we allow them to figure this out for themselves. And to allow them toub their toes and to kind of navigate through things without us, you know, softening up all the, all the blows, all the slings and arrows of life.

Natalie: however we're talking about like boundaries.

Mm-hmm. So when it comes to digital, we can't let them stub their toes when the stakes are

Nicholas: so high. Well, that's, see, but That's right. You're right. Checkmate. Good point. I mean, I'm not saying sort of so to be free, free range digitally, I'm saying allow kids to sort of develop and develop their own psychological immune system so that when they do enter the digital landscape, they're now informed by they're more resilient.

They have a better, clearer sense of autonomy and identity. Because if the kid is totally half baked when he enters that digital world mm-hmm, mm-hmm. That digital world is gonna shape them much more significantly than the kid who's more fully baked. But you'll get fully baked if you have your own sense of identity.

Yeah. So that's why we're seeing, you know, I hate to say the spike in gender dysphoria and all sorts of other identity confusion that we're seeing in the epidemic of a 4000% spike in gender dysphoria. That doesn't happen in the, in the natural world. You don't have. Disorders that spike like that without some kerosene and that kerosene has been digital media.

You know, we, we've taken a, a, a confused population of young kids in an emotions economy. we've given them influencers and to specifically with gender dysphoria. This 4000% increase? You know, in the, in the addiction recovery world, we used to have a phrase that we used to say if somebody had an addiction, they would be, they would sometimes do a geographic.

And doing a geographic meant you would move and say that I'm gonna get better if I, if I live in New York and I moved to la, life would be better because happiness lay over yonder. You don't identify your struggle as being an internal struggle. You identified as being.

And so I think a lot of young people who are experiencing some psychological distress today are, are doing a, a gender geographic.

They're saying, I don't like my life. I don't like who I am. And maybe if maybe happiness lay is across the gender divide, and I'm seeing all these influencers who are. Beginning to, not beginning, but they're shaping the narrative so significantly that it becomes an appealing message. Well, let me try, walk 'em over to that side, and maybe I'll be happier as a young person.

So all the trans and non-binary explosion that we're seeing to me is a direct reflection of the social media shaping influences of some of these influencers where they might

Natalie: not have even been aware of the possibility or the thought. Nope. In their, in their world now. Now some people would argue their world has been expanded.

They didn't know it was out there, and now they, you know, they have a new a new awareness.

Nicholas: Um, It's age inappropriate, you know, exposing kids at developmentally at an age when they're, you know, it's almost sexualizing kids at an age, you know, we talk about developmental windows. There are certain ages when kids are.

Learning certain things, and it's, it's exposing kids who don't have the capacity to understand certain concepts at prematurely of an age. And so it's not really knowing child development stages. And of course you're gonna have the conversations about sexual orientation and, and, and all those interpersonal dynamics and identity dynamics, age appropriate as you get into adolescence and beyond.

But what we've been doing with elementary school and when, when those children who are grossly under prepared for these kinds of conversations, and we're thinking that now we're gonna let not think that something unhealthy is gonna happen. when you do age inappropriate stuff and.

Of course, you're, you're, you're, you're affecting the development, the psychological, the identity development of that child by exposing 'em to ideas that they can't hold in their minds mm-hmm. That they're not equipped yet to handle. And so that's, but again, going back to sort of big tech and how they, you know, political correctness and ideologies that, that are now working independently of what we know from mental health and, and human development.

It's, it's crazy.

Natalie: Yeah. I can think of a lot of things now that you mentioned this, that are age inappropriate that I, I, I did a podcast a year or so ago with, with an expert in young teen girls and social media, and we talked about how we are literally taking. Kids throwing them into a jungle and saying, good luck.

The lions and the bears and the tigers, and just good luck. And we're, we're not even aware that they are gonna get eaten alive because we don't even know what they're viewing because it's two minute or two second clips. That we're not even

Nicholas: aware of it. Right. And see, that's the part when I was saying let them figure it out, I wouldn't throw them into the jungle and let them figure it out there.

Because I think once you do that, I think, you know, I was talking before about letting kids develop their own sense of identity and autonomy before they enter the digital arena. Because once they enter the digital jungle arena or either gonna get eaten alive. Yeah. Especially the kids who don't have a clear sense of, you know, I call it like mooring or tethering.

Right. what used to shape our identities historically in the few. You know, study, sociology community, family, Cultural norms. We used to have um, community institutions, everything from boy Scouts, girl Scouts, rotary clubs, faith-based institutions community. The, all these things were like help to these were, these were the lattice framework that helped create a person's sense of who they are in, in space and in place.

And now all of that's been pulled upside down. And so in that void, in that vacuum of who am I in, in that identity confusion, now you have all this other messaging of coming in. That is, I just think particularly toxic because the whole role of the society and us as parents is to be creating an intrinsically strong young person who has a clear sense of identity that's informed by their cultural heritage.

Mm-hmm. Their ancestral, you know, we, we used to. Take pride in, in ancestral knowledge and here's who your grandparents were and, and here's who, and we're passing this lineage down to you. And this helps inform you in a healthy way because it's your root system. Yeah. Now essentially, kids don't have a root system.

Yeah. And without that root system, you're flat, some floating in the sea and you'll latch on to. Cuz I've worked with, I've been an expert witness in. We won't have time to go into that, but, you know there was a, a capital murder case of a young teen in Florida who was a YouTuber who became young suburban white kid who became ideologically brainwashed by isis.

Was recruited by, you know, Was such an empty kid. He had no core identity for a variety of reasons. And once he started going down the uh, he just had to watch a YouTube video about Syria and the sod, but then the algorithm started sending him ISIS recruitment content. Within six months, he converted to Islam and he committed a very horrific, horrific murder.

Essentially decapitated a 13 year old boy and the. Tried to kill three other people in the name of Allah and his mother just thought he was on his computer in his room. You know, his mother just thought he was being safe because he was in indoors. Didn't realize that he was going down this ideological rabbit hole where he got brainwashed essentially.

And I was an expert witness in this case and, what I told my wife was the most unnerving about this whole case that I worked on for a few months, about a year and a half ago. Was how normal this kid was. This wasn't some, I I, I had to go interview him in prison. And um, I thought I was gonna meet a junior Charles Manson, like a sociopath.

And when I, I met kind of a sweet kid, you know, cuz Wow. When I, COVID had delayed his case by about two years. So he was sitting in prison without any computers, without any brainwashing influence. So he had landed back to who he really had been as a 15 year old, made eye contact, warmly greeted me, sat down, was.

Profoundly remorseful what he had done. Cuz now that the brainwashing had worn off, he, you know, he tried to kill himself twice in prison cuz he couldn't believe what he had done. And um, I said to my wife, what was unnerving is this was a kid that we would've probably hired as a babysitter because he was so normal and, and polite.

I never would've imagined a kid like this would've been able to commit these crimes. And these were some of the most horrific crimes that you could imagine. And it happened in a matter of six months of just 24 7. Inundation of some of this toxic YouTube brainwashing. Wow. So, you know, that's an extreme outlier.

I get it. But it was a pretty normal kid. It wasn't a psychiatrically, it was just a kid who felt empty and was looking for a team to belong to, and they chose the wrong team. And

Natalie: there are a lot of teams online. Yeah. You, you, that's right. One, one search for something can lead. That's right. Algorithm to continue putting you down that path to different teams you might not know about.

Wow. Mm-hmm. So what was the result then for him? Will he, will he have a future? Will he get out? No. How have you been able to help him?

Nicholas: Well, they were just looking to, his defense was just, I mean, it was an insanity defense and it was, it was insanity by digital media, essentially. they got. The death sentence off the table, which is what the goal was that they never ex expected him to be acquitted or even but it was enough to get the death sentence off.

But he's, it's alive from prison. Wow. And uh, I don't wanna say deservedly so, but, but these were pretty horrific crimes and, but you know, it was hard to make the argument. Well, insanity is a pretty high threshold But the, the upside of it was it did got, it got a lot of media coverage and it raised some awareness that, hey, you know, 30 years ago, people, you would join cults and sometimes do really strange things under cults, whether it was Dave Ssh or or Jim Jones.

But then you needed a charismatic leader. You needed to kind of be there in person. It took a lot of effort to be brainwashed by a cult leader cuz it was a. it was a retail called now with, in the digital age you could have people brainwashed ide ideologically brainwashed online in ways that were unimaginable 30 years ago.

So in that sense, ideological brainwashing is a thing. Yeah. Even

Natalie: more so with more people who are very influential,

Nicholas: much wider net with much more insane people who have a wider audience that they could now, you know, preach to.

Natalie: Who are very entertaining, by

Nicholas: the way. Well, and the FBI's aware of this, the FBI, by the way, is actively monitoring cuz they know that the low, low hanging fruit for some of these folks is the lonely white male.

And so they're actively like, so ISIS produces five videos a day in multiple languages. That, and, and by the way, I was shown some of these recruitment videos, super high production values. This, this was not Al-Qaeda, this was sophisticated. And if you didn't know better, if you and I watched some of these videos, like it was appealing, they made ISIS sound like they were community oriented.

They were building wells, they were about these wonderful things. And if, again, if you didn't know better, this was pretty compelling. Yeah. Content and, and, and so. The FBI is monitoring some gaming platforms, some chat forums, like four chan where the Lost and the Lonely Go to Congregate, and because that's where some of these different radical groups, left wing, right wing and Islamic are recruiting.

Yeah. And, and that's the another vulnerability point in digital, in the digital world, you know, can our more vulnerable ones be plucked off by some of these extremist groups? Yeah.

Natalie: Well, I, I don't like to leave people with just the doom because it, now we're scared. Really, really?

Nicholas: You don't wanna do that.

Natalie: But I, but it's important because then we're like, okay, now what do I do? And so you've mentioned your treatment centers and you've mentioned um, having the immunity and building that immunity, and I love the idea of addition instead of subtraction or both. Mm-hmm. A little more addition than subtraction, that idea.

Right. But can you leave us with at least two or three things we can do, especially if we have kids who are already there. They're, you know, they're on YouTube or they're Minecraft or they're, whatever it is. Or even adults, like, what can you leave us with to be

Nicholas: better? Yeah, I, I do think you know, your parents are within their, their rights to be able to know what their kids are viewing online.

That this idea of privacy, this isn't your kid's diary. Yeah. This is what, this is the neighborhood that your kids are hanging out in, and you have a right to know what neighborhood they're in. You know, years ago they used to have that public service announcement. It's 10 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?

That in New York? So it's 10 o'clock. Do you know who your kids are with? You know, and, and this means, you know, you checking their digital, their, their searches and their profile and, and doing it regularly and, and being transparent about it. You know, not, not doing it in some nefarious, the high and closed doors would say, look, I'm gonna be.

I care about who, what you're seeing. And, and while you live under my roof, this is what we're gonna do. Cuz I love you, you know, come from a place of love and compassion and, and really also try to model what you preach. You know, if you're, if you're talking about certain digital habits, try to embrace those digital habits your yourself, because you don't, you know, kids pick up on hypocrisy really well.

Oh yeah. And, and so you can't say, you can't be on your computer while you're on your computer. So try to be present as a parent, you know they found with neglect, they found that a, a child is more negatively impacted by a, a parent who's physically there but not tuned in. It's almost better to not be around.

So if you have to do extensive time on your computer or work or check your phone, it's almost better to go outside, go into the car. Like I do that sometimes, like if I know I've gotta spend. An hour when my kids are trying to watch a movie or something. I'm not gonna be on my phone in the living room with 'em.

I'm gonna kind of remove myself cuz that's, that's, it's better to do that. But I am hopeful, you know, I know it, sometimes it sounds doom and gloom, but what I'm hopeful about is that what I've seen is that a lot of younger kids now, some of the millennials are really tuning in to some of the More negative aspects, and they're actually rebelling by being more unplugged.

There's big resurgence of flip phones amongst Gen Zers apparently. Wow. I just read that a couple weeks ago. And they're trying to own their lives back because I think documentaries like the social dilemma mm-hmm. As woke have awoken a lot of people. And in my treatment program, when I show the social dilemma, one of the best strategies strategies that I use is, is to get.

That young person angry at how they've been manipulated. Yeah. Because no young person wants to be told what to do. They don't, your kids don't want you to tell 'em what to do. My kids don't want me to tell them what to do. Well then when I show them the social dilemma, I'm like, so you think you've been controlling all this?

You think you just had the people that baked all the, that have made all this technology telling you how you've been a puppet on the string. You wanna be a puppet on the string, you wanna be manipulative. And then they'll be like, hell no. And it's like, mm-hmm. Yes. Take that sense of autonomy and use it.

Yeah. You know, don't be subject to that. And that I found to be a very effective, as a tool above as a parent and as a clinician to sort of pull the curtain back and have from the, the voices of tech folks themselves having them say what we've been doing to you and how we've been monetizing you. Yeah.

And that kicks up that sense of independence in a young person. Kids don't

Natalie: want that, that's for sure. Right. I almost wish that someone would make, and maybe it's out there, a younger. Version for younger people of the social dilemma because it's it's kind of adult oriented. Like, you know, to show it to a 10 year old, they'd probably be pretty bored, but

Nicholas: yeah, that's good.

You know, that's, you know what, there, there's an idea.

Natalie: I. Yeah, maybe the, maybe the producers will, will do something. If we could show that to kids and have them go, no, you're not doing that to me. We can say it to our kids. But for them to be entertained by that thought Sure. Would be great. Well, I have learned so much, I'm so appreciative of your knowledge and your research and, and the treatment centers that you have.

Where can people find you if, if they want more information and they, they wanna reach out to you? Yeah,

Nicholas: so I've got my website as dr cardis It's uh, www Dr. Cardis is K A r D A r a And my treatment program that specializes in young adult distress is Omega Recovery in Austin, and that's ww omega recovery dot org.

and my books, glow Kids and Digital Madness have a lot of resources. In them as well. So those are available on Yes, Amazon. And they're also available on Kendall, which is, I know it's been pointed out to me that there's some irony in that, but. What can we do? You

Natalie: know? And that's where for me, teaching and even my social media, like if we can use it for good, it's there.

Use it for good and put things out. Teach in a good way. That's right. So I'm appreciative that you're on Kindle cuz I love listening to books and reading on a, well, I Audible is where I listen, but yeah, I'm able to read both.

Nicholas: We're both on Audible

Natalie: too. I love those. That's where technology can be good.

Nicholas: Well, it's like people have pointed out, it's like fire, right? Fire can be used for good and fire can start a fire. There you go. You know? And it can be bad too. So it's, it's true. Using for good purposes. Yeah. Yeah.

Natalie: Well, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your

Nicholas: time and thank you for having me and continue to do the good work that you're doing as well.

Natalie: Thank you.

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