Is Your 5-year-old Teaching Others About Sex?

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“Let’s Talk About Sex”

When my son was 5-years-old, one of his neighbor friends told him about naked women he had seen in some pornographic picture or video. He said in a matter-of-fact way, “Let’s talk about sex.” This friend roamed the neighborhood A LOT and when he wasn’t roaming he was in front of a screen. His family was religious, loving, but unaware of what their boy was being exposed to.

On another occasion, a friend of mine once told me of witnessing a different 5-year-old boy in the neighborhood laying on top of a slightly older girl kissing her mouth and trying to do other things that the boy had apparently witnessed elsewhere. The girl seemed to be enjoying the attention. I’m sure (or at least hope) the parents of the boy would be mortified if they knew what their son was doing.

I could go on and on with stories about children learning and doing things that would horrify their parents. And to this day, these parents probably still don’t know about it.

Both of these stories have two things in common: 1. A young child was exposed to sexual images and then tried sharing or acting on it, and 2. The parents of these children were not involved enough to know what was happening, let alone offer guidance.

Pop Quiz

True or False: Putting your kids in a lot of activities is the same as you being involved in their life.

The answer: capital F-A-L-S-E!

Don’t worry. If you answered incorrectly, you can still make up the points by reading the rest of this article and then applying it.

There is a disturbing trend in much of our society that is going undetected. It is this:

We parents are not effectively involved in our children’s lives and this is leaving them vulnerable to unhealthy messages about love and sex.

Now before you start to despair because you already feel over-booked with your kids lives, or before you begin to attack me….hear me out.

Oblivious to the Obvious?

There are several reasons why this problem is going undetected. Some of the reasons are legitimate while others are merely excuses. This is certainly not meant to be an exhaustive list.

  1. The illusion of involvement. We may feel that ensuring that our children are busy with soccer, gymnastics, piano, clubs, etc is how we stay involved in their life. Because we take them from place to place and book their schedules it can give us a false sense of involvement. Quality of involvement is as important–if not more so–than quantity.
  2. Parental freedom. The more we keep our kids occupied, the more we can get done. We can spend more time cleaning the house, at work, or on screens (TV, Facebook, etc).
  3. Uninformed voters. Many parents are simply unaware of the negative consequences of under-involved parenting. They could think: “I played outside all day and had very few personal interactions with my parents growing up and I turned out okay.”

I know that you want to your child to not just survive, but thrive. Your heart is all in! But it is possible to love a child totally and completely but not in the way her or she needs. It is possible for your child to be involved in so many activities without you actually being involved in their life.

Busy Doesn’t Mean Involved

Dr. Laurence Steinberg wrote:

Being an involved parent takes time and is hard work, and it often means rethinking and rearranging your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs you to do.

Did you know that the strongest and most consistent predictor of children’s mental health, adjustment, happiness, and well-being is the level of involvement of their parents in their life?

Children with involved parents are also more likely to share if they have been exposed to pornography or if someone has touched them inappropriately.

Ok. To be completely honest, this article is about more than just parental involvement. I’m really just building up to talking to your kids about intimacy, sexuality, and its counterfeits. But, how can we teach and influence our children about these things if we don’t understand their hearts and minds? How can we understand their hearts and minds if we aren’t effectively involved?

Porn Kills Love

In our day and age, our children are going to be exposed to pornography. The question is not so much if they are going to see it, but when. We cannot control the choices of peers, the parents of our peers, and many, many other sources. Yet, the more connected and effectively involved we are, the more influence and guidance we can offer.

A student recently told me that her best friend was sexually abused as a child. Sadly, her friend kept it from her parents for many years because she didn’t know how to talk to them about it. In her friends’ home, they didn’t talk about the body, intimacy, and so on. It was taboo. She is now receiving therapy and getting the help she needs. But if this girl had a more open, communicative relationship with her parents, those years of guilt and depression could have been minimized. 

So What Do I Do?

You’re probably wondering how to become effectively involved in your child’s life to the point you can have regular chats about love, intimacy, and pornography. Stay tuned! I will be blogging about this and also publishing an ebook about this at the end of June.

Our friends at Educate Empower Kids (EEK) have created some fantastic materials to help parents guide their children. Check out 30 Days of Sex Talks and How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography. Check out this powerful video below by EEK that I feel summarizes what I’ve been trying to say.

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.


What is Your Child’s Gender? You Might Want to Ask Science


Let the Baby Decide!

“Are you having a boy or a girl?”

This is one of the most common questions asked to those who have just revealed they are expecting a little one.

This question is logical, understandable, and completely accurate. From a biological perspective, it would be more than a little unreasonable for the expecting parent to respond:

“We don’t know. The child hasn’t decided yet.”

Two Faulty Extremes

The differences in boys and girls, males and females, can swing between two extremes:

  1. All gender differences are socialized and learned through culture and therefore can be unlearned. This leaves the door open to choosing one’s gender. (I’ve seen this philosophy heavily promoted at the United Nations.) 
  2. All differences in boys and girls are biologically-based which often creates old-fashioned sex roles and stereotypes. This can lead parents and teachers to believe and promote that boys don’t feel emotions (except anger) and girls can’t do math.

The problem with both of these perspectives on gender is that neither of them are based in science — and both harm individuals and society. It can be tempting to believe whatever’s popular on Facebook. But just because every post in your social media feed promotes an idea about gender, it doesn’t make it true.

In his book Why Gender Matters, Physician and Psychologist, Dr. Leonard Sax wrote:

There is more at stake here than the old question of nature versus nurture. The failure to recognize and respect sex differences in child development has done substantial harm over the past thirty years.

Clearly, swinging to either extreme can be problematic.

On the other hand, well-conducted research can help us understand natural laws that govern life. Once we really understand these natural laws, we can help not only ourselves but also those we love.

So what does the research say?

Although there is a lot of good science out there, I will briefly touch on 4 areas where boys and girls inherently differ — and why that matters for all of us.

1. Brain Structure & Language Processing

Ladies. Your brain tissue is intrinsically different from guys. This process starts in the womb. You didn’t have a choice. That’s just the natural way that the X & Y chromosomes made it.

Male brains are also much more compartmentalized than female brains. For example, boys process and express their language in the left hemisphere of the brain, and girls use both sides.

2. Seeing is Believing

One study looked at how newborn babies would respond to their visual environment. A female nurse stood over a crib with a mobile swinging next to her. The vast majority of the female babies stared at the face of the nurse while most male babies watched the moving mobile. Girls are born wired to be interested in faces and boys in moving things. No wonder guys like football and fast machines.

This is biological, people! These babies have not been “socialized” by their environment.

3. Color Me…Different

Walk into a kindergarten class and give all the children a piece of paper for drawing. Tell them they can draw whatever they want. The lion’s share of the boys will draw action and use colors like black, silver, and blue. While the girls will draw people or things and use the colors red, orange, green, and beige. As Dr. Sax wrote:

“Girls draw in nouns, boys draw in verbs.”

That’s because the internal structure of the eye differs in both males and females. This isn’t a choice. It is hardwired. Does this mean that boys will never draw a face or a flower? Of course not! This study simply helps us understand the biological preferences and why they exist.

Nurture can influence nature, but it can’t change it.

4. Toying with Biology

Multiple studies have helped us understand children’s toy preferences. Researchers gave babies between 9-18 months old toys to play with. Almost all the boys chose the truck while the majority of girls chose the doll. Developmentally, children at this age don’t really understand what their gender is and what it means. But if you understand biological differences this makes sense.

What about girls who play with trucks and boys who play with dolls? Even though this is the minority, it’s still worth asking. It’s important to understand that a feminine boy and a masculine girl still have a brain that is wired to their gender. Based on what we know about brain differences, it is likely that girls like playing with trucks for different reasons than boys do.

So What?

I have barely scratched the surface on this research. But we all need to be more informed about which gender differences are biological and which are not. This will help parents and teachers meet the child’s needs more effectively. Boys and girls think, learn, see, hear, and develop differently. Understanding these differences will help us create better and more scientifically-based policies. 

Female teachers and parents should not tell a boy that he can’t draw simply because it is a rocket going to space rather than a pretty face.

We can emphasize the unique contributions that both a mother and a father bring to their sons and daughters.

Rather than teaching children that they can choose their gender or that they need to fit rigid, unfounded stereotypes, we can help children own their gender. Will there be variability within each gender? Indeed!

For more information on this, you can email us questions for our next podcast or read the book Why Gender Matters.

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Do You Need to De-vice Your Parenting? Here are 5 Ways to Get Started

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Wake Up, Dad!

Not too long ago, I was driving home from a stressful day of work. There were so many things I didn’t get done that day and it weighed on my mind. I didn’t want to be distracted by these thoughts while with my children so I decided I’d try to check a few more items off my list.

I called one of the many people I needed to call back. Unfortunately, the call lasted longer than expected and I was still on the phone when I pulled into my driveway. My four and seven-year-old daughters came running up all excited to see me. As they bounced up and down and opened my door, I put my finger up with a smile to signal: “Give me one minute.”

They quickly lost interest and went back to playing with their friends. So I thought I’d answer two or three more emails on my phone.

When I finally did walk through my front door I was checking a text. I wish I could tell you that this is where it ended. But to be short. I checked Facebook, brought my phone to dinner, and was physically present but emotionally absent most of the evening.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself (and Your Relationships)

When I set out to write this article, I was totally ready to write about the impact screens are having on our kids. Especially because far too many parents give their children smartphones and tablets way too early.

Then I realized that there is a bigger fish to fry. Parents really need to put on the metaphorical oxygen mask first before they put it on their child.

Another way to think of this is the blind can’t teach those who are still learning to see. This is all to say that we parents can’t guide our children in the digital age when we have our own problem.

This is especially dangerous for the parents who don’t even think their phone is impacting their parenting.

Let’s take a quick test. Be honest!

  1. How often do you use your phone to deal with feelings of stress, boredom or inadequacy? In other words, are you phone-medicating?
  2. Do you know how often you look at your phone and is it intentional? In other words, do you personally screen your screen time? 

  3. Do you find being with your children less interesting and exciting than checking Facebook and seeing that red indicator? In other words, are you disconnecting from family for artificial connection?

  4. Are people always put before machines at family dinner? In other words, did you know that what your kids really want (and need) for dinner is your attention?
  5. Have you ever noticed that your parenting skills decrease as your phone usage increases? In other words, did you know that your parenting will be more inconsistent and slapdash the more you use your phone?

These questions require serious, honest reflection.

I am old enough to remember life without smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, and even the Internet. Occasionally I wonder: “What would my parenting look like without screens? Would I be a better listener? Would I more effectively assess and solve the problems in my family?”

It seems that we’ve come to accept this technological takeover as the norm. As a professor of family studies and as a parent, I am convinced that far too many of us parents are unaware of what’s happening.

We are wired to connect. But we are disconnecting wirelessly.

A study from 2013 found that:

  • At least 70% of people say they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
  • 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep
  • 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • 51% check continuously during vacation.
  • 44% said they would experience “a great deal of anxiety” if they lost their phone and couldn’t replace it for a week.

Unfortunately, we have every reason to believe that these numbers have only increased over the past 3 years.

5 Ways to Reclaim Your Mind and Your Parenting

I know you are a conscientious parent. If you struggle–like I do–to be smart with your smartphone, here are 5 ways to get your mind and heart back into your parenting:

  1. Be intentional. Be the master and not the servant of your phone. Take time after the children have gone to bed and do an honest evaluation of where you could improve. Consider the special moments you could be missing.
  2. Set boundaries. Make sure certain times are sacred. Eat together. Play together. Work together. If you can, put your phone on vibrate, turn it off, or set it in another room.
  3. Be mindful. Take time to meditate and clear your mind. Instead of using your phone as a coping mechanism, disconnect and learn healthier ways to deal with boredom and stress.
  4. Solve problems. Once you have learned how to be mindful (it takes practice), the feelings of inadequacy and failure that often come with parenting can be put in their proper place. You’ll be surprised how many parenting issues you can solve if you mindfully disconnect once a day.
  5. Be patient. As you work to improve at being more present in parenting, be persistent but also patient with yourself. (A nice bonus is that as you follow these ideas you will find yourself being more patient with your kids!)

You can do this! The love you have for your children is stronger than anything you will experience on social media. Let that desire for real connection drive you.

Don’t forget to check out our new ebook: “3 Things You Can Do Today to Create a Ridiculously Happy Marriage

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Have I Failed as a Parent?


What is Your Mindset?

Take the following test. As you read each statement carefully, decide whether you mostly agree or disagree with it.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much. 
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are. 
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit. 
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are. 
  5. You are a certain kind of person (for example: patient), and there is not much that can be done to really change that. 
  6. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially. 
  7. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed. 
  8. You can always change basic things about the kind of person you are.

Statements 1, 2, 5, and 7 are belief systems that promote comfort, inaction, and stagnation or sameness. All the other statements reflect an individual who believes in growth, effort, and change.

This little test comes from Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, which shares ground-breaking research on how we can learn to help ourselves and others reach their full potential. I HIGHLY recommend this book as it will rock your world…for the better.

Most people have strongly held beliefs about talent, ability, brains, and accomplishment. And most people are wrong about it. Most of what we know about self-esteem, intelligence, work ethic, motivation, success, and failure is flawed or downright false. Consider the following example.

A Rough Morning

Let’s say that you wake up one morning with a good attitude about that day. As you begin to help your children get ready for school your 14-year-old son teases his little sister until she screams. It’s hard enough to get them out the door on time without constantly nagging them so your daughters scream only adds to the stress. You try to control your frustration as you attempt to correct your son’s annoying behavior. He quips that it wasn’t his fault and doesn’t know what you are talking about. This only furthers your frustration because he never seems to take responsibility for his actions. In your mind you think:

“I can’t raise a child who always makes excuses for his behavior. I can’t let that happen.”

Before you can finish your lecture you notice the clock and realize that your 6-year-old son never got out of bed when you went in his room earlier to wake him up. You snap at him and wake him up in a grouchy mood.

Finally, everyone is out the door and at school and then you realize that you never had a family prayer and one of your children did not get her lunch. You try to stay positive and keep those happy feelings from when you first awoke only to find your 2-year-old daughter has gotten out every board game and spread the little pieces everywhere. That’s the last straw!

So you pick up your phone to look for an escape from your morning (and from your feelings of inadequacy and failure) and on Facebook that perfect mom down the street posted something about her perfect children and the blissfulness of the ease of family life. You think:

“I’m a total failure of a mother. I’m just not cut out for this! I can never be like so-and-so. The more I try, the more I am just screwing up my kids.”

Do Mistakes Mean We’ve Failed?

Your day started off with a positive view and outlook, and only a few hours later it has become derailed. But there was no death or destruction. Nothing catastrophic happened. Just a series of fairly common but unfortunate events.

Think back to the test you completed earlier. Statements 5-8 are assessing your mindset about growth. Do you believe that great parents are born? Is there some natural endowment of patience and teaching that some parents have and others simply don’t?

Experiences and feelings like those in the hypothetical morning episode are not all that uncommon. The problem is how much we believe those thoughts and feelings. Whether or not we really believe that growth comes from effort or from talent. Study after study has found that children who believe that either you are smart or you are not, spend a lot of time protecting their ego and stop trying.

He may make excuses when they don’t do well on a test. “The teacher never taught this very well.” “There were a lot of tricky, unfair questions.” Or he may give less effort in the future to avoid feeling inadequate or dumb. He may think: “Why try hard if you aren’t smart?”

If this is describing your child then you might want to refer to statements 1-4 on the test.

In situations such as these, we parents may try to solve our child’s problem by pouring on the praise to get them to try harder (and because we know how much we like other people praising us). Unfortunately this sort of approach only causes things to cycle downward (more on this in a future article). We may push them to get good grades–because, after all, good grades equals smart or intelligent. FALSE! This just sets the child up for using another faulty yardstick to measure their learning and overall worth.

To Improvement, and Beyond!

Think of Buzz Lightyear. For the majority of the first Toy Story movie Buzz is convinced he is a space ranger. He is so convinced that he either can’t or won’t see things as they really are. It’s not a bed, it is “unstable terrain.” It’s not a little light bulb that blinks, it’s his laser. It is not until much later in the movie that Buzz learns his true identity as a toy. He finds out that he is not naturally a space ranger and that his gadgets and gizmos are not what makes him special.

What you needed in that difficult morning and what your child needs in their test troubles is a frame of mind that centers around effort, learning, and growth. Both of you need to stop comparing yourself to others and relying solely on external indicators about your potential and ability. Every word and action from you as a parent sends a message to your child. Dr. Dweck gives this counsel:

Tomorrow, listen to what you say to your kids and tune in to the messages you’re sending. Are they messages that say: “You have permanent traits and I’m judging them?” Or are they messages that say: “You’re a developing person and I’m interested in your development?”

It’s easy for us to see why this is important for our own children, but what about you? Are you willing to work on changing your thought pattern next time your morning–or day–goes south? Are you willing to catch yourself in a comparison and judging yourself? Will you avoid using social media to drown your sorrows?

Please know that most of the negative thoughts and feelings you have about yourself are not reality. Don’t let a fixed mindset rob you of your true potential. The stuff of growth was never made of ease.

Lessons They’ll Never Forget: Alternatives to Punishment

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This article is part 3 in a 3-part series on punishment.

Not too long ago, my family and I went to the local library together to return our books and to renew our supply. All was well until we got back into the car to go home. Naomi (age 7) got into the backseat before Carter (age 12) and sat in Carter’s favorite spot. This ticked Carter off a bit and he started to get agitated with Naomi. He demanded that Naomi move, and she was more than happy to gloat about getting that coveted location.

Things escalated pretty quickly–as they often can in a family of passionate, emotional people–so Carter decided to use physical force to get his way. This slightly hurt Naomi’s body and really hurt her feelings. Being the protective Dad I am, I said to Carter: “What are you thinking?! It’s a spot in the car for a 5-minute car ride!” Then the lecture began.

About 10 words into the lecture, Carter plugged his ears! That really made my blood boil. I increased the volume of the lecture (not quite yelling yet), and then I caught myself. I got in the driver’s seat and drove home–still upset about Carter’s actions and the perceived disrespect. Little did he know that I was saving the lecture for later when I could get him to listen.

Let’s take a moment to reflect here.

Parents, I’m just going to say it like it is. I did so many more things wrong in this situation than Carter. First of all I’m 25 years older so I am more accountable. I can’t act or react in a way that makes me guilty of a greater offense than he is . . . which is what happened. Second, lectures rarely work in the way we hope — and I mean rarely! Third, the plugging of his ears was not intentional disrespect but a reaction to a useless pastime where I occasionally lecture and he tunes out. If anything, I should see this as a signal that I’m not teaching or connecting. This means it’s time to get off my soapbox, chill out, and think rationally again.

You may still be wondering, “So what did you do?”

I’m glad you asked. Here’s the rest of the story.

When we got home, Carter went straight to his room (I assumed he was upset about my mini lecture). I waited a few minutes–not having calmed down all the way–and knocked on his bedroom door. When the door opened, I started into a different type a lecture and I could tell he looked visibly upset. He stopped me and said: “Dad, I was praying for forgiveness and was about to come ask you and Naomi to forgive me but you interrupted me.” I felt like a piece of garbage.

We’ve tried to teach our children how to remedy a mistake over the years, and here was evidence it was working. It is only through effective teaching and guidance that can help children realize their mistakes and then self-correct. You can’t force remorse–which is what most punishments are attempting to do. Real remorse has to be natural and from within. Being sorry because you were caught and something bad happened to you doesn’t bring about real, heartfelt change.

What Carter needed was connection, not correction. (See the Parenting Pyramid for more details). Any type of punishment in this situation would have gotten in the way of what needed to happen and only made things worse.

We often want the quick fix that punishment provides. Connecting with and effectively teaching our children, on the other hand, require much more time and effort than any punishment demands of us.

Remember the Ping-Pong Parable? It would have been silly for me to punish Eleanor for whacking the table because I’d really be punishing her for having a pathetic teacher (me).

If you were taking tennis lessons and your instructor made you do 20 pushups every time you hit a backhand poorly, you wouldn’t improve your backhand. Instead, you’d just be more fearful when a ball came to your backhand. You’d be even more likely to mess up!

Yet we often do the same thing with children when they can’t control their emotions. And controlling emotions is much more difficult than hitting a backhand! (Trust me, I taught tennis for years.)

We think that some sort of punishment will teach emotional regulation, but instead it impedes it.

So before you use a threat, a lecture, a punitive time-out, a withdrawal of privileges, a grounding, or anything else that might fix the behavior temporarily, consider the following research-based *alternatives:

1. Adjust Your Expectations.  

If a problem keeps happening, take the time to analyze the situation with your spouse. Do you need to make any adjustments? Many times parents have created a problem through poor teaching or unrealistic demands, and then the child is the one who gets punished. Take time to reflect on your expectations and be willing to make adjustments as needed. (Make sure you’re keeping the age of your child in mind as well. You shouldn’t expect the same from your 5-year-old that you expect from your 10-year-old.)

Example: Maybe your teen won’t clean his room because of your unreasonable demands. Instead of demanding his room is cleaned exactly to your specifications, find a healthy compromise. Your home will be better off with a slightly messy room and less fighting than it would be with a perfectly clean room.

2. Have Good Reasons and Teach Them.

Don’t have a rule just because you feel like it. Make sure you have good reasons behind what you ask of your children, and make sure your kids understand what those reasons are. (And for the record, “because I said so” isn’t a good reason.)

Example: If your child refuses to wear her seat belt, don’t threaten or bribe. You may have to get out of the car, connect with her, and explain why. Then show her by putting on your own seat belt.

3. Talk Less, Listen More.

Don’t assume you know what the child was thinking, feeling, or deciding. Ask and observe without interrogating! Listen to, acknowledge, and accept feelings. Try to put yourself in their shoes. It’s likely that the misbehavior is merely a symptom of a larger problem. As Stephen Covey teaches, seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Example: When your child didn’t do his homework, take time to listen. There’s probably more to it than simply willful rebellion. Maybe they’re struggling with the subject or having other difficulties that need to be addressed.

4. Counsel Together.

Find a time when you’re both rational to talk with your children. (This probably won’t be while the conflict is happening.) State your own needs, and ask for their help in finding solutions. Determine rules together. Hold family meetings.

Example: If your teen keeps breaking curfew, decide on a time to come together and talk about the issue. Work together to determine the best solution.

5. Take Your Own Time-out.

Get out of there before you lose it. Explain to the child what you are doing so they know you aren’t just withdrawing love. This is a great example for children to learn how to deal with emotions and have the right kind of time-outs.  

Example: When you’re starting to get overwhelmed or frustrated, take time to go for a run, cry, take a shower, or whatever you need to do to cool down.

By the way, bribes don’t work either. It’s just candy-coated control. For more on this see: Can I Bribe Character into My Child? Every disciplining strategy or technique can be measured against the following questions: Is this a “working-with” or “doing-to” approach? Is this more focused on teaching or correction? Am I keeping the long view of character or the short view of behavior in mind?

Learning Process

As evident by my example, we are always learning. Now that you have a few alternatives to punishment, put them into practice! It won’t come all at once, because good parenting is a process. When you start to get discouraged and fall into habits of punishing, remember: there are other options. You can do this!
*Points were largely taken from Unconditional Parenting,Twenty Alternatives to Punishment, and Positive Discipline.


Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.