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In this episode we talk teenagers and blended families, as well as how to prioritise your relationship as a couple during these years.

You’ll hear from Professional Certified Relationship Coach Rich Heller who has both personal and professional experience when it comes to tackling some of the challenges that can arise and are often exacerbated by different houses and sets of rules.

Rich Heller (00:01): On one side, we had a rageaholic parent. We’re some very uneven parents. And then the other, we had one who was clinically depressed. And so the children of the clinically depressed parents basically just stopped going there, because they couldn’t deal with the energy. The emotion. And the rageaholic kids just got very good at picking the right times to be with their parent.

Laura Jenkins (00:21): In the Blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests, to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.

(00:50): Hello, and welcome to In The Blend. Well we’ve got another emotionally charged subject for you this week, as we talk all things teenagers and blended families. And if you are raising a teenager, you’ll likely know that with this time in life, often comes a whole load of new parenting challenges. And if you add blended families into the mix and potentially two different houses and sets of rules, things can get even more challenging. My guest today is Rich Heller. A relationship fitness coach, and mediator. He’s also a trained parent coordinator, professional certified coach. And is no stranger to conflict, having been divorced and now remarried. As well as being a child of divorce himself. I had the pleasure of speaking on Rich’s podcast recently. And I’m very much looking forward to having the chance to interview him today, as we cover some of the common challenges blended families face with kids in the teenage years. And importantly, how to ensure you don’t forget about your own relationship as a couple in the process as well.

(01:55): Good morning, Rich. And welcome to In The Blend.

Rich Heller (01:59): Thank you, Laura. And good morning to you as well.

Laura Jenkins (02:01): It’s so nice to chat with you again. I had the pleasure of being on Rich’s podcast a couple of months back now.

Rich Heller (02:09): And you were awesome.

Laura Jenkins (02:11): Oh. Thank you, Rich.

Rich Heller (02:12): Yeah.

Laura Jenkins (02:12): Thank you very much. But it’s so lovely now to flip the tables, and ask you a few questions. Rich, let’s start off… We actually haven’t tackled teenagers on the show before. So first up, tell us about your family.

Rich Heller (02:30): As a teenager, I used to flip a lot of tables. So when you say let’s flip the table I said, uh-oh. It’s payback time. And I had some teenagers who like to flip tables too. I have a… Well, my wife and I are debating how many children we actually have. I say six, she says five. And that’s because we have this sixth spiritual child who started out as our Au pair, and became our child. And she came to us at a very young age. So I say six. I’m sticking to my story.

(03:02): But they’re all… Our youngest is 20. And so, I have no more teenagers in my life. And we are becoming functionally empty nesters. And we were a blended family. We came together with two each, from our original marriages. And found out very quickly, that it’s a lot different raising four children than two. And then we had the nerve to go and have another one. And that’s how we got our sixth child, the Au pair. Who came in when she was 19, to help with this child. And now… 19. She was 19 then, how old is she? She’s… 18 years later, she’s got her own child. And there’s a whole backstory there, as to how she became… How she and our spiritual granddaughter came to be a part of our family. Which I… It’s a whole nother podcast.

Laura Jenkins (03:56): Oh, wow. That is a whole other podcast.

Rich Heller (03:58): But she was a very mature… 19, thank God. So we didn’t really have to go through teens with her. She was very militant with our youngest child. And our teens did… Our children went through the whole thing. When we first got married, our oldest was 12. And so, we got to go through teens with all of them.

Laura Jenkins (04:22): Wow. So with that experience you’ve had Rich, what are some of the common challenges that came up over the years?

Rich Heller (04:32): Well, there’s… Let’s just start with the typical blended family challenges. Which is, am I a friend? An enemy? A dad? An uncle? What am I? But always, I am… It’s my roof. And the added challenge to that is that your partner has had more years with, I would say… For the most part, this is true. More years with their children, than they’ve had with you. So they’ve got more background experience and bond with their children in some ways, than they do with you.

(05:13): So there’s this icky thing of figuring out what your role is. And then there’s the fact that if you cross the line, your partner is as likely to land on their kids’ side as yours. Because, your relationship just hasn’t… No matter how well-founded it is, when it comes to children we are all very feral.

Laura Jenkins (05:36): That can be the case. And Rich, with teenagers, did all… Were you a blended family when all children were going through the teenage years? At what point did you become a blended family?

Rich Heller (05:51): Yeah. So the oldest was 12 going on 13, when we first got married. And so, he led off. And he was totally, madly rebellious. I mean, insanely rebellious. This is a young man who three months before high school graduation, decided to drop out of school. And [inaudible 00:06:13] like, what the hell? Why not? And go get a GED.

(06:18): So the good news about that was… The bad news was that as parents we were like, oh my God. How do we deal with this completely rebellious child? Who was also the town goth. Who was also smoking all kinds of stuff, and drinking all kinds of stuff. And there were incidences where I would… One where I found a naked girl in the downstairs closet one evening. I mean, it was just-

Laura Jenkins (06:45): Oh my goodness.

Rich Heller (06:45): It was off the wall. But the good news was, I found him. And this was my son. So it was easy… If my wife had found him, it might have gone very differently. But with him on the front end, the other kids did not push the envelope like he did. They watched what happened there and they’re like, no. We’re not doing that.

(07:03): So the bad news/good news was the oldest really pushed the envelope. And the rest of them were like, no. There’s better ways to live than that.

Laura Jenkins (07:14): And it felt easy in comparison?

Rich Heller (07:17): Oh, god. So much. They were so much easier. And the challenges with my… I hate calling them my stepchildren. They’ve been my children for… They are my children. They’ve been my children for so long. What did somebody call them? Maybe it was you. Somebody said bonus children.

Laura Jenkins (07:35): It wasn’t me, but I wish it was.

(07:37): I’d love to claim that one.

Rich Heller (07:40): Yeah. It’s a good one. My bonus children.

Laura Jenkins (07:42): I love that as well.

Rich Heller (07:44): With my bonus children, it was cool. Because when they were going through their rebellion… The great thing about being the bonus dad, I guess I’m going to call myself, is that there were times there where I didn’t have to be the dad. They’re going through their stuff. And it’s like well, you know what? Not really… They told me for years, I’m not their dad. So I don’t need to be.

(08:05): And then… If they were having trouble with their dad, which was not unusual, they would lean into me. They would lean into me as a really close uncle, or something. And I would have these really rare, super close moments with them. Where they would allow me to be their friend. Which as we were saying before we started recording, that could change in a second.

Laura Jenkins (08:28): Yes.

Rich Heller (08:28): Once that need is met, it’s okay. Now I can throw you away. You can go back to being whatever you want to.

Laura Jenkins (08:33): You’ve got to be quite… What’s the word? You’ve got to have thick skin.

(08:40): Yeah. Resilient. That’s the word I was looking for, Rich.

(08:43): So let’s talk a little bit about discipline then. And I know we’ve talked about this previously, you and I. But the discipline conversation is something that is interesting, when it comes to the topic of teenagers. And especially if they’re not… The children are not biologically your own. Have there been occasions where some of your stepchildren may have been pushing the envelope a little bit? And how have you handled that?

Rich Heller (09:10): Yeah. Absolutely. Well obviously, my children push the envelope just a little bit. So why not my stepchildren? But what we learned very early on… Because we went from two each to four each, was that we need to run what we call here in the states, a zone defense.

(09:29): So in basketball, you can… And football. You can play man on man. And soccer actually, I think. You can play man on man, or you can play a zone.

(09:38): And when you’re outnumbered four to two, there’s no man on man. It just doesn’t happen. So we went to a zone defense, which means we had very clear boundaries regarding school, homework. Eating, screen time. Friends. We had really clear boundaries. And so, that just made us equal cops.

Laura Jenkins (10:08): Yes.

Rich Heller (10:09): I didn’t have to be a parent anymore. It’s just like well, listen. You know where the lines are. Your mom said… Or she’d say, your dad said.

(10:16): Because, we were very much on the same page. We knew this was… We weren’t going to make it, if we didn’t play this way. And it’s funny. We had relatives with two kids who would say, what kind of a Gustapo, Stormtrooper, Nazi camp are you running here? And we’d be like, you just don’t… You do not know what it’s like to be outnumbered.

(10:44): And when our kids hit their teens, they behave very well. When their kids hit their teens, they were getting arrested for spray-painting. For smoking pot. The difference is that our kids got really good at getting away with things, because they knew where the lines were. And their kids had never seen any lines, so they didn’t know how to get away with things. I mean I’d like to say our kids were very well-behaved, but I don’t believe that for a second.

Laura Jenkins (11:08): And that’s life, isn’t it? I mean, no one is perfect. But I really like the idea, Rich, of having clear boundaries. I think in particular with teenagers, that’s super important.

(11:20): Can you give me an example of a boundary that you might have had in place?

Rich Heller (11:25): Oh, it was crazy. Looking back on it Laura, I’m just like, what were we thinking? But we had them all doing chores. And we couldn’t have any of the blooded children doing chores together, because they conspire. We had to split them up. We knew right away, we had to break up the cliques. My wife is Miller, I’m a Heller. We had to break up the Heller clique, and break up the Miller clique. Because, they did enough… They conspired enough separately as it is. And plus, we wanted to get some sense of them coming together. So we would make chore teams. So we took the youngest child who was six, and put her together with the oldest child who was 12. And he would… It was great. Because it would be time to set the table, and he wouldn’t show up.

(12:24): And she’d go up to his room, and… Gabe. It’s time to set the table. I’m not going to do it by myself, Gabe. You come…. And he couldn’t say no to her. So they started to discipline each other. And we had rules around table setting, table clearing. Cleaning. They were allowed no screen time during the week, except for homework. Which they totally abused. There were computers down in the basement, and there was no monitoring them. But it limited what they did. They were allowed… They all went to bed at the same time, period. Whether you were six or 12, you went to bed at the same time. It was like, no. We are not doing any of that staggered bedtime stuff. You are all… Right or wrong, that’s how we did it.

(13:13): Now the truth is the six year-old would fall asleep early, and the 12-year old would stay up later. Listening to tapes and stuff. In bed. In his room, quietly.

(13:23): But it was very clear.

Laura Jenkins (13:26): Yes.

Rich Heller (13:27): What are some other boundaries we had? We had about cleaning up their rooms. Their rooms needed to be clean at the end of each day. Clean, not immaculate. But they couldn’t be clothes on the floor, and stuff like that. We would find closets full of clothes, and stuff under the bed. And all that stuff you typically find. But they needed to make their beds.

(13:46): There was just a lot of basic… Look, this is how you live life. And there’s too many of us, for us to do it for you.

Laura Jenkins (13:56): I love that idea of mixing up the family unit, and that example you gave of the dishes. Having someone from the Miller team team and someone from the Heller team joining forces, I think is a really nice idea. And something I’m curious about is the communication aspect of some of the boundaries.

(14:17): It sounds like you did incredibly well with the realm of boundaries that you had amongst the four kids. And it was all very clear. What are some of the ways that you were able to effectively communicate those boundaries, and have those boundaries accepted? Especially as they’re coming into the teenage years, where they might be a little bit more naturally rebellious.

Rich Heller (14:39): Yeah. Look, this is all such cheesy stuff I’m going to tell you. We had a chore chart. And we gave them gold stars. I kid you not. And honestly, I don’t think they cared that much about the gold stars. But it did let us know that stuff was getting done.

(15:02): Well, the six year-old cared about the gold stars. She was really deep into the gold stars. The rest of them, not so much. And at one point… And then when we had our child together… At that point, we were 14, 11, 10 and eight with the ages of the other children. And we were like, we got to get some help here. And we brought it in an Au pair. Not the Au pair. Not the magic Au pair.

Laura Jenkins (15:35): Right.

Rich Heller (15:35): But we brought in an Au pair. And the Au pair was totally bought into the chore art. And she took over. It’s like… So if you can get an outsider to come in and take over, that’s even better. Then you’re no longer the bad guy.

(15:49): But we were still the enforcers. We were still the bad cops in the end. I mean if they weren’t participating, she would come to us. And we’d be like, oh. Okay. Gabe… It was always Gabe. You need to come in, and we need to talk to you.

Laura Jenkins (16:05): I think incentives is an interesting one as well. In particular, with teenagers. And we’ve experimented with a reward chart at various times over the years as well. Has pocket money ever been something that you’ve used as an incentive to help in the teenage years?

Rich Heller (16:26): We didn’t. We just gave them money. We didn’t want to connect punishment and reward to money in particular. Because, there were lessons we wanted to teach them about money. About saving it, about spending it. And we wanted them to have that experience. And we were concerned that it would get overly competitive. And it’s interesting, I recently had someone on my podcast who was teaching me about… What did she call it? Oh my God. I had just threw away the notes too. It’s all about parenting without reward and punishment.

Laura Jenkins (17:01): Okay.

Rich Heller (17:02): It’ll come to me. I’ve ordered the book, because I want to know more. But it’s this whole idea of just talking. Being very authoritarian with your children, I think is the one. Where you explain to them why you want them to be a certain way, and what the guidelines are. And what the reasoning is behind it.

(17:21): And then when they cross a line, well Laura, why did you cross that line? Well, what did you get out of it? What did you not get out of it? What could be a benefit of doing it?

(17:31): And you stay very rational with them. And I think fortunately, we operated a lot like that anyway. But mainly because there was too many of them, for us to be punishing them all the time. When kids are grounded, and they’ve all got different… You got to keep track of that mess.

Laura Jenkins (17:52): That’s a whole job… A full-time job in itself, keeping on top of that.

Rich Heller (17:57): And honestly for the most part, they were very good. Well meaning they were good at not getting caught, is my belief. We never found any evidence of drug use, but I’m certain there was. It’s the freaking United States of America. And we lived in New York, which is the epicenter of teen drug use. And our town had a reputation for teens drinking, and smoking pot. And so I’m sure all that went on, but they were very careful about it. And I think they were careful about it, because they knew it was important to maintain… They knew that the balance of the family needed to be maintained. They had other parents who were not so great in their lives. And they wanted to maintain… They knew that even though they were in a step situation, it kicked the crap out of what was going on in those other households.

Laura Jenkins (19:01): Okay. And to that point, I’m curious to know whether you had to have alignment with the other co-parents in the other households during the teenage years.

Rich Heller (19:12): Yeah. You would think-

Laura Jenkins (19:12): It’s easier said than done.

Rich Heller (19:15): We had… No. We were parallel parenting with them. We established our household, and our guidelines. And our values, and our metrics. And the assumption always was that they would figure out what was working in their eyes. On one side, we had a rageaholic parent who was very uneven parents. And then the other, we had one who was clinically depressed. And so the children of the clinically depressed parents basically just stopped going there, because they couldn’t deal with the energy. The emotion. And the rageaholic kids just got very good at picking the right times to be with their parent.

Laura Jenkins (19:50): Did the schedule change over the years then, as the kids got older?

Rich Heller (19:55): Yeah. I mean, they got to stay up later. They got to stay out later. There were curfews. They went from you’re going to bed at 8:30 to, you’re going to bed at 9:00. You need to be home by 10:00, is when you get into the final years. And then even, I think home by 11. And then, here’s the best part. Is by the time our youngest became a teenager and the rest of them were out in the world, we didn’t have to run a zone defense anymore.

(20:29): And so, she got privileges no one ever got. I mean, she could stay up till one in the morning. And the other kids would be like, what? What do you mean she gets to stay out till… At this point, they’re working. They’re in college. They’re working. What do you mean she gets to stay out till one in the morning? We never got to stay out till one in the morning. It’s like, yeah. What’s weird is, we couldn’t stay up for all four of you. But we could stay up for one. You just need to understand that we needed to do things for us. It wasn’t all for you. There were boundaries we needed… If you are waiting up for four kids, or three kids. Yeah. Four kids. Four kids till one… Or even two kids till one in the morning, that’s a lot as you’re aging. But one child once a week? No problem.

Laura Jenkins (21:11): Walk in the park. Oh, definitely.

Rich Heller (21:15): She got more screen time than they ever did. She got more everything. And we couldn’t deny it. It’s like, yeah. You’re right. She did. You want to know why? Because there’s two of us, and one of her. We outnumber her. We can manage that with her.

(21:26): With y’all, we couldn’t. And then, they regale us with all the ways that they got around our rules. Now, as adults.

Laura Jenkins (21:33): Right. When you’re reflecting back.

(21:36): And so Rich, tell me about your own mental health. Or taking time for yourself during these years, which can be quite challenging. Where you’ve got lots of different things to contend with, as well as your work and your own relationship. How did you go about keeping all of the tic-tac-toe in place?

Rich Heller (21:56): I’m going to be really blunt, we were awful at it. My wife was much better at that, than I was. She loves to ride. And she was very committed to that. And that kept her very active. And she also had regular therapy. I was on and off with that stuff. I’d go through times where I’d get help on the outside, and I’d go through times where I was very committed to physical fitness. And then, I’d fall off the wagon. But I will say that I got better and better as time went on, because I couldn’t live like that. When your own… What happens when you’re not taking care of yourself? I work with so many parents now. It’s so funny to hear… So funny for me to hear me saying to you, oh. I was really awful at that.

(22:47): What I found out really fast is when my battery wasn’t charged a 100%, I couldn’t really show up well for the kids. And I would go off a lot more easily. And fortunately, I was sane enough to clean up those messes afterwards. And say, hey. You know what? That really wasn’t… My yelling at you, that really wasn’t okay. I’m not really upset with you. And clean it up. But still, they had to put up with that nonsense until I figured out that I needed to exercise. That I needed to talk to other people. That I needed time on my knees with my higher power, on a regular basis. That I needed to read spiritual documents that would help me stay value centered. Until I figured all that stuff out, they dealt with a lot of up and down. And Catherine, God bless her, really carried us through my ups and downs.

Laura Jenkins (23:39): And Rich, tell me about your relationship with Catherine as well during that period. And how you are able to make time for each other. Because, that’s something else you’ve got to be mindful of as well.

Rich Heller (23:49): Yeah. I think that we did what everybody does. And it’s sad, but it’s true. And maybe it’s just important. Maybe it’s not even sad. Maybe this is just how relationships go. But we met while we were both getting divorced. And there was chemistry. But I was like, no. We’re not doing this. I’m not going to be that guy that you leave your husband for. My dad was that guy. I’m not going to be that guy. And then when she got that all straight, we started dating formally. Meaning, we allowed ourselves to be physical. That’s probably the best way to put it. Because, there was a lot of… We were talking and hanging out. But there was no physicality happening. And we got very close, very quickly. Did that… The in love thing after you’ve been in a really crappy, abusive relationship, is up 16 points.

(24:47): You’re like, oh my God. Finally. Someone who’s not a rageaholic, or not depressed. Or who hears me, and is really there for me. So we had this intense in love period. Got together, blended the families. And then a year or two years into it, had another child. And all of a sudden, we were right where everybody is like, oh my God. We’re totally overwhelmed. How do we do this? Our intimacy’s blown. Sex? Forget about it. That wasn’t my attitude, but that… She was like hey, I’ve just remembered what sex leads to. We’re not going to do much of that for a while. The whole thing was off kilter. And we went into what I call, parallel live syndrome. That was a very long-winded way of saying, we entered into this place where we got focused on our individual lives for a while there. And we drifted apart, with the kids being our central focus. And a lot of petty resentment probably on both sides, but I’m just going to own mine.

(25:44): Just a lot snarky, sarcasm. And all the stuff we never wanted to have in a marriage, there it was again. The truth is that as much as we’d both like to blame those other people for those marriages being crappy, everything that we brought to those marriages that was crappy, we brought to this one. And we had to heal all that together. We didn’t have to. We could have just blown the whole thing up, like 70% of people who get married for the second time.

(26:14): I want to tell you that we were perfect partners, and we were in each other’s court… Well, we were really good parents. We weren’t great partners for a while there.

Laura Jenkins (26:23): I think a lot of people listening would identify with what you’re talking about, Rich. I think in your situation, you’ve both had children from previous marriages. I know personally what it’s like when you bring new blended children into the mix, in that family unit. And it changes the dynamics all over again. And there’s a lot to juggle all the time.

(26:43): So I think everything you’ve described is pretty normal. And with reflection, it’s always interesting to look back over the years and reflect on the journey. And how things have changed.

Rich Heller (26:54): I’m going to speak to this, if that’s okay. Because this is what I do is, I help people repair that thing that we’re talking about. The parallel lives. Or maybe they’re even hostile. Maybe it’s beyond a little snarky. We were snarky and sarcastic and clever, which is the worst. You’re emotionally gutting each other in little ways. [inaudible 00:27:14]. It’s okay. Really… It’s a lot worse than open warfare. Because at least with open warfare, you know what’s going on.

(27:22): But that’s no way to live. And what I want to report here is that it’s pretty unusual that both people get it, that something’s wrong. Usually what happens is one person wakes up and says, wow. This is not good, what we’re doing. And this is not the… This person who I’m being nasty and mean to, this is not the person I fell in love with. I don’t know who this is. But this is… And that person has… Whoever wakes up and smells the coffee first, has the responsibility to do something about it. Besides be snarky, blaming. Nasty and controlling. And punitive, and all that other stuff that comes with it.

(28:05): And as… I’d love to say that both people can jump in together, but it doesn’t happen that way. What happens is the one who’s in the most pain, in this instance it was me says, wow. Something’s got to change. And it starts… The bad news is, it’s you. I had to change. And when I started to change, she said, oh. This is different. And it took a while to re-establish trust. And after a while, she got on the bandwagon too. At first, I started to change. And she was like, what the hell’s going on here? I liked it the way it was. What do you mean you want to hold my hand? Seriously. What do you mean you want to hug me? What do you mean you want to kiss me hello and goodbye? What do you mean?

(28:58): Just… I’m talking about little, teeny baby steps. But it’s up to one person to start that stuff. And the other one’s going to be like… On the surface it’s, what do you mean? Underneath it is, do I dare trust you again? What’s happening underneath is, do I dare trust you again? Do I dare let my guard down again? And the person who initiates this, needs to just work through and rebuild trust. And then eventually the other person comes on board, and the whole game changes. Look at yourself. What are you doing that’s made it that way? And how can you change to bring it back? And you can bring it back. We never go back to mad head over heels in love, because infatuation is a temporary state. But you can rebuild trust, and rebuild intimacy. And rebuild shared vision. And Cath and I have a pretty amazing relationship today.

Laura Jenkins (29:48): So Rich, you’re now working in the field of helping other couples repair their relationships. Tell us a little bit about how that came to be.

Rich Heller (30:00): That came to be, because one day I woke up and smelled the coffee. And said, something’s really wrong here. Sold my business in three months, and got into coaching. Even though I had a master’s in social work, got into coaching. And I launched a coaching business that January of 2018. Focused on helping people who are getting divorced. And I’m working on my marriage. Focused on people getting divorced. And no, we didn’t go into business together. And that didn’t happen. And then I started getting into couples work. And as I got into couples work, I started really working on our marriage. And then… Now on the other end of the couple’s work, I’ve realized that people are starting to come to me when they’re at this phase of, oh my God. Something’s wrong with my marriage, and I’m not sure that he or she wants to work on it with me.

(30:57): So now they come to me for, what do I do? And that’s why I say really, it’s on one person. And it takes time to enrol the other person usually, to come in. And I’ve got mad programs. What we have that’s unique here is, we have this mental and emotional release process, where it’s called timeline therapy. Which helps people to let go of their triggers and their baggage really fast. I used to work with people, 12 week program. Would take them 12 weeks to learn to work around their triggers. Oh my God, I’m triggered. Laura, I’m going to take a timeout. We can talk when I’m feeling better. I’ll come back to you in an hour. And now, we can help them just let go of the… Rewire the trigger altogether, in a very long eight to 10 hour session. It’s phenomenal.

Laura Jenkins (31:46): Interesting. Oh, Rich. Well, it’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. I feel like we’ve covered a lot today. Teenagers, and then a nice transition into a whole raft of relationship topics.

(32:02): So thank you so much for sharing your words of wisdom, and your background with us today. Rich, lastly where can people go to find you and connect with you?

Rich Heller (32:14): I don’t want to go. I like talking to you.

(32:21): You’re my new bestie. Where can people go? They can go to Or you can find me on Facebook at hashtag Rich in relationship. Or in LinkedIn, or Instagram. It’s all hashtag Rich In Relationship. Any… TikTok, Pinterest. We’re on everything.

Laura Jenkins (32:45): Fantastic. Thanks for listening to In the Blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available at And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe. And please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.