DR. WALLACE: Next month, I will be getting married for the first time. I'm 37 ,and my wonderful lady is 35. We have been dating for over a year. Her husband died in an auto accident two years ago, and so she has been raising her two girls as a single parent. The girls are now 14 and 15. They are both good students and are well-behaved. I'm positive that they will continue to be superb teens. I want my influence on my new family to be extremely positive in every way. I will do everything possible to be a successful parent. I'd appreciate any advice you can give me to be a successful new father to two lovely well-behaved teens. — New Father, via email.
NEW FATHER: The following checklist is compiled from research by the United States Department of Education, Who's Who Among American High School Students and several educational organizations including the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). This information will help you become a strong influence in the lives of your new teenage children:
— Communicate with your teen. If Mom and Dad don't supply teens with correct information about sex, drugs, alcohol, ethics, undesirable activities and many more important topics, then teens are more likely to be swayed by peers with peer pressure containing misinformation. While some parents may find these types of conversations troubling, not having them often leads to disastrous consequences.
— Remember that you're a model for your children. Whatever bad habits you indulge in openly — smoking, drinking, using drugs, watching too much television, swearing, blowing up at your spouse — are more likely to be taken up by your teen than if you did not engage in this behavior. The "Do as I say, not as I do" philosophy never works. Teens most often do what their parents do. Parents who are lifelong learners will likely see that their children find education is important, too. If your teen is drug-, alcohol- and tobacco-free, you probably are, too!
— Maintain a strong presence in your teen's life. Parents should not allow peer pressure to set values for their children. Instead, the family should have regularly scheduled discussions that take on all topics of importance. And don't be afraid to admit it when you don't know the answer. It's far better to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out."
— Make sure the rules you set for your teen's life are fair, and be consistent with disciplinary measures when rules are broken. Parents should explain the purpose behind the rules and, whenever possible, allow the teen to have a say in making the rules and setting the consequences. Also, teens should earn extra privileges, not be given them automatically.
— Work with your teen's school and teachers, not against them. Your teen must understand that any inappropriate behavior at school will be met with consequences at home. This is imperative if your teen is to acquire a good education. Parents who constantly berate the school and the teachers are impeding their teens' educational development.
The school and the parents must be in harmony for a student to get the best possible education. It hinders a teen's learning process when the parents are not involved, and it devastates the learning process when the school and the parents are in conflict. The school should be an extension of the home in a total educational program. The keyword here is "harmony." The end result is then a smooth transition from the kitchen table to the classroom, and this provides your teen with the best possible foundation to build a solid education upon.
I'm impressed with your proactive question and your obvious desire to succeed as a new parent. You are a very wise new father-to-be, and I trust you will succeed very well in your new role!
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.