DR. WALLACE: I'm in the 9th grade, and my sister is in the 12th grade. She's a brilliant student and has already accepted a scholarship to Stanford University. My parents are proud of her, and so am I.
My problem is that, while I'm intelligent, I'm not in the same elite category as my sister. She has always gotten all A's. I study hard, but I'm only an A-to-B student. Because of this, several of my teachers have made that comment: "You'll have to work harder if you want to keep up with your sister."
This bothers me because I'm me and not my sister. I should be able to be proud of my good grades, but compared to my sister's grades, I feel like a dunce. My sister is a wonderful friend, but being compared with her is like having a curse around my neck, and also makes me feel inferior. What can I do to have my teachers accept me for who I am and not compare me with my sister? — In Her Shadow, Charlotte, North Carolina
IN HER SHADOW: Most teachers understand that every child is unique and should never be compared with a sibling. This is taught in beginning education classes at college. When a teacher forgets this and compares you with your sister, remind the teacher courteously not to do so. You are an excellent student in your own right, and I'm sure your parents are very proud of your accomplishments. I know I am! Thank you for your thoughtful letter.
NEW FAMILIES NEED TIME TO BOND
DR. WALLACE: I'm a 13-year-old girl who lives with my mother and a new stepfather. My mother and father were divorced a year ago. I like my real dad, but he wasn't a good husband or a good father. The reason was he was an alcoholic and he was out-of-control most of the time. My mother is a teacher, but my dad didn't have a job. My dad has moved out of state to live with his mother, and he has not been in contact with me since he called me nine months ago to tell me goodbye.
My stepfather is also a teacher and is a nice guy. He is also divorced and has two sons, but they live with their mother. Our house is very peaceful now, and I like that, but I haven't made up my mind if I will ever be close to my stepfather. I'm finding it difficult to accept him as a family member, and I'm not so sure that I will ever accept him as my stepfather. Right now, I could never call him "Dad."
I am pleased that he is very nice to my mom and that he is also nice to me. It's just that I don't have a good feeling about him — yet. Help! — Anonymous, via email
ANONYMOUS: It takes time to learn to respect and have good feelings for a stepparent. For a "stepfamily" to blend, it takes patience and everyone's constant efforts to have open and honest communication. A common adjustment period for a stepparent and child is about two years. The bonding process is gradual; don't try to hurry things along. Never feel things are your fault if a misunderstanding arises. Keep smiling and remember that your stepfather is also in a new role and could be having emotions similar to those you are having.
BLAME THE ADULTS
DR. WALLACE: I'm always wondering where underage teens get their alcohol. Almost all establishments that sell alcohol won't sell alcohol to young people unless they have proof they are at least 21. Do they steal it from their parents or do they have adults purchase it for them? It appears to me those teens that want alcohol have a little problem getting it. My 17-year-old son was actually given beer by his best friend's stepfather. — Mother, Chicago
MOTHER: It's sad but true that underage drinkers have a little problem getting alcohol. To effectively cut down on this access, we must first study how underage teens gain access to alcohol in the first place. According to a study by the San Diego County Communications Office, there are 5 primary ways that underage teens access alcohol:
1. Via parents, older siblings or friends.
2. "Shoulder tapping" of strangers in parking lots to request a purchase on a teen's behalf.
3. Failure of retail stores to check IDs.
4. Fake IDs. Yes, this one still often works.
5. Stealing it. This is often done in teams in order to distract and lift simultaneously.
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.