While Carolyn's away, readers give the advice.
On encouraging kids to invest in their own futures:
When my daughter was a teen, I realized that as long as she had no concept of a future beyond high school, studying would not be a priority and her grades would never represent her intelligence and potential. It was all about the dynamics of high school, fitting in, and finding her place in a social system that she thought lasted forever.
So I showed her there is an alternate universe outside of high school. When my daughter was starting 10th grade, we went to visit towns that, to her surprise, were college towns. Just being on campus helped her realize that high school was only the steppingstone to get her to college and then to her future.
We'd find some on-campus food or drink, go to the admissions office for some literature and ask about a tour, even though my daughter was young. If a tour was not available, we'd walk around campus and ask where the students hang out. Those dormitories are your kid's way out of the house; you won't have to point that out. We'd look for students who might be willing to talk about their experience for a bit. These few minutes can help your teen realize that when someone goes to college, everyone from high school does not go with them!
From my experience, this works. I wish I had started this process when my daughter was in eighth grade.
On hearing your child call someone else "Dad":
I, too, went through the pain of having to hear that cherished name applied to someone else. After all, kids really only have one dad, right?
Well, not quite. Now they have an addition to their lives that they didn't choose and are trying to cope with as best they can. I backed off, swallowed my pride, went with the flow. I did hope the stepfather's name would somehow have a different flavor, such as Daddy Sam, and I would remain as simple Dad or Daddy, but I left it up to my kid to choose and deal with it the best she could.
Well, 20 years later, the guy I despised for taking over my role as Dad became very important to me. My daughter lived with them and he was very good and supportive with her. I came to think of him as my co-parent as much as I did my ex-wife. When my daughter got married recently, I insisted that we both walk her down the aisle. He was my ally in her upbringing. He never interfered and always respected our relationship. Lucky for all of us. I can't thank him enough.
More on hearing your child call someone else "Dad."
In my family law practice (and in my family) I use the term "father" for the person who got the whole thing going and "Dad" for anyone with whom the child has a parenting relationship. That way, all Dads are "equal," but there is only one father. Just like kids can have "aunts" that are family friends and never enough "grandmas."