My dad was an amazing man, the older I got, the smarter he got. -- Mark Twain

My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. -- Jim Valvano

You want to know who you are in the world for real? Hang around with your kids. They don't give a rat's ass what you do for a living. -- Ted Danson

On Saturday, March 5, at 8:15 a.m., Greenwich High School students and myself will give a presentation titled, "Open A Window Into Your Child's World," at the Greenwich Fathers' Forum at the Greenwich YMCA.

The presentation will bring a true to life emotional look into the lives of teens and the difficult choices they face -- a window into their world -- and will include: real life stories acted out; role playing between the audience and the teens; and a panel discussion with teens, focusing on underage drinking, parent-child communication, behavior on social networking sites and peer pressure.

The teens share their stories: the risks; temptations; and challenges they face and what works and doesn't work when parents try and communicate with their children. They'll give the parents ideas on how to help their own children navigate a critical time in their life. Sometimes parents get stuck and hearing what teens need from their parents can be helpful. Many parents have said after participating in one of the fathers' forums, that it's a fresher angle hearing from young people their take on parent-child relationships.

One of the primal emotional themes of adolescence is relationships with parents; the teens will share their thoughts on how parents can become better connected and more pro-active in their child's life. It's an opportunity to talk to teens about issues they might not have been able to discuss with their own children in such a direct manner; it can provide insight into to how to go about strengthening their relationship with their own children.

The parents also have a chance to participate in role-plays to get a truer feel for how to become better connected. The role-plays will give them a chance to practice communicating with teens just like their teens in real life situations.

The objective is to help parents better understand, relate to and communicate with their children. The benefits of attending the forum for parents are that they will learn more effective ways of interacting with their children and better understand the relationship they have with their own children.

The Greenwich Fathers' Forum was born in October 2004, following a meeting at the Greenwich YWCA, to hear a speaker discuss alcohol and drug issues in Fairfield County. From two fathers, it now has 15 members on its board and 45to 65 fathers regularly attend the monthly meetings at the Greenwich YMCA, which are open to the public.

More Information

Fact box

The Greenwich Fathers' Forum stated purpose is: To provide Greenwich dads with information and skills to help them make the best, most enlightened choices in developing relationships with their children for the purpose of protecting them from high-risk behavior.

Fathers' Forums help empower dads to be part of the solution, providing them with an opportunity to have their voices heard regarding what they perceive as effective parenting strategies. The fathers who come to the forums are willing to work at strengthening their relationship with their children.

Recently there has been a great amount of research on parenting, and dads have been found to play a more pivotal role in their children's development than was once thought. Some of the results are:

"¢ Fathers who are involved in their teenager's lives help them to develop a strong sense of self and increase their ability to resist peer pressure;

"¢ Active, involved fathers facilitate academic achievement;

"¢ Adolescents who reported that their fathers were highly involved in their lives were less likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in other high risk behaviors;

"¢ Fathers who talk to, praise and respond to their daughters boost their social responsiveness and self esteem;

"¢ Open communication between father and child and the ability of the father to listen to his child has been shown to play a critical role in that child's decisions regarding drinking, drinking and driving, drug use and sex;

"¢ Fathers who devote a great deal of time to furthering their child's interests help pave the way for adult achievement.

The research further indicates six traits that are common denominators among successful fathers:

"¢ Tthey start early and work at it regularly;

"¢ They practice the art of being there-during both good and bad times;

"¢ They know how to play with their children;

"¢ They know how to communicate --fathers often talk at, not with their children and don't try and understand their point of view which is critica;

"¢ They avoid counter-hysterics;

"¢ They don't demand authority -- they earn respect.

The crazy, frazzling, over-scheduled, multitasking world we all live in is definitely a harder place to grow up in and a harder place to parent in. It seems that it's imperative to have a BlackBerry, a traveling secretary or an appointment book handy to make sure you don't forget to spend time with your children.

We all need close and comforting relationships with our children -- we need to be with them with no goal in mind but the pleasure of spending time together. They need to know we love them just the way they are, even though they may drive us insane in the process.

I've always felt that it's the little moments with your child, often impromptu, that make a big difference. Growing up, my favorite moments with my dad were going to Yankee Stadium, munching on a dog and getting to see the Mick hit one of his classic home runs; going on a Sunday drive to the country, eating at a local comfort food diner, playing catch at the neighborhood ballfield, late night chats in the kitchen and trying to get tickets to a Broadway show at the last minute -- and snagging great seats.

The two most difficult periods in life are being a teenager and being the parent of a teenager. I applaud the fathers who attend the Fathers' Forums in Greenwich in an effort to become more responsibly involved in their children's lives and in the process become better dads.

In this incredibly complex world, where stress for both parents and children is lurking behind every corner, I believe now more than ever, it is necessary to invest time, be supportive of and take personal interest in your child, in addition to helping them find their right path and ways to showcase their talents.

It's the most important gift you can give them, whether it's an impromptu hug when they've had a tough day, being there when they just need you to listen, a late night Ben & Jerry's supermarket run, or maybe even a pat on the back, a tousling of the hair and a "great job kiddo."

Barry Halpin is a prevention specialist for Liberation Programs, a substance abuse health-care agency based in Stamford that provides substance abuse counseling to adolescents and their families in Darien and surrounding towns. He's also the director of the county-wide Peer Players, an adolescent theater company. E-mail him at barryhalpin@aol.com.