"Your talk made my parents paranoid ...": A different type of 'hate mail' from a young person

Receiving 'hate mail' from young people really devastates me - I don't cope well! It has only happened a couple of times over the last 20 years and usually has to do with the information I give to Year 12 students about 'Schoolies'. That seems to be a really touchy subject and no matter how much I tell them that the warnings I give them about what may happen when they get to wherever they are going won't happen to everyone - they are potential risks - I have received particularly nasty feedback from a small number of young people after the event (always young men!) to let me know that what I said did not happen and that everything I told them was wrong. They usually finish off by saying I am terrible at my job and they are going to tell their school never to use me again (I'm putting that as politely as I can - sometimes there's a lot of name calling and swearing involved!). There have also been one or two occasions where a student writes to me to tell me that I have completely ruined their life (i.e., their parent attended my presentation and started to actually parent them!) and they let me have it - all guns blazing! They are frustrated and angry and they decide to take it out on me - they are aggressive and incredibly rude, calling me all the names under the sun and making it all very personal. I make sure that I write back to everyone - no matter how rude they may be - firstly making it clear to them that being rude will get them nowhere and really only illustrates how immature they are and then try to respond to their concerns the best I can ...

Late last night I received an email from a young woman who wanted to let me know that my presentation to parents had adversely affected her life but the way she conveyed her concerns was very different to any email I had ever received before. This is what she wrote, word for word:

Hi Mr Dillon,
I would just like to say that although I'm sure you do know what you are talking about and that you have seen the worst and that you have good intentions you really have changed my life a lot.
My parents have always been pretty strict and after going to your talk you have made them paranoid, they think that I do drugs or something and I would never do drugs. Yeah I have drunken before but I never get hammered to the point of danger. They won't let me go out to parties anymore and they call me up about every hour when I am out. Maybe you could consider at your talks also saying that there are teenagers out there who can drink without going overboard and who are actually trustworthy.

I'm not going to write a lot about this, instead I thought I'd simply show you the email I sent back to her. Before I do I need to make it clear that I have no idea how old this young lady is, what school she goes to or anything else about her. She did sign the email with her name and did not try to send the message anonymously which is what some young people do, but I have no idea whether there are other issues that led to her parents stopping her going to parties (if indeed they did), maybe there was an incident and that's why they came to my Parent Information Evening, who knows? That said, I believe this email shows great maturity, whatever her age. She is extremely respectful, even though obviously upset about how she believed my talk had adversely affected her, sending a message that conveys her concerns in a very adult way and I could not let that pass. Here is my response (I have edited it slightly):

First of all, thanks so much for writing to me about your concerns and being so polite when discussing your situation – it would have been so easy for you to have been rude and this email is certainly not that!
I hope you understand (and it certainly seems like you do) that it is not my intention to 'ruin your life'. My talk to parents actually makes it very clear to parents that the majority of young people either choose not to drink or drink as responsibly as possible … if you've heard me speak then you would have seen me present exactly the same figures that I show them. Most young people don't take drugs and lots of young people do the right thing around alcohol … As you said in your email – I have 'seen the worst' which I tell parents about, but I also have seen the best and I tell them that too – there really are lots of wonderful kids out there! I also say very clearly that I believe young people should be able to go to teenage parties, as long as parents know what the event is going to be like and they believe it will be as safe as possible … is there a reason your parents think the parties you want to go to are not safe?
You haven't said how old you are but the way you have written this email, outlining your concerns but not being rude in any way, really shows me that you are quite mature – I really respect that! It would have been so easy for you just to write me a piece of 'hate mail' – you certainly didn't do that!
I'm sure your parents are doing what they're doing because they love you and they want you to be as safe as possible but I think you should show them the email you sent me and this response so that they can clearly see what your concerns are … maybe after you do that they may 'meet you in the middle' to some degree and you can both compromise a little and work out some way to ensure that they still feel you are safe and that you can still have a good time with your friends but not put yourself at risk … Sometimes talking to each other (and not getting angry!) can move mountains …
Once again, thanks for the email and for being so respectful – I'm sorry you believe that my talk has affected your life adversely. I hope if you take the time to sit down with your parents and show them this email you may be able to find a way of moving forward and finding a compromise that may make you a little happier!
All the best
I don't know about you but I would be so proud of my daughter if I found out that she had written an email like this - it would have been so easy for her to lash out and abuse me but instead she had thought it through carefully (she must have been brewing about this for some time - my last parent session was last November - this isn't something that happened this week!), acknowledging my experiences and how they have influenced what I say to parents and then suggesting politely that I consider there is another side to the story. Any parent who has ever heard me speak knows that I most definitely already do that but I am sure that there are mums and dads out there who have resorted to using me as the 'bad guy' and say to their teens "But Paul Dillon said ...!"
I hope she does take her email and my response to her parents and they are able to use it to try to work out a positive way forward. I'm certainly not suggesting that all of a sudden she should get her own way and be able to do and go where she wants, but maybe there could be some type of compromise, from both sides. Having a positive parent-child dialogue is so important - this young woman is obviously unhappy and she believes it is what I said to her parents that has caused that to some degree. That needs to be talked through and I really do believe, based on her email, she is capable of having that conversation - I just hope her parents are too!


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