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Never underestimate the impact your words can have on a teen

A couple of weeks ago I had something wonderful happen to me in a school. I’ve been talking about the incident at my Parent Information Evenings over the last fortnight and I now feel ready to put ‘pen to paper’. What it clearly shows to me is that we should never underestimate how much impact our words can have on a young person …

I had just finished my presentation to a group of Year 12s, the talk covering a range of issues including drink driving, ‘Schoolies’ and ecstasy. This was the final time I would speak to them, meeting them for the first time in Year 10 and then delivering a different session when they were in Year 11. This is my usual program of work in schools that I visit regularly and the talk had gone down extremely well – this was a great group of students. After answering a few individual questions from a number of them a young man walked up to me, hand outstretched.

“Mr Dillon, can I shake your hand?” he said.

“Of course,” I replied, a little bit surprised by his request. I always shake young people’s hands but I’ve never been asked specifically to do it. “How can I help you?”

“I just want to say thank-you … When you came to our school and talked to us in Year 10 you told us that you were a non-drinker and really always had been. Before you told us that, I didn’t even know that was an option for a man, I’d never heard a guy say that, and it really got me thinking … That night, after your talk I made a decision not to drink and I haven’t up to now. At this stage in my life I don’t think I ever will! As I said I just want to say thank-you!”

As you can imagine, I was incredibly moved and quite choked up. We shook hands and I thanked him for taking the time to come up and tell me … it was quite an unbelievable experience!

I’m not going to go on about this, and this is most probably going to be the shortest blog entry I’ve ever written, but really when you think that a few little words that I said to this young man (“I’m a non-drinker and I really always have been”) had such an impact, it gets me so angry when I meet parents who throw their hands in the air and just give up, believing that they can’t do anything in this area and it’s all too difficult!

Do I believe that this young man is never going to drink alcohol for the rest of his life? Of course not and to be quite truthful is that in anyway important? He may or may not choose to start drinking in the future but to think that one sentence actually delayed his alcohol use for almost three years at the very least – that is pretty incredible! Most importantly, remember that it was a complete stranger that had the effect (completely by accident), imagine what a parent (the most important person in any child’s world) can do if they really put their mind to it …

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