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Category: Transition to High School

“Sprouting” a new internet safety concern you need to consider

I was pleased to have had the opportunity to provide a context for why young girls might chose to send their images to online Instagram pages that invite others to rate their desirability, termed “sprouter” sites as they promise to highlight those who will sprout into dateable adults, on channel 10’s The Project.

Seeking the approval of others as a way of assessing one’s own value is, as I say during this interview, nothing new. A colleague made the point that when she first started High School, the older boys at her school would refer to the “hot” new girls as being on “lay-by”; to be labelled in this way was considered a status symbol by her peers. What is new, however, is the technology being used to facilitate this phenomena.

Why might girls be complicit in this process? I’d argue they are groomed from a very young age by society to see their looks as their currency. Think child beauty pageants, magazines aimed at tweens that ask readers to rate particular looks, or consider who is “hot” who is “not”, beauty products and services marketed directly at children, the language we use with young girls in comparison to young boys (“pretty” versus “powerful”) etc etc.

So rather than panic, let’s aim to empower young people to know their real value, and educate them so that they make safe choices online. It’s important that we do not shame, nor seek to simply ban. There is a wide body of research that shows the number one reason young people do not tell trusted adults about things that happen in cyber space that concern them is that they fear their access will be removed and that they will be judged. The digital world is their playground and an important source of social connection.

Let’s keep in mind too that most young people do make great choices when on-line and can see platforms like this as both potentially dangerous and as sexist nonsense ( it’s interesting to note that despite this being a major news story, if you look at the visual shown in the segment of the actual sprouter site, there were only actually 85 followers of this page).

We dare you to move

Ever noticed how much of the talk around the new year focuses on our appearance? There is an underlying premise that if we just put more effort and energy into losing weight or getting clearer skin / longer hair / a more stylish wardrobe this will be the year we will achieve success and gain happiness.

Ever noticed too how often when we begin the new school year we start by telling our students all the things they shouldn’t do? I sat at an introduction to technology meeting last week and noted that the first 30 minutes was spent telling the girls all the things they must not do with their laptops. I had to wonder how inspired the girls (and their families) may have felt about the new laptop program after hearing a sermon on all the restrictions and the consequences of mistakes that may be made. Tellingly, despite the fact that the girls all walked out with a new computer, I did not see many smiles.

Body police. Dire warnings.

Let’s dare to do things differently. Let’s begin the year by raising girls up. Let’s (re)connect them – to their bodies, to their learning, and to other girls and women.

My 12 year old daughter, Teyah, made this film celebrating Enlighten Education’s work with girls for me in the school holidays. I love the sense of possibility, joy and connection it embodies:

With the dual goals of both inspiring and connecting girls to a wider network of strong women (girls can’t be what they can’t see)  I asked some female leaders to share their advice for the new year with your girls:


Please take risks. If you really want to do something and you’re secretly worried that people will laugh at you, this is a good reason to do it. If that means telling someone that they’re being an arse, or that you like a TV show everyone else hates, or you want to play electric guitar (which you should totally do p.s.) or learn French or wear leggings as pants, DO IT…You might not realise it yet, but the coolest people in the world are the ones who don’t care what other people think.

Karen Pickering. Karen is the host of Cherchez la Femme, co-founder of The Dawn Conspiracy, and one of the organisers of SlutWalk Melbourne.




Tracey Spicer

Never let anyone judge you on the way you look. Your heart and mind are all that count.

Tracey Spicer. Tracey is a news presenter and journalist.


Every time someone tries to silence you, just get louder. Never let anyone bully you into believing that your voice doesn’t count.

Clementine Ford. Clementine is a freelance writer, broadcaster and troublemaker based in Melbourne.




Jane Caro

Don’t take yourself or anything else too seriously. You are allowed to have fun.

Jane Caro. Jane is a media commentator, writer and senior lecturer in advertising with the School of Communication Arts at UWS.


Your intuition is usually right.

Nikki Davis. Nikki is one of Enlighten’s stellar presenters.


Each moment in life will pass whether it is good or bad so move forward without fear.

Diane Illingworth Wilcox. Di is Enlighten’s  Program Manager, Western Australia.


Be a good listener. Always try to see things from other perspectives and don’t be afraid to admit when you’ve made a mistake.

Catherine Manning. Cath is an amazing Enlighten Presenter and the founder of Pull The Pin, a protest group working to ban child beauty pageants.


Never be afraid of who you are.

 Monica Dux. Monica is a writer, social commentator and co-author of The Great Feminist Denial.



Julie Parker
Julie Parker

There is inside of you a unique spirit of courage, wisdom and beauty. There is no one just like you. That’s your incredible truth.

Julie Parker. Julie is a coach and clinical counselor who specializes in supporting positive body image. Visit her blog: http://www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com/


Don’t be afraid to express an interest in social justice issues or other movements that interest you (like the environment!). If someone tells you that you are "overthinking" an issue, chances are they are "underthinking" it. If they tell you that you are "over analysing it" chances are they aren’t analysing it at all. Remember, it’s OK to have an opinion. All interesting women do.

Nina Funnell. Nina is a social commentator and freelance opinion writer. She works as an anti–sexual assault and domestic violence campaigner and is also currently completing her first book on "sexting", teen girls and moral panics.


Perhaps at your next staff briefing, or Parents Association meeting, you might like to think about how you can dare to raise your girls up, and about what advice you think they really need to shine in 2012.
We’d love you to share your thoughts here too.

How To Help Your Kids Settle In To School

Writer Anna Warwick interviewed me recently for Northside Magazine on how to help your children settle in at school. I thought I would reproduce this article here, with their permission, as I have had some very positive feedback from readers saying they found my advice helpful.

Writer: Anna Warwick Photographs: Jon Attenborough

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Left to right: Jazmine, Dannielle, Kye, Teyah and dog Mia.

“This was a year of great transition in our house. I had the three children going off to three different schools. Teyah, 11, began high school; Kye, 9, started year 4 at a new primary school; and Jazmine, who’s just turned 16, started year 10 at a new school.

“Even if we are incredibly busy, as parents it’s pretty important to take the time to check in on this critical stage. Transition points are when things may come unstuck, so the time you invest now will pay dividends down the track once they are settled.

“I shed a couple of tears when Teyah started high school, but your children need to see that you believe it’s going to be fine and they will cope. It’s only natural that they (and you) will experience some anxiety around this new beginning. There will be days of stress; there will be days where they are a bit tired and a bit grumpy. Don’t panic and worry that you’ve picked the wrong school. It’s normal to have a few hiccups along the way. I’ve been saying to my kids ‘I’m really proud of how you’re handling this’ and ‘Gee you’re a lot stronger than you realised, aren’t you?’

“Ultimately, through life they’ll go through a lot of changes – it’s the only thing that’s really inevitable – and so this is great practice. Teyah’s high school is really big – there are about 180 kids in each year group – and she went to a primary school with only 55 students. It may be easier for your child to form connections with school mates outside the traditional playground. I tapped into the traditional, yet often overlooked, networks of Girl Guides for Teyah and Cubs for Kye, and Jazmine joined the local church youth group.

“I’ve been organising a few little play dates. Doesn’t matter if they’re in high school, just call it ‘hanging out’. Providing an activity, like swimming or watching a movie, can be a great icebreaker. Build up your child’s friendship skills. Teach them the importance of introducing themselves and remembering people’s names.

“Teach them what makes a good listener as well as a good talker. It’s also about being sensitive and friendly to others, saying ‘hi’ to people, learning how to take compliments politely and to give them sincerely. If you’re concerned about the types of friends your child is making, then as a parent you have the right to set some boundaries. Be honest and talk to your kids about the fact that sometimes some people are not going to like them.

“There’s pressure to be liked, but the reality is that not everyone is going to like you all the time. Encourage them to keep in touch with old friends. It is important they have a few different social networks they can draw on, because if one network collapses they will still feel like they belong, as they have a community elsewhere.

“As far as study habits are concerned, it’s harder to break a bad habit than start off on a good footing. At the beginning of the year young people are full of good intentions, so harness that positive energy and get them into a homework routine. Set out a specific framework that they agree on, for example: ‘From 4-5pm you can watch your favourite shows, but the trade-off is that from 5-5.30pm you are going to do your spelling. From 5.30-7pm you can go and play.’

“Map out their afternoon and they will be more likely to stick with it. If they don’t have homework, get them to read their notes or read a novel – something that blocks out that period of time. Show them how to use a calendar and noticeboard; set up an in-tray on their desk. Write affirmations and put them in their room: ‘I enjoy learning’ or ‘I have faith in my abilities.’ Seek outside assistance if your child seems to be falling behind. A great tutor can make all the difference between their feeling anxious about school and setting them up for success.

“Be aware of signs that you child is not settling in well or is distressed, such as withdrawal – isolating themselves and an unwillingness to participate in family activities. Keep a look out for overeating or a loss of appetite, changes to sleep patterns, general irritability and quickness to anger. It’s a fine line between normal angst and something real going on; as a general rule parents know the difference.

“Our gut feeling is usually right. If we are observant enough and ask open-ended questions, we can get to the bottom of things. Pick your moment. After they get home from school they’re a bit over it all. If you ask ‘How was your day?’ you might get a couple of grunts in response. I find I can have a really good conversation with them just before they go to bed because they know the longer they keep talking the longer the light stays on. I guess it’s a stalling tactic. If in doubt, liaise with your child’s school. Most schools are open to having discussions and they would rather help you to sort things out early on than wait till they become big issues.

“Finally, don’t forget to make them feel special and acknowledge in a concrete way that you’re proud and supportive of them. Have a special dinner or write them a little note. Taking Kye out for a milkshake makes his day. At the end of Teyah’s first week at school I had a big stuffed toy waiting on her bed, and I gave Jazmine a bunch of flowers. When our children are older we can forget that they still need us as much as ever.”

Looking Back, Looking Forward

15968_178888282169_38293082169_2803328_5725903_nI love my job and the girls that I work with. I feel blessed to be able to do something I am so passionate about.

So I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that 2009 became a bit of a turning point, the year when the mainstream media – despite all its raunch culture and limiting messages for girls – began to pick up some of the messages I’ve been shouting out for years. Earlier in the year The Australian newspaper named me Australia’s Number 1 Emerging Leader in Learning; and my book The Butterfly Effect, encouraging parents to combat the pressures teen girls face by forging loving, open relationships with them, was widely reviewed.butterfly effect-COV-ART.indd

Now the(sydney)magazine – the Sydney Morning Herald‘s monthly glossy – has included me in its annual issue on Sydney’s 100 most influential people. I am so honoured to receive the recognition – but more than that, I am happy that the crises our girls are facing are finally getting a little airtime.

cover_Jan10Thank you to the wonderful women in the Enlighten team and to all the schools we worked with this year and the fabulous girls we had the good fortune to meet. In 2009 we worked with well over 100 schools right across Australia and New Zealand!  (The journo at the(sydney)magazine wrote that it was 15 schools. I don’t know where he got that from, but I am proud to report that my colleagues and I have been a lot busier than that! But in the spirit of the festive season, I say: “To err is human, to forgive, divine”!)

I am already excited about what 2010 will bring – the inspiring girls, dedicated teachers and innovative schools we will work with. There is a lot of creative energy going into girls’ education right now. Here’s just a small taste of what I’m looking forward to in the first half of 2010 that you might like to pencil in to your diaries, too.

CONFERENCES AND PUBLIC TALKS

16 March Wake Up Sleeping Beauty” I will be giving one of my parent information seminars at Castle Hill Library, in Sydney. These are great for any parent who wants to help their teenage daughter navigate the flood of messages from the media, advertisers, marketers and peer pressure. Tickets will go on sale early in the New Year.

19 March “Growing up fast and furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children” I am keen to attend Young Media Australia’s conference, at the NSW Teachers Federation Conference Centre in Sydney, at which a range of key international experts on children and the media will review the latest research.

2830 May 2010 –  “Skating on the Glass Ceiling” – I am excited that Enlighten Education is sponsoring the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia’s conference at Ascham School, in Sydney. There is a stellar list of keynote speakers, including Germaine Greer, Dale Spender and Cheryl Kernot. Come check out the Enlighten stand; we’d love to meet you!

1618 June 2010 –  “Insights: A Fresh Look at Girls’ Education” I am thrilled to be one of the keynote speakers on Risk Behaviour in Young Women at this national conference at the Grand Hyatt, Melbourne, which covers topics as broad (and vitally important) as technology; leadership, power and politics; relationships and work; and global and ethical responsibility. And I will be running a special session with teenage girls my true passion! I’m also looking forward to hearing other keynote speakers such as Elizabeth Broderick, Kaz Cooke, Maggie Hamilton and Melinda Tankard Reist.sunshine

ENLIGHTEN EDUCATION’S WORK IN SCHOOLS

Enlighten Education is excited to have been invited into some new schools in 2010. Here are some highlights for the first term alone:

We are proud to be part of the Orientation Program for new Year 7 students at Roseville College, Kambala, Brigidine College and Pymble Ladies College, in Sydney, and Canberra Girls Grammar.

In Christchurch, New Zealand, I will be working with more than 400 girls and their parents at St Margaret’s College and at Rangi Ruru.

For the Wilderness School in Adelaide, Enlighten will be working closely with all girls in years 7, 8, 9 and 10, and the parent community, as part of their Raising Amazing Girls initiative.

At Santa Sabina College, in Sydney, will be extending our work with girls in years 8, 9, 10 and 11 by including their parents.

And we are thrilled to be continuing to work with long-term clients St Brigid’s Lesmurdie in Perth, St Vianney’s Primary School and Domremy College, in Sydney, and Firbank Grammar, in Victoria, along with many other schools we have come to know and love right across Australia. Here’s to a wonderful and enriching 2010 for all our girls, their parents and their dedicated teachers!

too cute

Supporting girls with self esteem and positive body image – what works best?

A number of innovative schools and gifted, intuitive psychologists have crossed my path of late – all seeking out ways in which they can best assist the girls they care for to develop a positive body image and respond intelligently to our toxic “girl hating” culture.  

Firstly, I have thoroughly enjoyed Professor Martha Straus’ seminal work “Adolescent Girls In Crisis – Intervention and Hope” ( 2007, published by Norton). Here is a small taste: my abridged version of her stunning “Ten Tips For Working With Girls”:

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1. Make and keep promises.

2. Admit your mistakes and apologize.

3. Hold hope – be a holder of hope for the future.

4. Trust the process – beware that our desire to be transformative in some way does not come across as criticism or disrespect (don’t be just another adult who knows best).

5. Identify choices, ask for choices, take joy in choices – frame in choices eg: is this what you want?

6. When they’re at a loss for words, guess and guess again – many teen girls remain concrete in their reasoning and have a limited vocabulary for expressing their feelings so we must frame for them eg; I feel really angry about this – do you?

7. Base expectations on developmental age, not chronological age – they may have adult sized problems and only child like strategies to fall back on, they may be overwhelmed by expectations they consistently can’t meet.

8. Build Teams. Find connections for them – other adults they can turn to, peers etc

9. Empathy, empathy, empathy.

10. Don’t underestimate your role in their life – adolescent girls want to be seen, heard and felt.

I particularly LOVE this quote:

“On my best days, I help adolescent girls find their ‘selves’ in the midst of a cacophony of other competing voices – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, celebrities, and the loud insistence of popular culture. I know that clear speaking in therapy serves as a model for speaking truth everywhere. Seeing, hearing and feeling my best voice also strengthens me, and the connection between myself and the girls I work with.”

Oh yes! This is exactly how I feel after working with girls in our workshops.

In March Sonia Lyne (Enlighten Education’s Program Director, Victoria) and I travelled to Perth to work with all the girls (Year 7 -12) from St Brigid’s Lesmurdie. The school were keen to establish a whole school approach and incorporated an event for parents, as well as a link with the wider community via the launch of Women’s Forum Australia’s BRILLIANT publication Faking It. (EVERY school should have at least one copy of this groundbreaking yet highly accessible research as a teacher resource!).

PDF copy of the full week’s program – “Celebrate, Challenge and Change at St Brigid’s”: ee_stbrigid_a4broch_hr.pdf

The results were fabulous – so many girls were informed, inspired, understood and (re)connected. One of my personal highlights was the Movie Night. I was touched that almost a hundered girls arrived (in their PJ’s) to watch a film with Sonia and I, eat popcorn, and generally be silly.  A simple night. All about celebration.

Their school Principal, Ms Amelia Toffoli, was there amongst it all…how brilliant! In fact, many of the teachers were very actively involved. All embraced wearing our  hot pink “Princess Power” bands ( aimed to reinforce the messages each of our workshop explores). Even the Head of Senior School, Mr Jim Miller, wore a hot pink band too. Teenagers yearn to connect emotionally and feel like they belong not only to a family, or to a friendship group, but to a wider school community. 

I arrived back home absolutely exhilarated. 

Equally as exciting was the invitation to work with the Years 5 and 6 girls at St John Vianney’s Woolongong.

danni.jpg 

Enlighten has never worked with such young girls before, however, their school executive insisted that they wanted to be proactive and support their girls before the real crises of adolescences overwhelmed them. I found the girls  so incredibly enthusiastic and simply delicious! The local press did an excellent article on the event which really highlights why special initiatives are so valuable – open this if for no reason than wanting to see these gorgeous girls’ smiling faces! May I say it again – THEY ARE YUMMY!

Illawarra Mercury – 1/4/08 : iq-story-on-body-image.pdf

I cannot let the opportunity pass to share the feedback Fran Simpson, the school’s Religious Education Coordinator, provided us with:

“Dannielle performs magic! She is a fairy godmother to all those sleeping beauties sitting in classrooms and in playgrounds. She takes the girls on an inner journey of self discovery in a very short time…it is one very magical day filled with sparkle and glitter. Dannielle’s gentle and loving touch coupled with her insights and expertise allowed each girl to soar to new heights. I love what Enlighten Education did for the girls. It’s amazing. The Enlighten program fits all girls needs perfectly. Enlighten Education is the most valuable educational workshop I have EVER used.”

letting-go-of-butterflies.jpg 

I love this work! I love being a Fairy Godmother!

Finally, kudos to the Victorian Government who are offering secondary schools positive body image grants of up to $5,000 to support them in undertaking and promoting activities with young people.   

The Grant guidelines not only provide an insight into what the funders are looking for in terms of accountability and sustainability, but to the types of initiatives that generally work best within the school context:

programguidelines_positivebodyimagegrants08.pdf

Applications for this close on April 18th. 

The Journey – from Primary to High School

left-to-right-danni-and-enlighten-team-mebers-janeadelaide-and-sonia-victoria-reading-affirmations.JPG  “Sail away from the safe harbor. Dream. Discover. Explore.”

Mark Twain.

left-to-right-danni-and-enlighten-team-mebers-janeadelaide-and-sonia-victoria-reading-affirmations.JPG

The Enlighten team running The Journey at Ascham School.

The transition to high school for students can be exciting but also challenging as they must learn to traverse a new (and usually much bigger) landscape with different expectations and possibly with less individual nurturing than they received in their primary years. I thought it timely this week to offer some insights into how parents and schools can make this transition easier. I want to also say up front that Enlighten Education has a very powerful full day program aimed at making the transition as painless as possible – The Journey. The full Information Kit is provided here should you want to know more: the-journey-information-kit-email-version.pdf.

A number of schools now use The Journey as part of their own orientation program and report that as it is so structured, and focuses on developing key skills the girls really need and want ( eg: how to use timetables, how to make friends, managing stress, handling peer group conflict etc) it sets a positive tone for the year ahead.

Sarah Loch, Dean of middle school at Abbotsleigh, an Anglican day and boarding school in Sydney’s upper north shore has used our Journey program to compliment their existing transition strategies for the past three years. Sarah is well aware that for many girls there will be a period of adjustment:  “the majority of students take about two weeks to relax into the cycle of school and reclaim the confidence and self efficacy they felt in year six”.

What are some of the challenges the new high school girl must face? 

In most situations, primary students have one classroom and one teacher per year.  And yet at high school, there maybe up to eleven different subjects and eleven different teachers, all of whom will have different personalities and expectations. All of a sudden, students will need to be more independent, and an expert with timetabling and study routines.

A “big sister” is ideal. Loch says that mentoring is a method they use at Abbotsleigh to help guide the new students “the year seven students have a big sister in year nine, a peer support leader in year eleven and the boarders have a big sister in year twelve”.

And whilst the older girls can help with working out where amenities are and where they are expected to be after the lunch bell rings, their mere presence can also help with the real issue, the one that all new students worry about; friends.  Will I make friends? Will I fit in? Will everyone already be in groups?  A sense of belonging is identified as one of the greatest needs of young people in the middle years and the importance of friends cannot be underestimated. Girls tend to form cliques more than boys and involvement in a wide range of activities both within and outside school is the ideal way to encourage a range of friendships in different settings.  For many students though, this may be quite a traumatic experience and parents can really help by reminding them about basic communication techniques, such as introducing yourself and trying to remember names, be a good listener, be upbeat and positive and be sensitive to others in the class.  As much as other students may be masking their feelings, chances are they will be anxious as well.

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Emotions are running at an all-time high in those first few weeks that even the smallest incident may result in floods of tears. Parents can try and minimize those incidents by having their child as prepared as possible – have they bought all the items on the stationary list? Does she have a PE uniform? What days does she need to take it? Have you taken a walk around the school a few times so she remembers where toilet blocks are, where the library is etcetera?  Parents should help as much as possible with all the detail initially until she’s strong enough to take over – don’t worry, most teen girls are happy to tell mum and dad when to butt out! 

Being the new kids on the block, and the smallest, may result in some girls being bullied.  Bullying by girls is more often verbal, usually with another girl as the target. Recently, bullying has been reported in online chat rooms, and through email and mobile phones.

Children who are bullied experience real suffering that can interfere with their social and emotional development, as well as with their school performance. Need advice on coping with bullying? Try the following specialist web sites: Bullying No Way , Bullying in schools and what to do about it or Teach Safe Schools.

The frame of mind girls start the year in will impact on how they relate to the other students and new teachers, even on how they perform academically. Ideally, parents and schools will take time out before formal classes resume to pep them up. Girls should be reminded of their strengths and what they’ve achieved to date.  But most importantly year seven is a new beginning so encourage your girls to take a pledge to start the school year on a really positive note.

A key area many girls are anxious about is meeting new buddies.  As obvious as these pointers may sound, it’s worth reiterating them to your child:

  • Introduce yourself and remember names.

  • Figure out who you want to be friends with and why.

  • Get involved with after school activities (these will not only help you learn new skills but are a great way to meet like-minded girls. Try sports teams, debating, drama …so much fun).

  • Work on good conversation skills so you get better at listening and talking.

  • Be positive and upbeat (we might think it makes us look cool when we walk around saying how “lame” things are – it usually just makes us look whiney!).

  • Be sensitive to other people (would it kill you to say “Hi” to the new girl? She may be AMAZING!).

  • Take compliments politely and give them sincerely.

  • Be willing to risk rejection- it is possible that someone you approach may not be willing to make a new friend.

 Love and light to all the young girls starting High School this year, and to the parents and teachers supporting them.

 XXXX

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