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Tag: Dannielle Miller

Raising Teenage Girls

The article below originally appeared in Notebook Magazine, November 2009. It has has been reproduced here with their permission. Visit Notebook magazine –

A PDF version of this feature article is also available to download / share here: dani

In the minds of many parents, a daughter’s teenage years loom like a trial by fire. Cracking the code to adolescent girlhood might seem unachievable, but as Donna Reeves discovers, it all starts with facing up to who you are.

No-one has ever said raising children is easy. While there is a general understanding the early years are tough – sleepless nights, tears, the dreariness of endless laundry – there is a certain terror that fills the hearts of many parents when they come to the realisation their beautiful baby daughters will one day develop into those slightly alien and scary creatures: teenage girls.

All legs and arms and attitude, there is something about teenage girls that induces fear into the most confident of parents. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Behind the prickly, and pimply, surface of adolescent girls lies a genuine psychological and emotional need to remain connected to their parents as they face the challenges of becoming young women. Being afraid of stepping on teenage toes, or believing that adolescence is akin to the lost years, isn’t doing your kids any favours. Instead of setting yourself up to fail, parents, particularly mothers, can grow with their daughters because when it comes down to it, both are facing similar issues.

“There has been this idea that teenage girls are somehow unruly and bitches and divas and difficult; that it’s this awful tumultuous time and the best we can do is bunker down and try and get through it,” says Dannielle Miller, a former high school teacher who has worked with thousands of teenage girls in both Australia and New Zealand. “This is such a ridiculous notion because it sets up this defeatist attitude towards connecting with your daughter and it also sets up conflict because you start to see the conflict as inevitable. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“The greatest gift a mum can give to her daughter is to grow with her and to be honest about that journey of growth. If we pretend we all just emerge as this completely whole woman, we’re doing them a disservice by not helping them understand that making mistakes is just part of that journey.”

Dannielle’s book The Butterfly Effect – A Positive New Approach to Raising Happy, Confident Teen Girls (Random House, $34.95) has just been published. It is well researched and documents with clarity and gritty honesty the issues facing today’s teenage girls, such as drinking, body issues, friendship and sex.


“Sometimes I think other parenting books make the world in which teenage girls live seem so foreign to our world that as an adult, you feel a little bit out of your element in knowing how to step in and help,” Dannielle says. “Yet, the issues really are the same. They might be drinking Breezers while we’re drinking chardies, and they might be watching ‘Gossip Girl’ while we’re watching ‘Desperate Housewives’, but the messages and the reasons why we’re engaging in those things are very similar. If you can start to see the similarities, rather than just the differences, I think it’s a great opportunity to connect with your daughter rather than disconnect from her.”

The Butterfly Effect offers practical advice to parents – in particular mothers – on how to stay connected, or rebuild relationships with their daughters during adolescence. Unlike some other parenting books, where the emphasis is on the child, this book forces parents to examine their own lives and behaviours. It’s an approach Dannielle says she has been using successfully for many years.

“Parents honestly think they’re going to come along to one of my seminars and I am going to sort out their daughter for them, as if she’s the one who needs fixing,” Dannielle says. “Then, within about five minutes of me speaking, I’ll see these little tears rolling down their faces as they realise they need to have a look at what they’re doing in their life. Maybe they’re always on a diet, or lamenting the ageing process, or caught up in a destructive relationship and drinking themselves into a stupor every night. Their daughters see this and that’s the truth of it. Many mothers find it quite confronting, and it is.”

Dannielle says what initially struck her when talking to mothers about their daughters was that they were both facing similar issues. “I was quite surprised that in many ways, despite all the rhetoric about there being this huge generation gap, so many issues that impact on our daughters’ lives really impact on us as women too, and we are really more alike than we are different.

“I noticed in the mothers’ faces that I was really speaking to them as well: they were caught up in the same vortex when it came to things like body image, beauty and drinking. Even when I would talk about things such as managing healthy friendships, the mothers would say, ‘It sounds like you’re describing my friendships with my girlfriends now.’”

One of Dannielle’s key messages in her book and seminars is that mothers have to set a good example and be a positive role model for their daughters. “Girls can’t be what they can’t see,” she says. “If we’re serious about saying to our daughters, ‘I want you to be really sure of yourself, to be really strong, to know how to set boundaries with people, to make healthy choices around alcohol,’ then we have to make those choices and decisions ourselves.”

If there’s one area in recent years that teenage girls have been drastically misunderstood, and perhaps as a result, let down, it’s in the assumption they are more mature than adolescent boys and therefore more independent. Dannielle says that while it is true teen girls do have more maturity than adolescent boys of the same age, they are still emotionally needy.

“The latest research is showing that adolescent girls have the emotional needs for affection and for love as they had when they were seven,” she says. “The first time I heard this, my daughter was seven and I thought about the number of times she might be touched, cuddled, told she’s beautiful. Sadly, by the time girls hit adolescence, and because they’re gangly and look a little bit grown up, we almost leave them to fend for themselves. That’s why they hunt in packs and why their peer groups are so important to them. It’s often the only place where they get that love and affection. It explains why you will always see teenage girls touching each others’ hair, tickling each other, laying all over each other. It’s because they yearn to be touched and to be loved.”


At my official Book Launch with mentor and valued colleague Clinical Professor David Bennett AO FRACP FSAM

Wanting to be loved doesn’t necessarily mean wanting to be best friends. It’s important to set realistic expectations around your relationships. As Dannielle says, you have to understand that for teen girls, pulling away and coming back and then pulling away again is a really important part of them growing into individuals and becoming independent. This seesawing behaviour can’t be taken personally, or else every mother would spend a lot of her teenage daughters’ years feeling offended or hurt.

“In an effort to connect with your daughter, I don’t think it works for mums to say ‘Alright, we’re going to have these big outings every month,’” says Dannielle. “You can’t force it. Sometimes, the best moments can be when you gently brush past each other in the house, or when you write your daughter a note for her lunch box which she doesn’t even bother acknowledging.

“We need to realise these moments we have with them, even if we think they’re not important, can be hugely important. Often we make the mistake of thinking it has to be a big gesture. It is very true that teenage girls don’t want to hang with Mum all the time, but they do really want a connection.”

One of the simplest pieces of advice Dannielle gives in her book – and interestingly, one of the most powerful – is for mothers to let themselves fall in love with their daughters again. Sure, motherhood isn’t easy, but neither is growing up. Think back to how you were as a teenager and the grief you caused your mother.

“As mothers, if we can get back to the core values of ‘I do love this girl’ and realise our daughters have remarkable qualities and focus on those, rather than try to control them, then that can be a good way of finding mutual ground,” says Dannielle.

“If you can get the parenting bits right and focus on being a good role model, there’s nothing more fun than having a teenage girl around. It is their flaws and their little idiosyncrasies, and the fact they are so brutally honest that makes them incredibly endearing. They’re like big labrador puppies – they’re delightful.”


I will be presenting a public seminar for parents on raising girls at Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College – November 11th 2009: this is being hosted by the organisation Young Love. All enquiries should be made directly to them.

Flyer with details may be downloaded here.

The Butterfly Effect

This week my first book is being launched by Random House. The Butterfly Effect provides a positive new approach to raising happy, confident teen girls. 


Advance Praise for The Butterfly Effect

Dannielle Miller is the teen girl whisperer.’ Fran Simpson, teacher and mother of a teen

Dannielle Miller’s book is a must-read for all parents of teenage girls. The first thing that literally thumped me in the chest when reading this book was a total awareness and awakening of what is happening to our teenage girls. At a deep level, it resonated with me. The information is real, pertinent and totally relevant. Great work, Dannielle. Thank you for awakening me. Thank you for snapping me to attention and making me want to become a greater part of the solution.’ Karen, mother of a teen girl

This is the book we have been waiting for. It includes the most up-to-date research and finally gives parents positive, sensible strategies they can easily apply.’ Dr Michele Beale, general practitioner and stress management specialist

If you want to develop a deeply connected and loving relationship with your teenage daughter – then this book is for you. This is a time when many girls struggle to cope and really need our guidance and support, even though they may not be asking for it! The Butterfly Effect is written with passion and honesty, and offers insightful and practical advice for all parents who want to do more than ‘just survive’ the teen years!’ Julie Gale – Founder/Director Kids Free 2B Kids.

Dannielle Miller is not the first person to call attention to these issues, to the phenomenon of girls’ lives sometimes falling apart at the very threshold of womanhood. But in this candid and thought-provoking book, written with passion and conviction, she offers not only insight into adolescent girls as interesting works in progress, but also provides encouragement, solace and solution. She reminds us too, I am pleased to say, that we (their mothers and fathers) are also works in progress…’ Clinical Professor David Bennett AO FRACP FSAM, Head, NSW Centre for the Advancement of Adolescent Health, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead; President, Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare; and co-author (with Leanne Rowe and Bruce Tonge) of I Just Want You to be Happy (Allen & Unwin, 2009).

What was I hoping to contribute to the vital dialogue on parenting adolescent girls?  

A great deal of research on the issues affecting teen girls’ lives has been conducted by psychologists, sociologists, healthcare professionals and other experts. Throughout my book I considered their data, which has been published in various professional journals and research papers. I am focused on keeping up to date with the latest statistics because they give us a measurable insight into what is happening in girl world.

Yet I also know that the raw numbers do not tell the whole story. They do not always tell us how girls feel about themselves, their world and their place in it. So in addition to statistics and expert opinion, I also collated the more detailed and personal information you can really only get by taking the time to sit down and discuss the issues with teen girls. I gathered this research formally and informally over the many years I have worked with young people as a teacher, as a coordinator for students at risk and as the co-founder and CEO of Enlighten Education.

Ultimately, I believe we can join our daughters and work together to find new connections and deeper mutual understandings. In this book, I want to challenge my readers to do just that: to form a new connection with their daughter, niece, stepdaughter – with all the young women close to them – and work with them to bring about change. I do not want us to aim to merely to ‘survive’ girls’ adolescence, as some other parenting books will encourage us to do. We must aim for something far more mutually respectful and rewarding.

If you are currently caught up in screaming fights or in passive-aggressive girl hell – and yes, I do acknowledge that teen girls are gifted at turning their anger on those who are closest – I can see why books that promise survival might appeal. But isn’t the old ‘Mothers and daughters just do not get along; teen girls are hell’ argument just a little clichéd? It is certainly disrespectful to both parties.

If you, like many of us, have been fed that oppositional, woman-pitted-against-woman approach for years, my invitation to begin a more emphatic journey of parenting through self-discovery may seem too simplistic. Or, if you are caught up in conflict with your teen girl right now, it may seem unobtainable. Let me assure you, I am not setting out to make mothers feel any more inadequate than they may feel already. Girls may do seething anger well, but women do guilt well; we’re gifted at blaming ourselves for everything that goes wrong.

I am not one of the ‘Mummy Police’, the smug parenting experts who leave me feeling like I am doing everything wrong. I found myself particularly susceptible to them in my early days as a mother. I spent my time with my new daughter, Teyah, sleep deprived and bewildered by what I was supposed to do with this new and oh-so-perfect creature. I thought I had to be the perfect mother; she deserved nothing less. These were desperate days spent madly reading every book I could find – and becoming even more confused as one only seemed to contradict the next. In the end it was Baby Love, by Australian Robin Barker, that resonated with me. Why? Because she emphasised the need for following one’s instincts, and love was put at the forefront, right there in the title. Isn’t that what it is supposed to be about, after all? Teyah didn’t need a perfect mother; she needed a happy, confident, loving one.

Your teenage daughter does not need perfection, either. It may surprise you to know that out of the many thousands of young people who have crossed my path, including those from very troubled backgrounds, very few have ever questioned their parents’ skills or said they wished their mothers were better at parenting, or were thinner, more beautiful, more successful. Rather, they have told me they want more time, more love, more empathy and more happiness.

I believe the key is empathy. Instead of viewing adolescence as a stage in which fights between mothers and daughters are inevitable, try viewing it as a stage when a new connection can be found and a new level in your relationship reached. And empathy should be easy. Her pain is your pain. Her struggles are your struggles.

Make no mistake, in this book I am not suggesting you stop parenting and become your daughter’s new ‘bestie’. The other thing that young people consistently tell me they want more of from their parents is boundaries. Your daughter needs to see what a strong, confident, healthy woman looks like, how she copes with mistakes and failures, how she sets boundaries, and how she demands to be treated, both within the home and by society as a whole. If you won’t show her, who will?

In recent years a number of books have come out on the plight of teen girls in our hyper-sexual, commercialised and media-saturated culture. These books are valuable because they provide a real insight into teen-girl world – but they risk leaving us in a state of despair, feeling that it’s all too hard to make changes in our daughters’ lives. It’s not! I was determined to offer practical steps we can take to work towards making things better.

The idea of the butterfly effect comes from the science of chaos theory. It suggests that everything in this world is interconnected, to the extent that the beating of a butterfly’s wings in one part of the world may ultimately contribute to a tornado happening in another part of the world. Small changes can make a huge difference. My hope is that you may harness the butterfly effect in your relationship with your daughter, by being conscious that your actions and words – even ones that seem trivial – have a big influence on your daughter, just as her peers and the media influence her.

Once you have read my book, I would love to know what you think. I also have 10 copies to give away to my blog readers! Simply post a comment here and leave your email address. I will select 10 winners at random and email them to get their postal details.


I am thrilled to report that on Wednesday I was named by The Australian newspaper as the country’s top emerging leader in education, for the work that I do with girls through Enlighten Education.

As I accepted my award from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at a lunch at Parliament House, I felt deeply honoured — and more important, encouraged by the fact that the work we do with young women has received public recognition. I see my award as proof that it is now widely accepted that we need to equip our girls to make sense of an increasingly complex world and to shape it themselves, so they can move beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers.

The award has also got me thinking about the leaders that I most admire. I am very impressed with Kate Ellis, the federal government’s Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth, for speaking up about the importance of tackling body image issues among teenagers. Hallelujah, sister! And a significant role model of mine is Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination and Age Discrimination Commissioner of Australia’s Human Rights Commission. Immediately after her appointment in 2007, she embarked on a nationwide tour to listen to what people all around Australia had to say about discrimination, and that act really resonated with me. I apply this lesson to my own work: in designing programs for teenage girls, I have learnt that it is vital to listen to them and connect to what they are doing and experiencing in their own lives, rather than assume I know what issues concern them.

Who are the leaders you most admire? What qualities do they possess?

I’d love to hear your reflections on the nature of leadership, too. What makes someone a great leader?

Finally, given the public recognition I have just received, this seems an apt time to acknowledge my Enlighten Amazons – the woman I am privileged to lead. My love and gratitude go to: Francesca Kaoutal (my business partner and Enlighten’s co-founder), Sonia Lyne, Alana Benjamin, Melissa Coutts, Storm Greenhill-Brown, Louise Beddoes, Catherine Stark, Diane Illingworth-Wilcox, Jane Higgins, Kelly Valder, Nikki Dingle, Nikki Davis, Monica Lamata, Kellie Mackereth, Christine Elias and Fiona Ciappara.

A special edition of The Weekend Australian Magazine this weekend (June 20-21) will feature all ten of the winners. At the award ceremony I got a sneak preview, and I can honestly say it is a truly inspiring read; it features interviews with the judging panel and the winners, on the nature of leadership.

Audio from an interview I did on radio 2UE discussing the win can be listened to here: danielle-miller

Show and Tell

It’s been an exciting and busy week. Today I was in a photo shoot for The Weekend Australian. I feel incredibly honoured that they have chosen to include me in “The Next 100” leadership feature:

As a national newspaper with a commitment to Australian success we know that identifying and nurturing good leaders is an essential aspect of nation building…

Over the next three months we will name 100 of Australia’s young and emerging leaders — those who are set to make a substantial contribution to the nation over coming years.

The Next 100 series, which runs in The Weekend Australian Magazine, each week from April 4-5, identifies people who are setting agendas and inspiring others through their work and ideas.

The Australians on our list come from a range of backgrounds and exhibit different talents. But they share a high level of professional skill and offer innovative approaches to national challenges. They share too those essential qualities of leadership — an ability to come up with fresh directions and solutions, to articulate those changes and to make them happen.

Over 10 weeks we are profiling people representing 10 key areas of national life — Society, Sport, Wealth, Science, Culture, Earth, Learning, Health, Thinking and Innovation…

I will be profiled as a Leader in Learning. It’s humbling to be included in such a talented group of nominees, and inspiring to read about the work they are doing. If you haven’t already, it’s worthwhile to take the time to read about their backgrounds: Nominees – The Next 100.

I have also just launched my own website to profile my seminars for parents and teachers and my upcoming book: Love to hear your feedback.

And finally, I was really touched when young Western Australian poet Kate Wilson sent me the link to a YouTube clip of her performing a poem she wrote in Enlighten’s honour. Isn’t she terrific?

Enlighten is our heart’s work

We were delighted to be asked to participate in the “Business Sense” series. This televison series will be aired on Channel 9, 730am Sundays (commencing August 10th), on Foxtel’s Sky Business, and on QANTAS in-flight entertainment.

The series profiles successful small businesses and looks at what they are doing that is working. After each small business is profiled, later in the show a business expert offers their words of wisdom too.  Insights are provided by business leaders including John McGrath, CEO McGrath Real Estate; John Symonds, CEO Aussie Home Loans; Karen Matthews, CEO Ella Bache; Katherine Sampson, Founder & MD Healthy Habits. Well worth watching!

Enjoy this extract from Episode 14 and gain an insight into why my partner Francesca and I founded Enlighten. We believe that by building Respect and inspiring Love, our business will change the world for girls.

P.S Exciting news! Just this minute discovered Enlighten has been announced as a Finalist in the 2008 Australian Small Business Champion Awards, Educational Services category! How affirming.

You may recall last year we won the National Award for Children’s Services. This year there was a new category for us to enter and we are thrilled to once again have our work acknowledged externally.

Fingers (and toes!) crossed for another win!


Books Alive 2008

Books Alive is an Australian Government initiative developed through the Australia Council for the Arts, the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body. Its aim? To encourage Australians to pick up a book and read.

As an ex-English teacher and avid reader, I love books. They feed me – intellectually and emotionally. I was delighted to share my family’s passion for reading in the Sunday Telegraph last wekeend (if you click on this jpeg image below you should be able to read an enlarged version).      

When did my love affair with books begin?

When I was two years old I was badly burnt. I received third degree burns all down my right arm and neck. As is often the case with burn victims, I also suffered two major secondary infections – german measles and the potentially life threatening golden staph.

My Great Grandmother burnt me when I went with my Grandmother, her daughter, to visit her in Tasmania. She poured hot cooking oil down me as I set nearby watching breakfast being prepared. As a small girl I was always told this was an accident, yet I questioned why no one ever spoke of this women again, let alone saw her. Why hadn’t we forgiven her I wondered, after all, accidents do happen. It was only when I was older that the truth emerged. Great Grandma had been unstable and had shown signs of violence towards my beloved Grandmother when she was a small girl too. Everyone felt instinctively that she had done this to me deliberately.

I don’t remember whether it was done to me deliberately and ultimately, it does not make any difference. It happened.

What do I remember? Despite being so small, I do remember moments of this event, in particular my Grandmother’s face as she came through the doorway in response to my initial screams. I recall thinking I must be very badly hurt as she looked stricken.

I remember my Doctor too, as I was hospitalized for almost 6 months he became a central figure in my life. Dr Jemisson was kind, gentle, and doting. In his eyes, I could do no wrong. I was his special girl. Heaven help any nurse who dared keep me waiting! I remember gifts: in particular books. Perhaps this was the start of my love affair with words, as words so often soothed me to sleep -literally. I loved being read to. I escaped pain and boredom through tales of Princesses with power and through hearing about the adventures of other little girls who faced great dangers and emerged triumphant.

I soothed myself with words too. I could not yet read of course but I would talk to myself when frightened, repeating over and over the mantra “You’ll be ok, you’ll be all right.” It was my secret spell – and I would caste it to give me strength.

And my strength pulled me through. And I kept my arm. It just looked different to those of my friends with its red, raised, twisted flesh. It’s flap of skin near my elbow that looked taunt when my arm was stretched out, and hung loose when my arm was bent. Yet as a small child this difference did not concern me – I was so much more than my body!

I was a busy, bossy little girl. I had a younger sister to organise, lollies to eat, Barbies to collect and of course, once school started, more books to devour. Childhood for me was not about my body. Rather my body was merely and instrument to carry me from one adventure to the next. When I wanted to join my friends at the beach, I just had Mum cut the toes out of one of my father’s socks and popped that on to protect my arm from the sun. Problem solved!

Yet by the time I turned 10 years of age, things definitely changed. I started noticing boys. And I started noticing the girls the boys noticed. At school the boys preferred the alpha girls – popular, pretty, often good at sport. I was a pretty enough girl and had a few close friends, but as I was more interested in reading than netball, I was definitely not alpha material. It wasn’t just at school though that I received messages about what defined beauty and sexual attractiveness. My Barbies, Charlie’s Angels, ABBA…all taught me that to be a desired woman, I would need to be thin, beautiful and immaculately groomed. No scars allowed.

I entered adolescence and, like most girls, began a new internal conversation. I was no longer casting spells to heal myself. Instead, I was engaging in darker, self destructive thoughts and telling myself that I was not enough. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not popular enough. Growing up into an adolescent girl, my feelings of inadequacy due to my scarring became quite overwhelming; I was still a bright and ambitious but my main preoccupation was with my scars and how best I could hide them from the world.

And as we choose to believe we are less because of how we look, and our inability to conform to a perfect image, we become less.

I hid. I hid my arm. I wore skivvies underneath my summer uniform, wore jumpers all year round, I avoided pools and beaches. My arm no longer seemed small – it seemed enormous. A huge, horrible, disfigured limb I would be forced to drag through what had been my oh- so promising life.

Yes, teenage girls are good at drama.

I vividly recall by the time I was 15 day dreaming about what my life would be like if I had not been burnt. I was tall, had very long legs and fancied that I could have been a bikini model if it had not been for my arm. How telling that as an adolescent my dream job was to be a bikini model! For many adolescents being some type of model is the dream job. It is not the actual job itself that appeals; it is the kudos, the knowledge that your body has been declared special. Worthy of attention. “If I looked that way, then they would love me…”

It was only in my adult years as an English teacher that I finally explored ways in which I might come to terms with my burns, indeed in many ways teaching forced me to come to terms with them as I was now a role model. If I could not accept myself, how could I possibly ask my students to accept themselves?

I searched once again for soothing words. And found them in the writing of women. Women like Naomi Wolf in the Beauty Myth – “We don’t need to change our bodies, we need to change the rules.” In women like Sofia Loren. “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful”, and in the words of the young women I now taught, “I love how you wear your scars Miss, you don’t let them wear you.” Words healed me. And my self-talk became, once more, focused on my strengths rather than my perceived weaknesses.

I was ok. It did turn out all right.

In fact – life is magnificent. And I am a shiny girl. So here’s to all the writers who have healed and inspired me through their words.

Books can do more than merely entertain. They can help shape us. 

So, this week my dear readers, if you have not already done so, check out the professional library link (“My Library Thing”) on this blog and indulge in some of my favourite writers on all things girl related.

Read. And read to your children.

P.S I’d love to hear which books have helped shape you…

Stealing innocence

The following link is to a discussion I had on Sunrise with former Democrats leader Lyn Allison on the art versus child porn debate. This issue reared its ugly head again as Australia’s Art Monthly chose to make a political statement by using higly sexualised naked images of six year old girl Olympia in their July edition. 

Dannielle Miller on Sunrise – child nudity in art

Below is a letter Melinda Tankard Reist had published in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

You say dignity, I say torture porn –

and ne’er the twain shall meet

Art is about “giving people dignity”, the critic Robert Nelson told ABC radio this week. “We’ve got to have faith in art,” he implored.

Nelson is the father of Olympia, whose naked photos appear in Art Monthly Australia’s latest issue. The photos were taken in 2003 by her mother, when the girl was six.

Flicking through Art Monthly, I wondered whether Mr Nelson had looked at the magazine that featured his daughter before he gave us his thoughts on art and human dignity.

Call me particular, but I don’t find images of semi-naked, bound women with protruding sex organs all that dignified. I looked really hard, but I couldn’t see much dignity in the photograph of a Japanese schoolgirl trussed in rope and suspended with her skirt raised to reveal her underwear.

Torture porn just doesn’t stir my soul.

Some of Bill Henson’s images are there (of course – this issue was a “protest” in defence of his work). They are  followed by selections from the work of the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, probably best known for his passion for taking photos of girls and women exposed and bound.

There’s his slumped, bound, schoolgirl picture and an image of a woman with her clothing stripped back, the ropes squeezing her naked breasts and contorting her into a pose that displays her genitals. A third uplifting work depicts a woman on the ground, strained forward, her naked spreading backside to the camera.

Faith in art?

A little further into the magazine you come upon the work of David Laity. What offering of truth and beauty does Laity give us? An image of a woman being bound with the tentacles of an octopus as it performs oral sex on her.  That’s some dignified octopus.

Then there’s an image of a woman bending over so we can see her … well, you get the picture.

The photographs of Olympia need to be viewed in the context of the images positioned around her. On their own, the images that show Olympia reclining naked, her pose and look more that of an adult, can be seen as sexualised. But surrounding her with these other images superimposes a further, more sinister, meaning on them.

The former Democrats senator Lyn Allison told Sunrise the controversy was just about little girls playing dress-ups. But don’t dress-ups usually involve putting clothes on, not taking them off? And does this game usually end with your photo published in a gallery of female genitals? The magazine’s editor said he wanted to “restore dignity to the debate”. Does he really think he’s achieved that?
Artists who recognise there should be ethical constraints to art; artists who don’t think it advances humanity to tie  up naked girls and capture their images  – now that would be dignified.

Melinda Tankard Reist


Love to hear your thoughts.


Enlighten Education on 60 Minutes

Thank you to everyone who has responded so favourably to the feature story 60 Minutes ran on our work and the important issue of the sexualisation of our children. For those who missed it here is their story brief:


Little Women

Sunday, June 22, 2008
Reporter: Peter Overton

Producer: Sandra Cleary

You have to wonder what on earth’s happening to our kids. Especially little girls.

They’re bombarded with sexy images. Raunchy video clips, billboards and store catalogues.

Then there are the trashy fashions, explicit undies, even Barbie dolls in skimpy costumes.

The message is you’ve got to be “hot” to be cool.

No one can deny that sex sells, but why sell it to young children?

That’s a question currently confronting the politicians in Canberra.

They’ve launched a Senate inquiry into the whole issue of the sexualisation of children.

Fair enough, but many experts simply say – let kids be kids.

The full story can be viewed on the 60 Minutes site:

I was also asked to participate in a live on-line interview after the program aired. This was challenging as I had to dictate my responses to the questions to a host who then typed them for me – hence I may sound inarticulate at points! The transcipt is below.

Chat: Dannielle Miller

Monday, June 23, 2008
60 Minutes presents a live interview with Dannielle Miller from Enlighten Education about teen body image..

Interviewer: Dannielle thank you for talking to us tonight in our live online chat room.

Dannielle Miller: It’s a pleasure to be here.

Effie asks: Hi Dannielle. Have you been getting a lot of support with schools on your program?

I think you are doing wonderful work and want to wish you all the best in your success.

Dannielle Miller: Thank you for your kind words. Our programme has been very well received. We founded the business 3 years ago in NSW and started with just 3 schools and now have more than 60 we work with nationally. Last year we also won Australian Small Business of the year for Children. We are of course very proud of this but it would also be lovely not to be so needed. The reality is that our girls are in crisis. We are very pleased that so many educators now acknowledge they are responsible for the whole person. We believe that girls cannot achieve their personal and academic potential if they are pre-occupied with body image and self-esteem issues.

Anthea asks: Do you have any funding for your program, where are you taking it to at the moment?

Dannielle Miller: We deliberately set the business up to be non-commercial so do not receive funding support from any entity. Nor do we receive Govt support at this point in time, however disadvantaged schools in Western Sydney have had our programmes subsidised and we have been achieving outstanding results with girls in these schools. Our programmes range from $30 to $45 per girl and in the majority of cases schools would ask parents to pay this. It was important to us to maintain the integrity of the work rather than accept corporate sponsorship.

Outraged asks: Danielle, how much does the ‘male gaze’ impact on media, given that many photographers, cameramen and advertising execs are men?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. I have not looked closely in this area however it would seem quite likely that the male gaze would impact on the way women are presented. It is important to note that many editors of teen girl magazines that do not always present positive images and role models are women. Quite often women are subject to the very same pressures and also want to conform to societies expectations. There is pressure on us all to be hot, hot, hot.

awol78 asks: I think the real issue – beyond the paedophilic angle – is the long term affects that this is having on our young people themselves. Low self esteem, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery… And… let’s target the real culprits here – beyond your Jessica Simpson’s, your Paris Hilton’s… Where is this sexualized culture coming from? The whole size zero phenomenon..? It’s the advertisers at the top. Sex sells – and nothing will ever change that. So well done on these programs – we need more in schools… Is there anything for BOYS and YOUNG MEN..?

It has become a big issue for males now too!

Dannielle Miller: Your are absolutely right in suggesting that we need to be concerned about so much more than just the way in which paedophiles may or may not view these images. In fact that is not a focus of our work at all, rather we focus very much on how girls view themselves as a result of being exposed to our toxic culture.

Yes, girls are suffering from eating disorders. Yes, self harm is on the increase. Yes, girls are binge drinking. Any concerned parent or educator would have to start questioning the messages they are bombarded with. Our programme is strength based which means that we affirm the knowledge the girls already have and more than that we provide them with the tools they need to unpack our adult society.

There are many excellent resources out there because we are by no means a voice in the wilderness. I would highly recommend accessing my blog where I post weekly reports and resources. Kids free to be kids, who were also profiled in the 60 Minutes story, do some wonderful work in this area as well. Women’s Forum Australia also have a publication entitled “Faking It” which does a tremendous job of combining the research on the sexualisation and objectification of women’s bodies with a highly readable approach.

We need to actively seek a variety of tools and programmes that can be powerful voices of difference. As for your query as to what is out there for young men, I would have to say that I’m not aware of a similar programme that operates in schools targeting these issues. However, I would agree that boys also do need to presented with programs that enhance media literacy and emotional literacy.

IceKat asks: I’m curious as to what age you run your courses for? How young is too young?

Dannielle Miller: Our programmes are designed to be delivered in high school with girls aged 12 to 18. However this year I have had a number of primary schools ask me to work with their 11 to 12 yr old girls in Year 6. These schools are saying to me, self-esteem and body image issues are creeping into their playgrounds too. I applaud principals who want to be proactive.

The school executive at the primary school I was filmed working with on 60 Minutes, said to me quite clearly that they did not want to wait until their little girls were in trouble. They did not want me coming in to fix a problem, rather they wanted me to come in and help prevent a problem.

I think it is important to instil in all children from a young age a strong sense of self and give them age appropriate information on their emerging sexuality. The key word there, is age appropriate. My little girl who is 10, knows all about air brushing, photo shopping, and is encouraged to question images of girls and women that are not positive. I do not however even expose her to many of the highly sexualised songs, film clips etc because I am in no hurry to steal her childhood.

9girl asks: Are you breeding little feminists though?

Dannielle Miller: I hope so !!!! Perhaps this question implies there is something wrong with that?

To me feminism has always been very much about respecting and honouring women, and recognising that they deserve equality. It is easy for us to become complacent about women’s issues as in many ways we have made so much progress, yet surely when we look at the Pussycat Dolls and the magazine filled with wrinkle creams, images of Paris Hilton and Co. and diets, we can all see there is still work to do.

ShellyK13 asks: What can we as parents and myself as a teacher do to combat the barrage of sexual images and innuendo that our kids deal with every day?

Dannielle Miller: Again, I would encourage you to hook into some of the excellent resources that are out there. On my blog I have gathered some amazing resources and also have a professional library. In a practical sense the following ideas may also prove helpful:

1. Talk to your daughter honestly and non judgementally about sex and her own sexuality.

2. Be a positive role-model.

I am actually writing a book for mothers at the moment.

3. Tell your daughter you love her for who she is not how she looks.

4. Offer positive alternatives by that I mean magazines, books and websites that offer positive images of women and sexuality.

5. Speak up! I love that Julie Gale song from Kids Free to be Kids, write to companies that sexualise children and tell them to back off !

Companies will only make hype-sexualised toys and merchandise if we continue to buy these things.

kenny78 asks: Shouldn’t the parents of any child have the right to view these pictures prior to them hitting the print. Surely a parent would have enough sense to be able to tell whether something is going to look too provocative?

Dannielle Miller: Parents do have the right to view images of their children before they go to print. You would hope therefore that they would make the right choices. I must also stress, that some children are very vulnerable and do not have adults around them that make good choices. As a society we need to protect children by setting our own standards as well.

savethegirls asks: When do we stop blaming society and media and start taking responsibility for how we, as parents raise our kids? Sure, it’s hard when they are constantly being bombarded with these messages, but as caregivers we are the ones the buy into it all as well, by buying the clothes, magazines and not controlling their access to harmful media.

Dannielle Miller: I would agree with you, that as parents we need to set boundaries absolutely. However, as I mentioned above, not all parents are necessarily good at doing this for a number of reasons, which means that as a society we also need to set our own community boundaries and standards. I think also that as parents, even if we are incredibly well intentioned there is so much that is simply beyond our control.

We know that with teen girls, the peer group is incredibly powerful, this is why we work in schools with a full year group of girls so that all the girls hear the same messages, and decide themselves which boundaries they set and support each other and develop a sense of sisterhood. Yes it is important that parents don’t fall into the trap of trying to be “too cool” or their child’s best friend. Our children need us to step up but they also need to have some reprise from the more toxic elements of popular culture that really are engulfing us all.

ramsay asks: There is validity in educating children in awareness of paedophiles and dangers, but do you think your education techniques go too far and encourage children to single out others who are not ashamed of their bodies and ware bikinis etc (Children in mid to late teens) I do.

Dannielle Miller: You are mistaken. Perhaps the way the story was edited has let you to think we talk to children about paedophiles or the dangers of wearing swimming costumes or posing proactively. We do none of this. I want to be very clear here, we would never make children feel ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. Rather our programmes are very celebratory.

jessica.ann asks: Have you re-visited any of the girls that you have spoken too later in their teens to see the effects of the ‘programme’?

Dannielle Miller: Yes we have. Evaluation is very important to us, we ask the girls for their feedback at the end of each event and it’s always outstanding. We also ask the schools 6 to 8 weeks later to provide us with more detailed feedback. Many schools have us work with the girls each year so we definitely get the chance to speak to them and hear how they are progressing. If you are interested in reading some of this feedback and looking at some of the statistics do visit our website . Girls also write me lovely letters and send me emails. It’s incredibly rewarding to know that we are making a difference.

AustAccom asks: The only way the media will change is by having the laws changed re censorship and sexualisation of children and normalising these images in society do you agree ?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. Self-regulation obviously hasn’t worked. I am hoping that the Senate Enquiry will encourage some changes. Society has reached tipping point, I think the moral majority will send a very clear message to Canberra that we have all had enough.

Corrinne asks: You spoke a lot about the media as a major influence on teens, I was just interested in what other factors you believe have a significant impact on young girls/’tweens’?

e.g. peers, family interaction levels

Dannielle Miller: There are a number of things that impact on teen girls and our programme is very diverse. 60 Minutes focused on our discussion of the media and dolls as these elements were the most appropriate given the excellent story they put together. We also help girls deal with their friendships, we talk to girls about setting boundaries in relationships, about managing stress, handling academic workload … really, we recognise that young women are multi-facetted.

Pixel asks: Hi Danielle, what is your advice for a 12 yr old who wants to be 15 tomorrow ?

Dannielle Miller: Good question. It’s sad isn’t it that young girls are in such a hurry to grow up. Although I would tell her to enjoy her childhood she probably wouldn’t listen. I know however that by creating a unique experience like what we do in our programmes we can encourage our young people to slow down.

We have a generation of young women dealing with adult problems whilst they only have childlike strategy to fall back on. I guess if it was my little girl I would do all I could to encourage her to revel in her childhood. Sorry I probably haven’t been overly helpful because really that’s the 6 Million Dollar question isn’t it.

sbelly18 asks: There are too many worries for kids, they are not allowed to just be “kids” anymore. No playing with dolls or climbing trees. It’s not acceptable for young ones, and they will be teased and tormented for it now. Do you agree?

Dannielle Miller: Yes. There are a number of reasons why childhood is disappearing. I also think that as much as I love technology it too, can be a grinch that steals innocence. Our children are often spending more time online than they are exploring face to face real relationships. I’m not being a luddite here, just realistic.

Teen girls tell me that they are “wired” pretty much 24/7, many even sleep with their mobile phone by their bed. Where is the downtime? The dreaming time? I also think that many parents over-schedule their children. Do our kids really need so many activities? So many formally organised play dates? Do they all have to be genius’s?

There is great value in the simple act of play. I know that as a little girl I spent a lot of time organising all the children in my neighbourhood, running clubs, and generally being a bossy little miss! In hindsight it was all great practise for running my own company.

Angela asks: Hi Danielle I have a 10 year old daughter that says she is sick and can’t eat dinner, Dr’s won’t do anything, I don’t know where to get help?

Dannielle Miller: I have to say up front that I’m an educator not a doctor. I would suggest if you are concerned (and you should be), you seek out a doctor who is more understanding. Sadly girls as young as 8 are being hospitalised for eating disorders. I’m not suggesting necessarily your daughter has an eating disorder but it is wise for us all to be vigilant. There are other organisations that specialise in this area like the Butterfly Foundation who may be worth tapping into. Links to them and to other expert mental health practitioners are available on my blog.

Shellreyn asks: Danielle, do you have any advice on how I should educate my young son with regard to appropriate behaviour towards these young girls, when he’s being bombarded by media images of sexualised pre teens?

Dannielle Miller: I hear you ! I have a 6 yr old little boy who loves to chant “boom chicka wawa” which is the jingle from the lynx aftershave commercial. This series of commercials is just vile ! I get so furious that our boys are being encouraged to view girls as eye candy. I have found that I need to be quite clear with my son about what my expectations are.

I also take the time out to talk to him about why saying things that may seem harmless really can be quite hurtful. I think as mums we also need to role-model for our boys what strong confident look like. Again, we should not buy into hyper-sexualised goods and services. I try and find alternative women that he can really admire for example, he now looks up to Princess Leia from Starwars, Wonder Woman and loves to be my little scout seeking out songs, dolls and adds that he thinks “aren’t nice to girls”.

AngelEyes asks: Can I ask by keeping our daughters away from all of the songs, mags etc do you think they may be in danger of rebelling and becoming more like the Paris’s of the world?

Dannielle Miller: We simply can’t keep our girls away from all this. I would never suggest locking girls in the tower. What we can do is give them the critical thinking skills that can help them unpack and make sense of all the messages that are presented to them. Research clearly shows that education and information will not encourage rebellion. I am not a prudish person and our programme certainly does not aim to shelter girls, rather it equips them to be savvy media navigators.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time, there were so many questions that could not be answered. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Dannielle Miller: I would like to thank all those who asked questions, debate and questioning is essential. I hope that the community interest and concern for this important issue is maintained. Love, light and laughter to you all … Danni

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Many thanks to the beautiful “enlightened” girls from St John Vianney’s Primary who were filmed with me. I love you all! 🙂 You are my little Amazons…



Imagine. Daydream…then follow through. See possibility, be bold, blossom.

This week I am inviting you to upload the PDF’s below and learn a little more about me and my heart’s work – Enlighten Education.

Who are we? What to do we do? Why does it matter?

I am very proud of both these articles. The first, “Creating Shiny Girls: moving beyond Bratz, Britney and Bacardi Breezers” was featured in the latest issue of the always excellent official journal of the Australian Council for Educational Leaders.


The second, “Close to the Heart” was a case study included in the 2008 annual issue of Ms Entrepreneur Magazine. I feel honored to be included in this high profile publication alongside some very creative and savvy women. Other women profiled in the lanuch issue include Carla Zampatti, Sarina Russo and this year’s Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year Leanne Preston.      




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