There is something poignant in the title of The Butterfly Effect – a book that gently prises open the cocoon surrounding teenage girls; those delicate creatures caught half-way between a lengthy and often difficult metamorphosis into womanhood.
Like butterflies, teenage girls are in the process of blossoming into a life of full-blown potential, but the metaphorical cocoon of teen life that encapsulates our girls can both nurture and smother this process – a balance parents (or more specifically, mothers) all over the world struggle with.
The author of The Butterfly Effect, Dannielle Miller (pictured), also refers to the book’s title in terms of its basis in the chaos theory of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Essentially, it reflects the idea that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in an African jungle can ultimately harness and expound the energy required to conjure a tsunami in the South Pacific. Philosophically, this implies the smallest elements in a young girl’s life have the capacity to shape her entire future.
Or, as the author states, the smallest changes can make the largest impact.
This concept is perhaps nothing new to most parents, but what is new is the approach Miller takes in The Butterfly Effect – an approach as raw as the emotional and mental whirlwinds ravaging our teenage girls. Her approach is real. It’s direct. And it’s an approach not many parents have had the fortune to access. This approach opens the door on your daughters and exposes their hearts, minds and souls – unplugged and uncut.
For all parents intent on raising confident and happy teenage girls, this approach is surely priceless. Not only does Miller take us on a journey inside the intricate workings of our beautiful girls, she does it with a passion and commitment that is breathtaking, without patronising nor professing to know it all.
Indeed, as a mother of a tween girl herself, Miller does not pretend to be the perfect parent. What she does do is recognise the need young girls have to speak and open their hearts in a forum that allows openness and honesty – without the emotional connection or expectation a parental setting implies.
As CEO of Enlighten Education, which provides programmes designed for 12 – 18 year old girls, Miller understands the mixed messages undermining the self-esteem and confidence of young girls today. Miller and her business partner Francesca Kaoutal produced their programmes to encourage teen girls to reach their own conclusions and to know their own minds. Their focus is on informing, inspiring and empowering teens to become critical thinkers and to find their own voice and power.
“My background is in education. I was a high school teacher involved in various welfare roles for over 15 years. In my role with Enlighten Education, I have had the opportunity to work with literally thousands of teenage girls across Australia,” says the author, who works annually with over 4,000 teenage girls in New South Wales alone, and has drawn on this work to write The Butterfly Effect.
After giving birth to her daughter Teyah, now 10, Miller found the issues she had been working on for so long suddenly became very personal, which is what prompted her desire to write this groundbreaking book.
“How could I ensure [Teyah] grew up knowing she was more than just her looks?” says the author. “I didn’t want her to feel pressured to be everything – thin, popular, hot – but rather to know she could be anything.”
As it stands, many teen girls are far from the confidence and sense of purpose it takes to reach for the stars. Caught in a relentless, media-hyped world of perceived ‘perfection’, it’s no wonder 25 per cent of teen girls surveyed in Australia would have plastic surgery if they could. And almost seven out of ten 15-year-old girls are on some kind of diet, with eight per cent of them dieting excessively.
Think that’s some awful stats? Let’s get really serious. Seven out of ten teen girls indulge in binge drinking, twice the number of girls than boys use drugs and as many as one in ten self-harm. Teen pregnancy is on the increase and as many as 28 per cent of teen girls currently have chlamydia. Although male teen suicide remains higher for boys, there is evidence to suggest that female teens attempt suicide and self-harm at a higher rate than boys.
“We cannot bury our heads in the sand on these issues,” says Miller, “Teen girls are very good at masking their inner turmoil. It is vital that we look closely at what is really happening in their worlds so that we can step up. Our girls are trying to cope with increasingly complex, adult issues yet they only have childlike strategies to fall back on.”
Miller says the pressure on our girls has changed in the past 25 years, and that girls have become far more vulnerable and sensitive to external pressure. Self-image has also changed drastically, setting highly unrealistic expectations.
“Images today are all plastic fantastic – airbrushed and unobtainable. Similarly the definition of beauty is getting thinner than ever. I was most amused when I showed teen girls footage of women I had aspired to be like as a teen – ABBA. In this film clip, they were wearing white lycra and singing Waterloo – I thought they looked like angels. Girls today laugh and say ‘As if you’d wear lycra with thighs like that!’.”
As expectations have changed amongst teens over the years, so has the way parents need to relate to their teen girls. Although Miller doesn’t profess to be the ‘parenting police’, after many years of talking with parents, teachers, doctors and other professionals, she has noticed some common threads emerging in relation to where parents are going ‘wrong’ with their girls.
“Girls do need boundaries,” says Miller, “We must not get sucked into the popularity contest that is played out around them and try to be their new BFF ( Best Friend Forever). Secondly, we need to reconnect with girls. They (like us) are works in progress.”
For those parents wanting to discover ways to make this reconnection happen, The Butterfly Effect is a solid start. Miller’s voice in the book is warm, approachable, yet forthright. She is happy to voice her own opinion without a trace of judgment or blame, and is clearly invested in offering her reader clear and concise information that is also open to interpretive subjectivity.
The book is laid out in succinct subchapters with tempting headers and chapters are suffixed with an Action Plan offering real and timely ‘advice’ on ways for both teens and parents to implement the book’s teachings.
But more than the strong scaffolding of this book is the enriching content. Miller has involved her heart and mind deeply in the lives of her teens – all who ‘speak’ within the pages of the book. From body issues to substance abuse, peer pressure to self-harm, schooling, career and cyberbullying, the content is not only current, it’s cleverly sensitive to the pop culture that rides a hip hop wave well over many a parent’s head – with relevant discourse on such culture trends as music videos, facebook, magazines, even toys.
Miller believes if mothers pick up the strategies presented in her book, a more positive, connected relationship with teen girls is much more likely.
“It will help Mums find peace too, as so often the very issues that are troubling our daughters are the same ones we are struggling with too – body image, drinking, toxic friendships. It is my hope that mothers and daughters will build connections rather than buying into the clichéd notion that they just will not get along during this teen rite of passage.”
It’s clear Miller’s direct commitment to teens is her life’s work, but teens themselves are not her only focus. The author also speaks clearly to mothers about making a deeper connection with their daughters – and how this is absolutely possible.
An irony I found interesting in this book is that although teen girls are so fraught and caught inside the weblike notion of perfection, virtually all of them admit they don’t need perfect parents nor faultless parenting skills. What they have asked for is incredibly simple. More time. More empathy. More love.
At a time when many mothers are grappling to prep their daughters to enter a harsh and often unrealistic ‘real world’, it’s interesting the needs of our girls are so simple. So easy to accommodate. Such a small thing for such a potentially huge reward.
The Butterfly Effect is fluttering its wings. What effect will it have on the vast potential of your teen girl?
For more on Dannielle’s important work with teen girls, see www.enlighteneducation.com