Blogger and author Jessie Minassian offers advice on how parents can help their teen daughters deal with five common "secret sins" that entrap many teenage girls. (Part 1 of 2)
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Girl #1: My parents would kill me if they knew I had a boyfriend, especially if they knew what we've been doing.
Girl #2: I can't stop it. I binge and then I flush it all down. No one can help me. I'm sick and … and alone.
Girl #3: When I cut myself, life doesn't hurt so much.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Obviously some deep, deep pain that young girls can experience. And what they're going through tragically, many parents don't even know about. Today we're going to look at "secret sins," things that teen girls can get caught up in and why they feel trapped. And we'll also offer God's help and hope for rescue. This is "Focus on the Family" with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and obviously some tough stuff today.
Jim Daly: John, it is tough stuff, but I feel like it's important to talk about it and so often, we're tryin' so hard as parents to do the right things, to create the right environment, to teach our kids the right things, the rules, the behavior that we want to see in them.
But so often underneath all of that are activities that we're unaware of and I think even in the Christian community and sometimes if your children are goin' to Christian school, maybe even home school or certainly in public school environments, they're gonna encounter things that can open them up to painful experiences.
And what we want to do today is to talk to our very special guest and what she experienced as a teen girl, what she's written about, how many girls she has helped through at-risk behavior. And don't turn away from this even if you don't have teen girls. I have two teen boys. I'm tryin' to prepare them to be good husbands someday and it's good for us dads of only boys to understand what's going on in a girl's heart. And so, stick with us. You are gonna be a better parent at the end of this.
John: And if it's not clear yet, we are gonna be tackling some pretty sensitive subject matter and so, if you've got younger children and maybe you're not prepared to talk with them about some of these issues, it's probably good to have them out of earshot.
And our guest today is Jesse Minassian and she's got a website called www.lifeloveandgod.comand she interacts with teen girls and young women about some of the struggles we heard about there a moment ago and how to apply Bible-based truth to their lives. And I think you're right, Jim, this is gonna be stuff that of girls and boys can benefit from.
Jim: Definitely. Jesse, let me welcome you back to Focus.
Jessie Minassian: It's so good to be here with you guys.
Jim: When you look at it, part of me, hearing that set up with those girls expressing that pain, those are the kinds of e-mails and letters that we receive here at Focus on the Family. And our counseling team helps these young ladies to struggle through. So, we know what you're talkin' about and right from the onset, I want to say to parents and those teen and maybe college girls that are listening, don't hesitate to call us. I mean, get ahold of us if you need us. Talk to your mom and dad. And mom and dad, if you need help, get ahold of us and I want to say that from the outset.
Before we go any further, describe your ministry and what you're doing and the hope that you bring and then we'll jump into the tough subject matter.
Jessie: Well, I do have a website, www.lifeloveandgod.com. I've had that for over a decade now. And it began as just a way for girls to ask questions about anything they wanted to. They could write in anonymously or they could share their names. And 90 percent of the questions are about boys, because you know—
Jim: (Chuckling) Yeah, right.
Jessie: --that's what we girls think about most of the time. But it was amazing, under that cloak of anonymity, how many girls started to open up about the struggles that they had, these secret sins. I saw this common denominator, five specifically, sins that more and more girls are struggling with.
Jim: What are they?
Jessie: The five sins that I see most often are sexual addiction, self-harm or cutting, substance abuse, same-sex relationships and eating disorders.
Jim: When you look at that and especially again, what I said a moment ago, in Christian community, in Christian homes, we tend to not assume that our teen girls or our 20-something girls will be involved in this because they know the right thing. Boy, that is not where you want to place your parenting skills today, is it?
Jessie: That's exactly right. I think most parents assume the best of their children, which sounds biblical, but in this case because we're assuming the best of our girls, we are completely missing how many girls are struggling with this. And candidly, you know, I haven't been able to do hard and fast research on the number of girls who come to www.lifeloveandgod, but I would say, well over 50 percent of Christian girls, girls in the church, who have been raised to know better, struggle with at least one of those five secret sins.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, that right there is profound. But it's not to scare anybody or to create a negative response. It's to actually engage because kids of all ages are good at showing the parents one side and then (Chuckling) living with a different side. And the more knowledgeable you are of that as a parent, the more effective your parenting is going to be, correct?
Jessie: That's so true and I shouldn't have been surprised at how many girls were struggling with it, because I was one of those girls.
Jessie: I was one of the girls who had everything going for me on the outside, but struggled on the inside.
Jim: Describe that environment. Take us back to you as a teenager, which wasn't that long ago (Laughing)--
Jessie: Well, thank you.
Jim: --and tell us what was going on in your life and when did things begin to alarm you?
Jessie: Yeah, well, I have to go back a pretty long time actually to when I was 7-years-old. I had an experience when I was just 7 and I have a 7-year-old daughter now and it's really, oh, it's gut wrenching to think now what goes on to these precious little ones.
But I had an experience when I was 7-years-old with a girlfriend of mine. I was having a slumber party at her house and she had a cartoonish birds and bees book that her parents had given her and used it in an inappropriate way and pressured me to act out or she wouldn't be my friend anymore. And that was what opened the door to other things that came on. A year later I was 8-years-old and bully of an 8-year-old pressured me to do things with her that were completely inappropriate, but I was so embarrassed and so ashamed that I wouldn't tell anybody, not even my mom, who was my very best friend.
Jim: So now that secret sin, as you described it, was taking root in your heart.
Jessie: That was taking root and it began a 13-year sexual addiction and again, by day I was an outgoing girl. I was active in youth group. I was ASAB president and captain of every sports team, but by night I was a shame-filled crippled mess. And I felt like it was something, if I told anyone, they would think I was gross, that I was disgusting, that I was irredeemable. And those were the lies that Satan just showered me with and I believed hook, line and sinker.
Jim: So, really you struggled through junior high and all of high school--
Jessie: Uh-hm and into college.
Jim: --with that. So often, you know, those that wouldn't maybe embrace a Christian perspective, a godly perspective, would say, well, that shame is artificial. You shouldn't have felt that way, because it's just a construct. Your religion was actually causing you that shame. How do you respond to that in terms of good and evil, sin and that? How did you process all of that?
Jessie: Well, I think as a young person, you don't really process it. You just feel, right? So, God has given us a conscience and that is a very good thing. I think there are certain things that we do though that we should feel ashamed about, right? I mean, (Laughing) there are.
Jim: We're goin' out of the way here.
Jessie: You have to shame, people.
Jim: Yeah, we're going out of the way today to not feel shame.
Jim: And that really is not—
Jessie: --at its core, God has given us a conscience and a working conscience is a good thing. But when Satan comes and tells you, not only have you done something wrong, but you are something wrong--
Jessie: --that is when shame becomes a cloak that you wear and it is so hard to break free of that.
Jim: Did you feel that spiraling down, that you know, because you were that 13-year-old girl, now that adolescent young lady who was experiencing becoming a woman, did that continue to pull you down? Did you feel dirty? You felt not whole?
Jim: How did it play into your self-worth?
Jessie: It absolutely did. I often say that shame is the spin cycle on an addiction of any kind, you know. It plays on itself and keeps you spinning around like a washing machine, where you commit a sin. You feel guilty. Then you feel like I'm so far gone or so far gross that I'm never gonna break free of this, so I might as well go on sinning.
Jessie: And so, you continue in this cycle and I absolutely felt that way and particularly with sexual addiction, but any of the secret sins, they tend to morph. If they're not dealt with initially, they just tend to change forms as you get older. If you don't deal with them as a young person, they follow you into your teen years. If you don't deal with them as a teenager, they follow you into your adult years.
So to answer your question, yes, I did feel dirty. I felt damaged and that followed me into then high school romantic relationships and into college relationships that became unhealthy very quickly.
Jim: You know, to give it some context, let me just look at some data that's a year old now and all this data is gonna be outdated the day you say it, so I'll just give it that caveat. But 2014 survey results show that the percentage of teens in high school that admitted to using drugs or alcohol during that year, that was 70 percent said that they had used alcohol; 35 percent marijuana and then the numbers go down from there with prescription drug use or illicit drug use, kind of in that four or five percent range.
That's that, and then you look at sexual sins, the secret sins that you talk about, 16 percent of teens by age 15 have had sexual intercourse; 33 percent by age 16; 48 percent by age 17 and it goes all the way up to 71 percent by age 19.
Now again, these numbers are gonna fluctuate, but it should for all of us as parents, alert and alarm us that these numbers are 71 percent by the age of 19. Now a lot of people will yawn and they'll say, "Well, it's the culture we're living in." That is not healthy. It's not what God intended for us and we're not uptight Conservative Christians. That's not what it's about. It's all the scars that come with it. In that context, how does God see our sin, these secret sins? How does He look at us? How did He look at you?
Jessie: That's the most beautiful thing and I wish that we could help more young people understand this, that our God sees our secret sin, these things that we feel are so gross and so irredeemable, the exact same way that He sees every other sin.
And this is so important to understand, too. He sees our 1,000th sin, when we've fallen into this addiction and pattern of sin, He sees that 1,000th sin the exact same way that He sees the first one. And if we can understand that, that all He asks is that we repent, that we turn to Him and that if we allow Him to heal those broken places of our heart, we can find freedom so much sooner.
Jim: In fact, when we talk about parents and their responsibility, your mom, you know, this is one of your family of origin issues. Your mom struggled, too. You didn't know that for a while though, right?
Jessie: I didn't. I didn't. My mom had me; she was not married. I have to say, she is the most beautiful, wonderful of women. I lost her to cancer eight years ago and I loved her dearly. We were very close, because it was just she and I for a number of years. I did not realize that she had struggled the way that she did until she passed away and I inherited her journals and I've kind of made my way through them and realized. You know, I knew obviously I had been born out of wedlock, so I knew that. But I didn't realize that she had, had these same desires to find love, to find connection, to be enough, that I struggled with.
Now I will say, I don't think she was hiding it from me, but it was not something that we talked about. And if we had, I think that I may have had the courage to tell her about what I was struggling with.
Jim: So, that connection point just never happened.
Jessie: No, it never happened and she trusted me. And because I was a very good actress and was able to portray to the world that I had it all together, she assumed that I was on the up and up.
Jim: Jessie, in fact in the book, you talked about what you learned watching your mom struggle with cancer. And then you applied it to the shame feelings and talk about how you connected those.
Jessie: As I was doing research about cancer when my mom was sick, one of the surprising facts to me is that cancer cells have exponentially more receptors for glucose than do healthy cells. So when we ingest food, those cancer cells steal the nutrition that is meant for the rest of the body. So, they grow, while our healthy cells begin to starve.
Jessie: And shame is that way. When we have excessive shame in our life, we can be reading the Bible. We can be doing to church. We can be listening to worship music, but that nourishment is being syphoned away by that unhealthy shame. And so, we starve to death. We begin to atrophy as believers.
Jim: Yeah. I mean, that's a powerful way to view that.
John: It is and I'm so appreciative of the candor that our guest is bringing to the program and the insights. Jessie Minassian on "Focus on the Family" today with Jim Daly. Her book is Unashamed: Overcoming the Sins No Girl Wants to Talk About. And a further subtitle might be, No Parent Wants to Talk About with Your Girl. We're trying to offer you some hope, though, awareness and then hope in having conversations and helping your daughters and you can find the book and a CD or a download of our program and our mobile app, as well, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Jesse, you offer an antidote to that shame and as you mentioned a moment ago before the break, we talked about shame, some shame being good for conviction of the soul. And then the excess of that shame being harmful, 'cause it leaves us in a bad cycle. But as you were reading Scripture, you found something in Psalm 34 that inspired you.
Jessie: Psalm 34 has become my favorite Psalm of all the Psalms. Verse 5 says that those who look to Him will be radiant with joy. No shadow of shame will darken their faces. That's what we want, right? We want faces that radiate His light, that are not darkened by shame. And the antidote is those who look to Him, and that Hebrew word, nabat is not just, you know, lookin' up at the sky, hopin' for a miracle. Hey, God, come take this away from me. It's a conscious decision to consider Him in every area of life.
And the rest of the Psalm goes on to explain it more fully, of the ways that we can look to Him, when we respect Him in our decisions, we praise Him continually. It's a relationship, a deepening relationship with God where He becomes the center focus, not our sin.
Jim: For you, was that a moment after you had gone through this fog, these secret sins as a teenager and a 20-something? How did that transpire? When did you lean into God, feel His forgiveness for that secret life and then move forward?
Jessie: There were several points in time through my teen years that I confessed and I received God's forgiveness and then I would fall right back down into that sin. And it was a cycle that continued for many years. But there was a point in time where I had just listened to a CD series about purity as a young adult. And I realized something had to change. If I did not get freedom in this area of my life, it was gonna follow me to my deathbed.
Jim: Right. (Laughter)
Jessie: I was convinced, it was not going away anytime soon.
Jim: And how old were you at that point?
Jessie: I was in my early 20's.
Jessie: And so, I told my husband. I was newly married. I said, "I have got to go take a night away. I holed up in a hotel room with a stack of paper, a pen and my Bible. And I fasted and I prayed and I wrote out my prayers late into the night. And I said, "God, I am not leaving until I find freedom from this sin." I hit a point of desperation.
Jessie: I finally realized just how much this sin was affecting me. I think I had assumed that once I got married, it would just go away and it didn't. And so, then the reality of it was staring me in the face.
Jim: Did it scare you?
Jessie: It did. It did scare me but I think I just realized I wanted more. You know, we talk about the abundant life in Christ. I wanted an abundant life. I wanted an abundant marriage.
Jim: And you weren't feeling it.
Jessie: I wasn't.
Jim: Jessie, let me ask you this. You know, there may be a 16-, 17-year-old young lady or a 22-year-old young lady who is right in that cycle. They're right there. They have confessed it over and over again and they fall back into that trap. What can they do after hearing this to begin that journey of Psalm 34, to lean into that and to change?
Jessie: The first step is recognizing what we mentioned earlier that God views your 100th, 1,000th, 20,000th sin the same as He does the first. Don't let the continuation of sin keep you from believing the truth that Jesus has already broken the doors off of your jail cell. You can choose freedom.
But the second step is to take a step of faith and to get help. If you are caught in a cy[cle], obviously this solo sin slayer thing is not workin' out for you, just like it wasn't working out for me. Find accountability. That's the first step.
Jim: That tapes a lot of courage.
Jessie: So much courage.
Jim: Because you will be found out. I mean, it's the fig leaf. It's Adam and Eve in the Garden. You're gonna take off the fig leaf of your soul.
Jim: What happened when you did that? What response did you get and who did you confess to?
Jessie: It was actually my husband and I received so much grace and so much love that you wonder, why did I not do this so long before? If you find a person who has your best interest in mind, more often than not, they will extend grace and love to you and want your best interest in helping you find freedom.
As parents, we have such a unique role to do this. You have your daughter, your son's best interest in mind. Don't let them wallow in shame. Don't let them stay on this sin cycle. Be willing to take the steps necessary to broach the subject, to gently coax them out of the dark place they find themselves in.
Jim: How would you go about doing that? 'Cause I would think that in the Christian community, particularly, and I know not everybody that listens to "Focus on the Family" believes in Christ. We hope that for those, someday they will and we're grateful that you're interested in hearing what we have to share.
But how would you as a Christian mom or dad have that conversation tonight? It's something you've never talked about and maybe your teen is 16-, 17-years-old. So tonight after dinner, "Honey, I want to talk to you." What do you say?"
Jessie: Uh-hm, well, I think this is a perfect opportunity. You say, "I heard this radio program today and I really didn't understand how many young people are struggling with these secret sins, X, Y and Z. Do any of your friends struggle? Is this something that your friends talk about? And I want you to know that I'm a safe place. If you ever feel the need or have a desire to share something that you're struggling with, you will not find judgment from me, but I will be your advocate and I will love you."
And even if they do not answer anything tonight when you have that conversation, it will plant a seed in their mind of knowing that they can come to you.
Jim: So, don't feel rejected if you start the conversation.
Jessie: And don't continue to prod. Parents—
Jessie: --I don't know what it is with parents. We get a degree in lecturing when we become parents. (Laughter)
John: It can be an effective tool.
Jessie: It's a lecture. (Laughter)
Jim: There you go. It's a real fine lecture.
John: You know, along those lines, Jessie, there are going to be some girls in particular, but boys, as well, engaged in some of these secret sins—the cutting, the substance abuse, sexual sins, same-sex relationships and even eating disorders—that don't realize that this is a sin. They're not at a point where they want help.
This is just the default mode for life. It's where I go and we had a daughter who as not in a good spot with food. And we had to help her awaken to the fact that she was engaging in some pretty dangerous stuff. How do we start that conversation?
Jessie: I think there are essentially three different places that a parent can find themselves in. The first one is when you suspect that something might be doing on with your teen. You may not be sure. This is a good time to ask questions, not in a leading or accusing way, but to genuinely open up the channels of communication.
Jim: Can I ask you there, 'cause it's so easy for a parent to go there, to go to that accusatory tone and I suspect some[thing]. And it's fear. The parent's full of fear. They think, oh, no, the worst possible thing has happened. How do you coach a parent to pull back from that pit?
Jessie: I will give you one line of advice. As long as you have a relationship, you have influence. And when it comes to these secret sins, they need that relationship piece. They need to know three things from you. One, that you do not love them any less; two, that you do not think that they are irredeemable; and three, that you are gonna be their advocate no matter what.
Jim: Yeah, that's good.
Jessie: Secondly, you may not even suspect that anything's going on. You may be assuming like so many parents do, that your children are absolutely fine, that they're not struggling with any of these things. And they may not even have friends who are struggling with any of these things. And if that is your situation, I can't encourage you enough to start building the foundation of openness in your home.
Jim: So, start the communication.
Jessie: Start the communication, not only about these topics, but I will tell you that teens can smell a judgmental person 5 million miles away. (Laughter) So, if you are talking about other kids, other teens in a way that does not show empathy or understanding, there is no way that they are gonna come to you and tell you that they are missing the mark.
Jim: Right, yeah and starting with the friend is good, because it's slightly off center. It's not directed at—
Jessie: Right, exactly. And the third situation a parent can find themselves in is when they discover that in fact, their child is caught up in one of these secret sins. And you need an entirely new set of tools for that situation.
Jim: Well, Jessie Minassian, author of the book, Unashamed, I so appreciate your vulnerability. If you are struggling, first and foremost, call us. Connect with us here at Focus on the Family. We have a counseling department. We have resources for you to be able to equip you as a parent to address these issues with your teen daughter and your teen son. And I don't think [there's] anything we haven't heard, John and you don't need to be embarrassed and you don't need to think you're a failure as a parent if your teen is in this situation. And most of all, I think Jessie's book, Unashamed is fabulous and it really, in a very forthright way, helps you as a parent to understand the culture your teens are living in and we want to make sure we can get this tool into your hands.
Jessie, there are so many more questions that I have. Can we come back next time and further equip parents to do the right thing when they are in this spot, where their teens might be experiencing these secret sins of cutting and drug abuse and eating disorders, sexual sins, whatever it might be, they're on a path to destructive behavior. I need to hear more from you. Can you come back?
Jessie: I can.
Jim: Let's do it.
John: I hope you can join us then. Meanwhile, our phone number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio to learn more.
Jim mentioned Jessie's book, Unashamed and while it was written for teen girls, it's a great resource for a parent and daughter to read and talk through together. And we've got a CD or audio download of our entire conversation. We'll include what we share next time with Jessie and it might be that you know of a family with a teen girl who could benefit from hearing this program.
And finally, we'd invite you to help us rescue more teenagers who, like Jesse, felt trapped by secret sins and dangerous behaviors that could take their life. Every year Focus on the Family hears from hundreds of thousands of parents who are working through some sort of crisis with their children. And thanks to your support, we're able to respond with all of the resources mentioned today. We're expecting, of course, more crisis calls and difficult e-mails from families in the days and weeks ahead. And we'd like to ask you to help us respond to the ongoing need. Donate generous today at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And we'll say thank you for your kind gift of any amount by sending a complimentary copy of Jesse's book, Unashamed.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, as Jesse Minassian returns to talk more about the challenges that many teen girls are facing.
Jesse Minassian: The unhealthy shame says not only have I done something wrong, but I am something wrong. There's a fundamental wrongness in my identity and I can't change and that's where we just jump on that spin cycle of sin, when shame just gets massaged so deep into our hearts that we can't think straight.
End of Excerpt
John: Jesse Minassian offers godly solutions for that sin and shame tomorrow, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Jessie MinassianView Bio
Jessie Minassian is a public speaker and the author of several books for teen girls including Unashamed, Crushed and Respect. She is the "resident big sis" at a Q&A website for teen girls called Life, Love and God. Jessie and her husband reside in California and have two daughters.