Author Jessie Minassian offers advice for parents seeking to help their teen daughters overcome an unhealthy obsession with romance and to find their identity in Jesus Christ rather than in relationships with boys. (Part 1 of 2)
Girl #1: We were dating two years, and my boyfriend just broke up with me. It feels like the end of the world. He was my best friend, and he broke up with a text. A text!
Girl #2: We broke up, like, two months ago, and I can’t get my life back together. He seems just fine, which is worse.
Girl #3: I - I know God is helping me get through the pain, but it hurts so much. I can’t stop crying. I keep hoping the pain will go away, but my heart is ripping apart.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: That’s some very real emotion, and some teenage girls’ expressions of the pain they’ve experienced in broken relationships. And it’s a tender matter for so many young girls and their parents, and they’re wondering, “How do we deal with this?” We’re going to be exploring that matter today on Focus on the Family with Focus President and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, you know, we’ve got three beautiful daughters and we’ve had to navigate some of those difficulties and it can be a tough thing.
Jim Daly: Well, and it’s important for us to hear from you today, John, as a father and what you’ve experienced and what you think you’re gonna experience. And we wanna talk about the world that they live in today. So often, we’re busy as parents. You know, we’ve got our vocation. We have other things that are going on. We think things are going well at home. We’re sittin’ down, maybe even havin’ dinner regularly together, but you may not really know your teenager. I think today as we talk about the environment that they’re in and what they experience emotionally, as well as intellectually, I think parents’ eyes are gonna be opened up and hopefully, what it will do is create conversation between you and your teen and that’s our goal.
John: Well, Jessie Minassian is here with us to help us better understand this. She writes and speaks to primarily teen girls about these topics and hosts a website and blog called, “Life, Love and God,” and she’s written a book that will kinda form the foundation for this conversation. It’s called,, and the subtitle is, “Why Guys Don’t Have to Make or Break You.”
Jim: Jessie, let me welcome you to Focus on the Family.
Jessie Minassian: Thank you. It’s such an honor to be here.
Jim: Man, why do you write in this space? What grabs your heart about teen girls and tween girls? I mean, what are the ages that you’re really speaking to?
Jessie: “Life, Love and God” is a website for teens and has become for college-age girls. And so many girls, I think women of all ages relate to these issues of relationship and identity and being desirable and beautiful. There are things that God has sort of hard-wired into us and so there are things that I struggled with as a young girl and then a tween and a teen, but I think women of all ages can identify with that longing to be loved and to feel loved.
And what drives me - the - just the sound bites of those girls at the beginning, those are real confessions of girls who have come to the website who are feeling like their lives are falling apart because of a relationship gone wrong and that - it breaks my heart to hear just the spiral that they found themselves in.
Jim: Let me ask you this. Why is this age particularly, and again I’m not getting that experience, John. You gotta jump in here and help me big time today, because I don’t have daughters. But why are girls particularly so susceptible to that kind of peer pressure and the boy thing. What’s happening hormonally? What’s happening emotionally for them at the 14-, 15-, 16-year-old stage?
Jessie: Well, I think just naturally speaking, as we enter puberty and hormones start pumpin’ and we start - there’s sort of this awakening of love in our hearts and this desire for romance, which is the way God made us, right, as human beings. There’s sort of a coming of age, for guys and for girls, when we start noticing the opposite sex. And those hormones are sort of a crazy cocktail in a girl’s body especially, because we are more emotionally driven in general. And so as we’re having that awakening and these desires to be desirable, to be desired by a member of the opposite sex, it’ll cause us to crave a guy’s attention more and it sort of spirals from there when we’re not getting the attention that we feel validates us as girls.
Jim: And the difficulty in that is with that blossoming and awareness, you can become very vulnerable to kind of the harsh realities of how boys often will treat girls at that age. It’s not - some of ‘em aren’t even that interested yet. They’re more interested in sports and other things and their feelings can be really crushed, can’t they?
Jessie: They absolutely can. I think it goes back to the Garden, when God created Adam and Eve, you know, He created us with some pretty obvious physical differences, you know, that we learned about in sex-ed class as a kid, but there’s so many more intricacies in our differences from just the more angular features of a guy to the softer curves of a woman and emotionally. God designed us to fit like two pieces of a puzzle. We go together like dark chocolate and coconut, like tall boots and skinny jeans. Like we just fit when we do it right. And because of sin, because of the Fall, we as girls have this over-compensation, this over-desire for relationship and for romance. We have - we’re grasping for it and I think you’re absolutely right. At this age in the teen years and even into the college years, girls find themselves grasping for that relationship to find their identity and their worth in that. And guys sometimes, I don’t want to oversimplify it, because I think many young men are emotionally involved...
Jessie: ...in these relationships, but I think it’s a little bit easier for them to walk away and to keep on living, whereas girls tend to mull on it and - and it can really wreak havoc on their entire lives.
Jim: Well, in fact, when we have marriage experts on, they talk about the guys’ ability to compartmentalize. It’s - you know, we don’t use as much of our brain as a woman does. I mean, we don’t fire as often within the two spheres of our brains. That’s genetically and physiologically accurate. And we can compartmentalize. We can walk away. Women tend to stew on it and fire on it for a lot longer and that often is what causes it. A term you use in your book that I thought was really funny was “crushaholic.” You’ve confessed to be a...
Jim: ...”crushaholic.” What is that?
Jessie: I am. I - you’ll find I tend to make up words, because...
Jim: That’s a good one.
Jessie: Yeah, it’s fun, but a “crushaholic” is someone who can’t go for more than few days or weeks or maybe months without having a “like” in her life. And this was exactly me. It started when I was in second grade. I remember him clearly.
John: Oh, my.
Jessie: His name was Carlos.
Jessie: All I remember is that he was really good at tetherball and he liked to keep his dark hair high and tight.
Jessie: And I don’t think he spoke English, looking back on it, but I was smitten. He had dimples and I remember being sad when he wouldn’t come to school. I remember he broke his arm and I wanted to sign his cast, so I was kinda glad that he broke his arm which is really twisted. And that started a cycle for me where I constantly had to have a “like” in my life. Something would happen and I would realize, “Oh, he’s not so great or he wasn’t interested in me,” and I’d be like, “Okay, I’m good.” And then two weeks later I would see someone else who caught my attention and my heart would fixate on that person. And by the time I got to high school and we’re talkin’ double-digit crushes, it was not pretty.
John: Jessie, as you reflect back on your own growing up, have crushes continued in the same kind of way in today’s culture? Is that whole mentality of wanting to be in a relationship or being attracted to boys, is that different today than it was 10 or 20 years ago?
Jessie: I think it’s very much the same. I think the desires are the same. The girls are asking the same questions on “Life, Love and God” that they’ve been asking for the past 10 years, 15 years. Same questions I wrestled with in countless journals that I still have in a dusty box. But I think one of the differences is in this media culture that we live in, where it’s easier to crush from a distance and to have your hopes rise and fall on a text message, to wait by your phone, just wait. “Is he gonna like my Instagram post? Is he gonna follow me on Facebook?” And having this emotional turmoil over that social media aspect. Whereas, you know, before it was almost strictly, you know, “Can I sit by him at lunch? Can I somehow manipulate the situation so that he has to see me as I go to class?”
John: Well, you know, that happened just not too long ago for us. We had a daughter who really liked this guy. She had kind of a crush on him, and she kinda threw the ball at him on Facebook and said, you know, “Like to get together sometime?” and waited and just kept checking Facebook...
John: ...on her phone and waited. And I don’t think he ever responded and I think there was this sense of, “Oh, I guess I don’t measure up,” or “I guess I misread that.” And you’re right, there’s - that social sphere really changes the dynamic because you’re not face to face. You’re not spending time with that person. You’re...
Jim: Well, and it can cause you...
John: ...from a distance.
Jim: ...to withdraw.
Jim: You know, you don’t do that again when it might be a good thing to do again. Talk about that though, about that emotional tenderness that ends up becoming calloused because of rejection.
Jessie: Oh, I’ve counseled so many girls where they have their hearts broken big time, either by a relationship that went wrong or by a lack of relationship for someone that they really cared for who never even knew that they existed. And I think over time words that I hear often are, “I’m afraid to open up to anyone again. I’m just afraid of getting hurt. It’s not worth going there,” and that’s a hard thing to walk through.
Jessie: As human beings I think we all experience this, when we feel rejected, it’s really hard to open up again and it’s only by God’s grace that we can and walk forward.
Jim: In fact, you kinda link it to idolatry, that this can form into an idolatrous kind of thing. Talk about the linkage there.
Jessie: Well, I would define an idol as anything that takes God’s rightful place in our hearts. And by that definition, we let all sorts of things become idols in our lives from, you know, a car to a relationship to a goal. But in this sort of tender years of the teen and college-age years, it is so easy to make guys or a relationship into an idol. And the thing about idols, I spent quite a bit of time overseas in high school and college and I remember thinking it was so bizarre that they would have these shrines to these gods, that the trees and the sky and you know, the family idols in Cuba and as I thought about it, the thing that they were hoping is that these idols would do something for them that they couldn’t do for themselves.
Jessie: And I think that’s exactly what we do as girls. We’re hoping that this guy is gonna do something for us that we can’t do for ourselves and that only God can truly do. We’re thinking that he is gonna prove that we are beautiful and that we are worth it and he can’t do that. Only God can do that. We think that he is going to end our single status for good and he can’t do that. Every romantic relationship on this earth eventually will end. We think that he’s going to make us truly happy and if that’s where we’re placing our hope, it’s not gonna work and we’re gonna end up disillusioned and alone. And so, I think as girls, we create guys to be these idols and we place all of our hope and our attention and our affection and spend so much time and energy on that relationship. And so when it does end or if it never materializes, we’re left with nothing, with just ashes in our hands.
Jim: That is really good. I mean, what you’re saying there is an awakening I’m sure, for many parents, to go, “Ah-ha, okay.” Now I’ve gotta ask you, talk to the mom of the 14-, 15-year-old that’s gone through something hard like that. They’ve been rejected. You come home. Perhaps she’s in tears and what are you gonna say to her when you go into her bedroom and you find out what’s happened? What can a mom or a dad say in that regard to help that teenager manage something that is just part of life and that they’re gonna get through it? And you know, you might even as a dad, I can see so many dads kinda snicker a little and say, “Okay, this is just what happens,” but the girl is feeling this profoundly and deeply. It’s not humorous to her.
Jessie: That is exactly right. And I would say the first thing to say is absolutely nothing at all. You put your arms around her and you hold her and you let her cry. That is the first thing that you do. Dads, I know, this is really hard because you want to fix it and you want to find out who broke her heart and you want to just go take care of it, but you cannot. You just hold her and then you absolutely do not minimize her feelings. If this is the worst thing that has ever happened to her in her life, this is the worst thing that has ever happened to her in her life and we have to have that perspective as parents, that this is truly painful for them, not to minimize it, not to trivialize it, not to say, “Oh, the sun’ll come out tomorrow,” you know and just might make light of it, not to tease about it. And then just to begin rebuilding that foundation for them.
Jim: I like that. I like that in terms of particularly from a dad, to show your love, because that will demonstrate to her what is genuine...
Jim: ...and what is real in a man.
Jim: And that will help her later on.
Jessie: And in that moment, she’s probably not gonna want to hear a lecture...
Jessie: ...about how she needs to guard her heart and how, you know, “Oh, there’s many fish in the sea” or any of that. But over time, as she begins to heal, you know, just to write her a letter. Write her a letter letting her know how special and beautiful and valuable she is and with some verses about turning to God with our pain or you know, whatever it is. Or bringing other resources into her life that can speak into the pain that she’s feeling.
John: So it’s pretty natural then, Jessie, for a period of grieving to happen and then maybe to start speaking into her life?
Jessie: Absolutely, and I encourage girls to do that. I encourage them first to cling to God. That has to be the first step and we’re not talkin’ just lookin’ up to the sky, hoping for a miracle. We’re talking like full-body wrap around daddy, like just hold them tight and then to mourn the loss, like just to allow ourselves to hurt.
Jessie: A friend of mind described pain to me as a wave in the ocean. I grew up in California, so this makes perfect sense to me. When a wave is coming and you’re out swimming in the ocean, if you try to swim over the top of the wave, you’re gonna get slapped in the face with a bunch of salt water and...
Jim: Been there done that!
Jessie: ...it doesn’t feel any good, right?
Jessie: But if you want to get through that wave, you duck dive. You take a deep breath and you go straight through the middle of it and you feel the water surge past you and you emerge safely on the other side. And I think pain is like that, especially relationship pain. If you try to just kinda muscle your way over the top and ignore it and pretend like it’s not there, you’re gonna get slapped in the face with emotion somewhere at some point down the road. But if instead we just take a deep breath and say, “All right, God. You with me?” And we dive right into the middle of it and we make it through to the other side safely.
John: Well, that’s some good perspective for parents and for young ladies who are experiencing that broken heart. We’re talking today on Focus on the Family with Jessie Minassian and the book that she’s written that addresses this topic of romantic relationships and attractions is called,. And we’ve got details about that and a CD or download of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: Jessie, in your book, you use an illustration that caught my attention. It’s about “dirty grapes.”
Jessie: I was afraid you were gonna make me...
Jessie: ...tell that story!
Jim: You gotta tell that story, ‘cause I think it’s powerful.
Jessie: It is; it’s also one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever done in my life. So my husband and I, we love the outdoors. We love to hike and a few years ago, we went to this amazing place called Havasu Falls in Arizona.
Jim: Yeah, I’ve been there.
Jessie: It’s beautiful. If you’ve never seen pictures, it’s like Maui crossed with the Grand Canyon. It’s just gorgeous, red rocks, the turquoise water flowing down into these pools below. The only catch is, you can’t get there by train or bus or plane. You gotta hike. You gotta walk in on your own two feet, which isn’t so bad on the way down, ‘cause...
Jessie: ...it’s 10 miles downhill through this canyon. And you get to the bottom and we just had a great time, but then it was time to go back. And so now we’re talking 10 miles uphill with a 2,400-foot elevation gain and there I am with my pack and I start to get thirsty, like really thirsty. And I’m sure if any of you have gone hiking before, you understand sometimes you just get really parched, even though you have water, even though you’re trying to stay hydrated. So we’re walking along this trail and because there’s a little village called Havasu down in the bottom of this canyon, they have a mule train, a train of donkeys that takes supplies from the top of the canyon down to the bottom and it brings mail and important things like soda and toilet paper, you know, whatever they need down there.
Jim: The real important things...
Jessie: The real important things...
Jim: ...soda and toilet paper.
Jessie: ...that’s exactly what they carry! So a mule train must have gone down just a little time before we were hiking out and they must have been carrying fruit, because on the trail in front of me I saw a single green dusty grape. And at first I thought it was kinda funny to smoosh ‘em with my boot. I’d kinda dig my heel in there as I was walking along, kinda keeping step. But every few feet there would be another grape on the ground. And after a while, these grapes started getting’ all up in my head.
Jessie: I’m like, “I’m really thirsty,” and fruit is like my favorite thing ever. And so, after a little while, I picked up one of these grapes and I kinda swoosh my water over it - my clean water...
Jessie: ...and swish it over this dirty grape and pop it into my mouth. And it was surprisingly refreshing in sort of a weird way. It kinda had that tangy sweetness and so, a few feet down the trail, I saw another one and so, I picked it up, rinsed it off, popped it in my mouth, kinda chewed through some of that grit. And I did that for probably a good two miles down the trail and my husband is laughing hysterically at me. And it’s crazy to even think about it now and embarrassing to share that I did this, because now that I’m not thirsty, it sounds ridiculous that I would ever consider eating dirty grapes off of a trail, but in that moment, my desperation caused me to do the irrational.
And there’s a verse in Proverbs that I just love. It’s Proverbs 27:7. It says, “A person who is full refuses honey, but even bitter food tastes sweet to the hungry.” And I think that’s such a perfect illustration for girls like me in our relationships. When we let God make us, then we’re free to refuse even a good relationship. But when we’re desperate for love and for attention, even destructive relationships look tempting and that’s why I encourage girls to allow God to make them, because when He’s made us, we’re not tempted to chase after all these cravings for love and attention and relationships.
Jim: Jessie, it could be so hard. I like that story, by the way. I can relate to that.
Jim: But it can be so hard to be aware of what you are now aware of. I mean, you’re a young mom. I mean, you’re not that old, so it wasn’t that long ago that you were having these experiences. But for that 15-year-old today that, you know, there is a certain emotional maturity that comes with weathering these kinds of rejections or when your heart is let down the way it is let down in a relationship. Talk again about that advice for that young lady, to really grab God. How does she put that all together and get ahold of God, when she’s feeling so inadequate?
Jessie: Oh, that’s a great question. I think there is an element, you know, each one of us has our story of our adolescence where we kinda fumbled through.
Jessie: Some things we had to learn the hard way, but I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important for girls to have a vision of what they want their love life to look like and their life to look like. And I encourage girls to look around them and see who’s doing this well? Who has a godly relationship - a parent or a friend or a relationship in the church - that they can look to and sort of emulate and see, “What are they doing well? How can I order my life now? What decisions can I make today that will get me one step closer to that reality?” And my hope is that they will grab hold of godly mentors in their lives, who can walk along with them and who can point out, “Hey, you know, I see that you’re gettin’ kind of obsessed with that cute guy in the youth group. How can we make sure that our grounding is in the Lord?”
Jim: And I mean, it’s so critical for that to take place and I think for boys and girls, it takes place over time. For some people, they might be a bit wiser than others and so, you might stumble along for two or three years and you get into college and you begin to mature in that way. For others, it may be in their late 20s and maybe 30s before they’re really bringing this together. I’m sure a lot of moms and dads are going, “Yeah, that’s our daughter,” or “That’s our son.” And I would think the compulsion for a parent is, “How do I accelerate that maturing process?” ‘Cause you’re seeing it lag in your child. Any thoughts on that? How do you help mature an emotionally less mature teenager?
Jessie: Well, I think the temptation as parents is to try to play Holy Spirit in our kids’ lives. I mean, we want - we do, we want them to get it now. I want my 8-year-old to get it now and I lecture her all the time and I’m like, “Uh! I cannot play the Holy Spirit in her life.” I think we have to take a deep breath and realize that we can give them all the ingredients for a healthy God-honoring life, but they have to choose it on their own. And creating an atmosphere of faith and healthy relationships in the home, I cannot overemphasize that. That is so important, but actually forcing them to mature is nigh impossible. We can’t do it and so just walking alongside them, loving them despite their mistakes and praying for them...
Jessie: ...being on our knees that the Holy Spirit would work in their lives.
Jim: In fact, in your book,, you talk about a Chameleon’s Law and that caught my attention. Nobody wants to be a chameleon. It sounds, you know, especially for Christians, we’re going, “You gotta be who you are.” What did you mean by a Chameleon’s Law?
Jessie: Well, I told you I like to make things up, so I made up Chameleon’s Law to describe this tendency that we have as girls. You know, I think guys do to a certain degree, as well, but girls we are masters at this. And Chameleon’s Law states, “A girl not grounded in her own identity will adapt to become like the people around her.” I saw this play out in my own life. I was Exhibit A for Chameleon’s Law. If I was into a guy who was a snowboarder, I was out buying a snowboard and ski pants. If he was a metro guy, I was trading in my flip flops and sweatpants for more sophisticated clothes. And if he was into camping, I found myself sleeping on the dirt floor in the middle of a desert, while coyotes peed in my shoes.
Jessie: True story. I became whatever I thought he wanted in a girl and that’s the danger of Chameleon’s Law. The dark side of it is that if he was into drinking, I was out partying on the weekends. If he was into ditching class to go surfing, I was tagging along with him. And so, that’s why I encourage girls to find out who they are before they get into a serious relationship. And in the book I have a few pages called “The Me Quiz,” where girls can just journal and write about who they are, what their likes are, what they’re into, what are they afraid of? Where do they hope they’ll be in 50 years? because that minimizes the temptation to leave their identity behind to take on the identity of the guy that they’re crushing on.
Jim: And that “Me Quiz,” it’s in the book, you said?
Jessie: It is.
Jim: I mean, that’s a good thing for people to take.
John: It sounds like it’d be a helpful tool for me to walk through with - with my girls.
Jim: Well, we have covered some territory today. Let me try to recap it. We talked early about sin causes a God-given desire to be desired to turn into obsession. You called that “the crushaholic,” where you’re constantly as a young lady, looking for that affirmation from boys and from young men. And that can be dangerous if you don’t have the right boundaries in place.
You said that girls believe guys will somehow complete them in ways only God can, so that talks to the journey - and I’m talkin’ to the parents, too - for you to lay the boundaries out. Lay the highway of that spiritual journey out for your young daughter, so she knows what direction to go and then that makes the conversations a little easier to talk about the off ramps they might encounter along the way, that teen obsession over romantic relationships. I mean, our culture, it’s unfortunate, we are saturated, Jessie, with that romantic obsession.
Jim: I mean, I go out to the grocery store with my boys. I’m lookin’ at the magazines at the checkout counter. I’m going, “Don’t look at that. Don’t look at that. Here’s why we don’t want to look at that as Christian young men.” I mean, it is all over the place and parents, it’s almost withering. So you have to equip your kids with the tools to manage the information, not - it’s unrealistic to think they’re not gonna encounter it, so you gotta equip them and I so appreciate that. I do want to come back though next time and talk more about equipping your teen girl and your college-age young lady with the right tools and speak to those issues. Can we do that?
Jessie: I would love that.
Jim: All right.
John: We’re really looking forward to part 2 of this great conversation with Jessie Minassian, and she’ll be sharing some practical ways for young women to guard their purity while dating.
Jim: I so appreciate Jessie’s passion for helping teen girls. I think you heard that come through loud and clear. If you’ve been thinking about a young woman in your life who needs to hear Jessie’s message, I wanna recommend you get a copy of this book,. It’s a great resource to read together with your daughter or your granddaughter. Or it’s a great read for you if you need some insight into what your teen or college-age daughter is thinking about and feeling at this time in her life. That’s why I wanna make this book available to you. If you can become a monthly supporter today, or even just give us a one-time gift of any amount, I will make sure you get a copy of Jessie’s book.
I also wanna make sure you know about Brio, which is Focus on the Family’s magazine for tween and teen girls. Jessie is a regular contributor to that magazine. And with this month’s issue, our staff at Brio is kicking off a new redesign for the whole magazine, and I’m really excited about it. I see the galley right in front of me. The April issue has articles about how to develop genuine friendships, tips to help young women interact with guys, and a Bible reading plan in Psalms and Proverbs. There’s also a prayer journal right inside the magazine for them to keep their thoughts and ideas. Brio is a unique resource that your daughter or granddaughter is going to love.
John: I’ll agree, Jim. And you can donate, subscribe to Brio, and get Jessie’s book by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459. Or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Join us next time when Jessie Minassian is back, giving you practical ways you can teach your daughter about the value of sexual purity.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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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.