Why we should be careful not to manipulate our children

Manipulation is a subtle trap that will lead you and your children away from the grace of God and the gospel. Jesus delivers a subtle warning in the Sermon on the Mount about the danger of manipulation. Look at Luke 6:32-33:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that…”

Manipulation is doing good to get something good.

If your parental discipline is primarily designed to make things at home go more smoothly, you are doing good to get good. The rich young man in Matthew 19 had outwardly kept the commandments because he saw the value of being good. Most likely, his parents were quite pleased with him. But when he was asked to do something he did not think was good for him, he walked away from the door of heaven.

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If your children obey you primarily because it makes their lives better they have missed the point of obedience. This young man in Matthew was greatly blessed by following the instruction of his parents. But in the end he was only doing good to get good. Don’t play the manipulation game with your children.

Yes, your children’s lives will be better if they do what is right. But if a better life is all that is achieved, then your children could make the same disastrous choice as the rich young man. Yes, a reasonably quiet, orderly home can be a great thing. But if this is the main benefit of obedience, even those who hate God live for that.

Following God is often challenging. Teaching biblical obedience is often time-consuming. Following God means caring more for a sibling’s happiness, than for one’s own immediate pleasure. Teaching only the temporal benefits of obedience is manipulation: you do what is good for me and I will do what is good for you.

Is it wrong to offer rewards for doing what is right? Of course not. But beware of the danger of seeking only the immediate reward. Manipulation produces a heart that turns away from Christ, because there is much to lose. Obeying in the Lord produces a heart that cares first for God and follows the sacrificial model of Jesus.

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This post originally appeared on Shepherd Press and was republished with permission.


Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, and he is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is a ruling elder at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.


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