Manipulation or Instruction

Posted on February 17, 2015 · Posted in Parenting, Shaping Influences


Life is busy. It is tempting to think it doesn’t matter how we get our children to obey as long as they obey. This thinking may well achieve its purpose today, but create serious problems in the years ahead.

Specifically I am talking about the distinction between instruction and manipulation. In it’s truest sense instruction means to teach children about God and his ways so that they are challenged to long for a deepening relationship with God. (see Deuteronomy 6:5-7 & Ephesians 6:4)

Manipulation cares not for establishing a relationship with God. Manipulation is for rescuing yourself from a crisis of the moment.

To illustrate:

The pressure is on. It seems as though there are 17 appointments, 6 music lessons, and 4 sports practices all scheduled for the same afternoon. Then, as mom heads out for the first appointment, she remembers that the new family at church is coming for dinner. Dad just called to say he is hung up at work and can’t make the pick up at the sports practice.  The kids are wired.  Mom says something like this:

“I have a lot to do before dinner. I really need your help. If you guys are really good and don’t slow us down, then I will buy your favorite ice cream for dessert. So will you all promise me you will be really good today, please!” The kids roar their approval as they begin to debate what is their favorite ice cream.

This is an example of manipulation. In the short term this strategy appears to work. The kids were marginally better than usual. All the scheduling worked out and the new family was pleased with dinner. All’s well that ends well.

But, not really. The delight in helping the day go well so that God would be honored was lost in the desire for ice cream. There is nothing wrong with having ice cream, the problem comes when God is excluded.
Things went well this day, but where was the training that one day the kids would be faced with the difficult choice of choosing the affirmation of their friends over against doing what will bring honor to God. Manipulation may make pleasing friends more attractive than pleasing God.

Notice how carefully Ephesians 6:4 is worded:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

There is a clear and chilling implication in this verse. If you leave out the conscious acknowledgement of God and his power as you train your children you will provoke them to anger. Your children must understand it is the Lord’s instruction that you are bringing to them. Failure to make his words and his honor the basis your daily training will provoke your children to anger. It is the difference between manipulation and instruction.

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Jay Younts
Jay Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is the author of Everyday Talk and other materials on parenting. He has been teaching and speaking on parenting issues for 30 years. Jay and his wife, Ruth, live in Fountain Inn, South Carolina. He serves as a ruling elder at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and Ruth have five adult children.