No one likes to feel like they’re being manipulated, including our kids. As much as we teach them to observe the Golden Rule and communicate with honesty, our kids will see right through our words if our actions don’t match up.
Manipulation can come in a variety of packages, and once we’ve grown accustomed to employing the different types of manipulation, we may not even realize what we’re doing. Parental manipulation can display itself as strong-arm bullying, passive-aggressive behavior, and emotional pull.
As parents, our kids know we have authority and power to punish them. While 1 Peter 2:14 refers to government officials, it’s a basic responsibility of all authorities to reward good and punish evil. Sometimes as parents, it can be tempting to wield our power for our own benefit.
When we threaten punishment — in the form of withholding privileges or doling out negative results — simply to avoid inconvenience or to ensure our preferences are being catered to, we’re teaching our kids that might makes right. We’re sending the message that even though they can’t get their own way now, as soon as they’re in a position to get others to bow to their whims, it’s okay to pursue selfish aims.
By contrast, we see that Christ exhibited servant leadership, even when He was tired or understandably frustrated by the constant needs of those around Him. Even on the cross, He could have called angels to deliver Him from His agony, but He remained.
While out-and-out bullying may not be your style, passive-aggressive behavior can be even more hurtful to those we love. Passive-aggressive behavior reveals itself through the snippy “no, it’s fine, just do what you want” retorts that accompany the ice cold shoulder and subtle slights throughout the day. This is a form of punishment that can hurt a child more than a grounding or other clear-cut consequence. These kinds of snide remarks that show our disapproval are far from loving.
In contrast with passive-aggressive behavior, intentional, clear communication and thoughtfully doled out consequences, when necessary, can certainly complement the disciple-making process that is parenting. Any kind of deceptive or manipulative alternatives are completely foreign to the kind of self-sacrificing love that God lavishes on us, as His children.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen parents of toddlers attempt this kind of thing: “If you don’t do [whatever I want], you’re going to make Mommy sad.” While toddlers generally lack the ability to empathize with others, teens certainly can. But the reasoning here is flawed — chiefly because it’s emotionally strung, as opposed to being logical or principle-based.
Perhaps doing what a parent wants will make the teen sad; that takes us back to the bullying idea, pitting the parent’s desires against those of the child. There is no room for this kind of tugging on heart strings when it comes to training up our kids. Sure, we hope they’ll someday care how we feel. But attempts at making them feel guilty for not honoring our every whim boils down to selfishness on the part of the parent, and it cheapens any principle-driven instruction that exists.