I have a very talented young student who for two years, aided by her supportive parents, followed my instructions to the letter and prospered as a result. This year, she has advanced to a stage where she no longer wants to follow instructions: she wants to challenge them. Nothing is free and nearly every interaction (aside from stuff that is just pure fun) is a negotiation or motivation puzzle. I've had plenty of practice with my own boys, so it feels like familiar ground as I ignore the blows to my ego and attempt to reach her by appealing to her natural curiosity, or through logic, or humor. Other times I have to drive a hard bargain and threaten to inflict an "even worse" assignment if she doesn't stop making mountains out of molehills or arguing for the sake of it.
Today while I was demonstrating something for her, she came up behind me and casually rested her head on my shoulder while looking over at the score, the way a child would with their parent or older sibling. I was touched, because while her default demeanor this year is snark rather than affection, here was proof she essentially views me as another family member. Here I am, always on the defensive, trying to be prepared for who knows what new curveballs she'll toss out today, but from her perspective I'm just a safe person to test out new boundaries. It's been a challenge for me, having grown up as part of a more authoritarian generation, to learn to encourage this independence rather than be offended by it. But I'm seeing the benefit in kids that are more secure, more in touch with their emotions, kinder, more compassionate. Give them a chance and I'm sure they'll show us a world we could scarcely imagine.