I quite enjoy children who talk back to me. Presenting a line of reasoning to a child or, as with my 15-year-old disciple, Misha (who will tell you she is an adult) considering her arguments about what I’ve written is an invaluable experience. I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want perfectly obedient children. It sounds so unbearably dull.
The concept of “don’t talk back” is also an insulting and bizarre one and, I might argue, kind of western. I won’t deny of course that some non-western cultures expect a degree of obedience, but my own mother, who always listened to reason, has never said anything so ludicrous as “don’t talk back to me”—whether in English or not.
The first time I’d heard of that phrase, in those words, was on television, and then from the parents of white friends, even though in both scenarios the child was saying something perfectly logical or otherwise clever or interesting. As a child then myself, I’d found the retort incredulous and confusing. If I’m being spoken to, why wouldn’t I respond?
If I ever do have children, I should be lucky if they were so observant and expressive. This is not of course to say that I dislike quiet, compliant children: children are people, and this post ultimately is not about what I do or don’t enjoy. It’s to say, rather, that children asserting themselves is a crucial component to being people.
I’m inclined to be argumentative myself (really, you didn’t know?), and when I’m close to someone, I enjoy debates that actually challenge me. At work as well, I typically find it thrilling to gather evidence for a case. And of course, to counter the arguments of a child. These are important to me, because I like to argue, and strangers and men are terrible at it.