Originally posted at MadameNoire.com
When I think about my future children I picture open-minded mini-me’s who aren’t afraid to look at life differently and question everything that’s presented to them. They’ll defeat gender stereotypes, read the writings of Kahlil Gibran and maybe even write music or learn how to play an instrument unlike myself who gave up on anything that closely resembled math. We’ll talk about sex and intimacy openly and I’ll encourage them to be individuals.
So when I see the public criticize Will and Jada Smith’s liberal approach to parenting now teenagers Willow and Jaden, I almost want to jump to their defense and encourage parents everywhere to loosen up and consider more progressive parenting styles. But how far is too far?
I believe parents have the very challenging responsibility of preserving their children’s childhood without sheltering them or blatantly lying to them about the real world. I’m torn because I don’t see myself talking about storks when my children ask how babies are made and I want them to know full and well that when it comes to Christmas they don’t have to impress some stranger in a red suit with good behavior, they have to impress me. But at the same time, that world of fantasy and make believe is essentially what childhood is all about. Children have their whole lives to worry about their appearance, following rules and thinking about the world critically, but only a very short time to think every noise on the roof on December 24th could be reindeer or that the pain of losing a tooth directly equals payment from a fairy.
It’s no secret that Willow and Jaden Smith are edgier and seemingly more confident than most adults. My mom wouldn’t let me perm my own hair until I was 15 or 16, and at 12 Willow completely shaved her’s off. Parents everywhere weren’t in agreement with what seemed like a such a mature move and it was one of the first time’s Jada’s parenting skills were the subject of any backlash. But her response in many ways made sense:
“The question why I would let Willow cut her hair, first the ‘let’ must be challenged. This is a world where women [and] girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves — that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self-determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are her domain.”
Her husband, actor Will Smith was in agreement stating to Parade magazine shortly after:
“When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body.”
I’m all for empowering your children to advocate and think for themselves, but I think a parent’s first responsibility should be to protect their children. The truth is as parents, we’ve been around a lot longer than our children and we owe it to them to show them how the world works first, before we encourage them to challenge it.
Which is why I worry when I see Jaden Smith hopping around in Kimye’s wedding pictures in a Batman suit and Willow Smith getting her model on in bed with a grown man. I think the Smiths are far from a call to child services, but I can see how their permissive parenting can be translated into lazy parenting. The Smith children seem to be making up the rules as they go along instead of learning the ones that have been set first. There seems to be desperation to be so edgy and different that it almost appears to me they’re losing themselves in the process. The good news is that money and fame will protect them, but for how long? I fear eventually they’ll crumble under this pressure to make a name for themselves in the world of Hollywood if there isn’t a solid foundation provided for them that they don’t have to be edgy or quirky, they just have to be themselves.
When Willow Smith posted a picture of herself on social media lying in bed with a 21 year-old actor, I didn’t jump to the conclusion that she was being sexually abused or that the Smiths were allowing their children to run wild and free in Hollywood, but I did question how the children’s values are being shaped for them to think certain behaviors are acceptable. For example, I’m all about letting kids express themselves creatively and dress themselves even if it means they want to wear a ballerina tutu and a tank top. But as a parent if it’s 32 degrees outside, it’s your job to say, “I love that outfit, but how about we pick out something that will keep you warm today.” And that’s what falls short about the Smith family to me: Their kids are wearing tutus and tank tops, weather be damned and I’m not sure if Will and Jada are letting them know they’re going to freeze their behinds off.
There’s more than one way to be a good parent and raise a healthy child and I have no doubt that the Smiths have the best intentions for their children. But at the end of the day they are children, and the world is forgetting that because of all of the premature freedom they seem to have been afforded. Children should have choices, but those choices have to be based on a frame of reference to judge it from which is provided by the parents. So maybe I couldn’t perm my head when I wanted to at 12, but I also know a lot of 12 year-olds who spent their teenage years baldheaded because they didn’t have a mom to be honest with them about not being ready for that. And that’s a parents job, to let your children have choices but educate them about the implications of their choices and having the foresight to keep them from choices they aren’t ready to make.
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.