willow_smith_TeenVogue

The critics of Jada Pinkett-Smith and Will Smith’s parenting style are endless. Many people believe 15-year-old Willow and 17-year-old Jaden are shallow, entitled kids who are out of the touch with the so-called real world and allowed to run amok. Some look at the Smith kids’ unconventional style and willingness to grapple with esoteric topics like quantum physics or whether or not traditional schools actually encourage learning as downright weird and further proof that Will and Jada have failed. A New York Post writer even argued “any reasonable parent would be ashamed of Willow and Jaden.

But…why?

As far as I can tell the Smith kids haven’t committed any crimes, aren’t doing drugs, and haven’t been caught up in any scandals, yet their creativity and quirkiness are somehow seen as weird and wrong and something to be ashamed about.

While some may want cooker-cutter children who never think critically about their place in the world, I’d argue we need more Black children, particularly Black girls, as experimental and confident and cool as Willow.

In the May issue of Teen VogueWillow’s keen self-awareness and self-assuredness is on full display. In addition to recently touring Cambridge University and thinking about attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because she’s a self-proclaimed “STEM freak,” at just 15, Willow has mastered something most adults haven’t: creating herself.

When asked if she’s ever felt less empowered, Willow broke it all the way down.

“After ‘Whip My Hair’ and all the publicity, after going on tour in the U.K., after saying no to the Annie film, all of this crap was going on in my life, and I had to sit down and say, ‘Who are you? On a real note. Are you this or this? During that time of figuring it out, I was lost and super insecure. But then I stopped trying to find myself in these other inanimate objects, people, and ideas. I realized it isn’t about finding yourself—it’s about creating yourself.”

She continued: “It is so beautiful. I’m coming into a new part of my life that is completely unknown, and I’m jumping right in. All I can do from here is continue to shift paradigms and continue to push the envelope further and further. But I am doing it every day just by being myself.”

Willow’s ability to just be herself is not only amazing for someone her age, but it’s also necessary. Black girls are often taught to minimize who they are to make them more palatable to others, and in turn, rarely discover themselves or their power.

Imagine how many awesome, confident Black girls we could help build if we encouraged them experiment, grow, and discover who they are and exactly what they want on their own terms–just like Willow.

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