When I was nine I wanted to be a writer, an actress, and one of the characters from The Babysitters Club. My ever supportive parents did what they could to help me learn about the things that interested me. They taught me to use the family typewriter (yes, I said typewriter, no, I’m not THAT old) to write my stories, and helped me rehearse for school productions. They were, however, firm in their stance that I needed to be older before I could take care of other children by myself. Over and over my parents reminded me I only had to do my best, not be the best, and every time I changed my mind, deciding I’d rather be a detective than an actress, they would jump on board. They would rather me be well-rounded than tied to something I didn’t really enjoy. Besides, I had all the time in the world to find what I wanted to do with my life.
Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, is nine years old, and she wants to be a performer and singer. Her parents’ support has helped her to develop her gifts in a much different way. Willow has signed a recording contract, and even at this young age, has already hit the music scene hard with her first single “Whip Your Hair”. If you’ve missed the viral music video, “Whip Your Hair” is a surprisingly catching tune, even if it is a bit repetitive. The music is not that different than what we would hear of other Hip-Hop artists like Rihanna or Beyonce. The video focuses on Willow coloring a dull, mundane school environment by whipping her paint covered hair. It is remarkably free of the sexualization clearly seen in other videos of pre-teens not much older than her. Instead, its sassy fun is something that a diverse group of ages will enjoy.
Yet, her entry into the music scene is not without some controversy. While Willow Smith’s lyrics and outfits may be age appropriate, some would question if having a music career is.
On one side, Willow Smith’s music and appearance have all the makings of an empowering kid role model, enjoyed by pre-teens and parent approved. Her lyrics are age-appropriate as are her clothes. Willow’s parents clearly aren’t pushing her career so that she can become the bread-winner in her family, as perhaps some other Hollywood parents have. If Willow turns out to be a one-hit wonder or if it became detrimental to her, there would be very little lost if she walked away. With the proper parental support and guidance, this could be a great opportunity for her to learn skills and grow in talent even at a young age. Producer Jay-Z, who signed Willow to his record label Roc Nation, says, “When you have that sort of talent, there is no such thing as too young.”
On the other side, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith certainly have been witnesses to the carnage that often occurs when kids are put into the media cycle too early and without the right support. Some would ask, what would be the disadvantage for Willow Smith to wait three or four more years before starting her career? Recent history would tell us that the cost of starting a career so young may be higher than the benefits. The stories of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Miley Cyrus, to name a few, are more than enough to give any parent pause before allowing a child so young to go into the entertainment business. The music she is creating is so strongly stylized and processed, it looks as though she is being turned into just another interchangeable pop musician with a potentially disastrous outcome.
Is this yet another example of parents pushing their children to excel earlier and earlier in life, to their own detriment? Or a great tribute to the power and excitement of children? I honestly don’t know. I would hope that the Smiths have taken the time to consider both the negative and the positive and are taking precautions to guard against the potential downfalls. As my youth every year seem to feel pressured to stand out more and more, I continue to encourage parents to prioritize their student’s faith and character over their need to succeed. I wonder if any nine year old, no matter the circumstance, could handle the intense pressure and scrutiny that comes with such a career. I know that I certainly could not have.
As we look at our own youth, challenged younger and younger to excel, are we focusing on fostering God given gifts or are we simply looking to make them the best? Perhaps this is a great point to start the discussion with our youth and parents about how to encourage students into vocation rather than pushing them into trouble.