For Angelina Jolie, motherhood means allowing your kids to make their own choices.
The Oscar-winning actress and mother of six — who shares Maddox, 17, Pax, 15, Zahara, 13, Shiloh, 12, and 10-year-old twins Vivienne and Knox with ex Brad Pitt — appeared on Friday’s episode of BBC Radio 4’s Today, where she opened up about her parenting style.
“Children can do two things,” she explained to host Justin Webb, when asked what drove her move from her “wild” past to her more serious, humanitarian work. “They can make you grow up, and you do, and they also add a sense of wild themselves.”
“[My kids] all have a good rebellious streak that is wonderful and curious,” Jolie said. “I don’t want them to be perfectly behaved little people that just say what’s absolutely appropriate because I say so … they have to find themselves.”
Jolie herself had a similar outlook as a kid. “I was a bit of a young punk,” she said. “I loved the idea of fighting for something you believe in however hard, and being brave in your life in your choices, and doing something your own way. And I don’t feel I’ve changed much at all, in fact.”
In fact, she’s channeled that fight into her humanitarian efforts, as a special envoy to the UN Refugee Agency.
“Today, there’s a lot of focus on people focusing on their selves — their needs, their opinions, their sculpted news — and maybe the new rebellion is to hold to your values and to understand policies and politics, and fight for your fellow man,” she said on Today. “Maybe that actually is the rebellion.”
Exposing her children to a balanced view of the outside world is important for Jolie, who said she makes sure to maintain an open dialogue with her children.
“I think, like most parents, we try our best to insert good stuff and we can’t control everything that they’re exposed to, so we try to ask that they will talk to us about anything they saw that bothers them or that they’re concerned about,” Jolie said on BBC’s Today.
“You try [to limit] access, but the reality is that there are certain realities to teenagers. And also, our generation doesn’t understand half of what they’re doing with their techs, so they can get around us pretty easy.”
Though they’re not on Facebook (“Nobody’s even asked to be actually,” she said. “We’re the last family that hasn’t gone on Facebook!”), Jolie explained they still talk about social media.
“The truth is that my children have seen things about themselves, even from what’s considered serious news people, that are inaccurate. So my children have a very odd sense of who’s telling the truth and what the truth really is and what they actually believe or trust.”
Jolie was guest-editing Today‘s Christmastime program, which also included words from Desmond Tutu and interviews with leaders like NATO General Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander in Europe, and Dr. Denis Mukwege. The wide-ranging chat also saw Jolie discussing her work with refugees, interest in politics, and efforts to prevent sexual violence in war zones.
She’s working with the BCC on a children’s program as well. “As a mother, I just am so happy I’ll have something I can sit with my children and watch and know that they’re getting a real international sense of the world as well,” she said.
Not that Jolie’s kids don’t already have an international sense of the world simply because of their backgrounds.
“I think my children have learned the most about these issues simply from each other, from experiencing each other,” she said. “They are from different backgrounds, they don’t deny the difference, they celebrate the difference. We go to their countries, spend time in their countries.”
“Shiloh, for example, is the one that’s learning Mad’s country’s language, and Vivienne wants to live in Zahara’s country. So just because they’re from a place doesn’t mean that that’s everything that defines them.”
Asked what she’s learned from her children, Jolie said, “everything.”
“Every parent says it, but we really do,” she said. “They are all so much smarter than us. And I’ve had to learn from them.”