"I always worry about their physical safety; that's just the nature of fatherhood," Obama told Anderson Cooper about Malia and Sasha's participation in protests
michelle obama barack obama and malia obama
From left: Malia, Barack and Michelle Obama in 2020
| Credit: Courtesy Obama Robinson Family Archive

In a wide-ranging interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Monday, Barack Obama said that his daughters are "so much wiser, more sophisticated, and gifted than I was at their age" - and that their activism is proof of that.

The former president, asked about 19-year-old Sasha and 22-year-old Malia's participation in Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality, said he still worries about their safety.

He doesn't, however, worry about their priorities.

"I always worry about their physical safety; that's just the nature of fatherhood ... But in terms of them having a good sense of what's right and wrong, and their part and role to play in making the country better, I don't worry about that," Obama, 59, told Cooper.

The A Promised Land author elaborated on how he feels his daughters' generation is less tolerant of wrongdoings that his own, adopting an attitude of "let's change it," when faced with injustice.

"That's among not just my daughters but it's among their white friends," Obama said. "There's this sense of, 'Well, of course, it's not acceptable for a criminal justice system to be tainted by racism. Of course you can't discriminate against somebody because of their sexual orientation.' "

He continued: "What I find interesting is they're also starting to be very strategic about how to engage the system and change it. They're not just interested in making noise, they're interested in what works."

In conversations with his daughters, Obama told Cooper that they'll acknowledge some people may go overboard in their activism, "canceling" anyone that believes differently than they do.

"We don't expect everybody to be perfect, we don't expect everybody to be politically correct all the time," he said. "But we are going to call out institutions or individuals if they are being cruel, if they are discriminating against people. We do want to raise awareness."

Obama also spoke about how he sees his own legacy through the lens of how his daughters and their peers now fight for justice.

"A great source of my optimism, when people talk about ... how do I think about my legacy? Part of it is the kids who were raised during the eight years that I was president, there are a bunch of basic assumptions they made what the country can and should be that I think are still sticking," Obama said. "They still believe it. And they're willing to work for it."

obama family in 2019
From left: Michelle, Sasha, Barack and Malia Obama in July 2019
| Credit: Pete Souza

In a conversation with PEOPLE last November, Obama elaborated on Sasha and Malia's participation in the nationwide demonstrations against racism and police misconduct following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

"Malia and Sasha found their own ways to get involved with the demonstrations and activism that you saw with young people this summer, without any prompting from Michelle and myself, on their own initiative. They didn't do it in a way where they were looking for limelight. They were very much in organizer mode," their dad said then, adding: "I could not have been prouder of them."

Obama, who worked as a a law professor and community organizer in Chicago before entering politics, wrote about the power of activism a June 2020 essay for Medium, in which he said the demonstrations sparked by the killings "represent a genuine and legitimate frustration over a decades-long failure to reform police practices and the broader criminal justice system in the United States."

In a recent episode of the Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend podcast, the former president shared some perspective on how he communicates about the state of the country's divided nation when speaking to young people.

"What I always tell young people is, if you examine history, then you come to the conclusion that as terrible as things are, the world is healthier, better educated, kinder on average than just about any time in human history," he said.

He continued: "That is what I hope I've instilled, not just in my daughters, and Michelle's instilled in our daughters, I hope that our body of work that continues is instilling in young people that sense of, 'Yeah, it's hard. You're not going to get a hundred percent of what you're hoping for. There'll still be injustice and racism and ignorance, but you can make things better.' "