Mo’ne Davis is a star this week.
She’s the first girl to ever pitch a shutout in the Little League World Series. She’s on the cover of Sports Illustrated. She’s overwhelmed by requests for interviews and autographs. She’s being treated as the torchbearer for girls and young women trying to break into traditionally male sports. An ESPN analyst even compared her to Michael Jordan on SportsCenter.
It’s time to cut it out.
I’m a LISW-S specializing in child, adolescent, and family therapy. I’m a trained group leader in the Incredible Years parenting program. Before becoming a therapist, I wrote about sports in newspapers, magazines, and children books for 20 years. I’ve also coached baseball and softball at every level from T-ball to high school, including middle-school softball (which would be Davis’ level if she played softball). I see children (yes, 13 year-olds are still children) forced into inappropriate roles by well-meaning adults on a regular basis. Often, families end up in my office for therapy simply because their child plays an adult role in the family rather than being allowed to just be a kid.
Being 13 is tricky. Kids at that age are caught between childhood and adolescence. Their bodies are changing, they look at things differently than they did before, and they’re transitioning into the job of defining who they are as people separate from their parents. But 13-year-olds also know they’re still kids at heart, and too much responsibility to act “grownup” can hamper their normal development.
Thirteen-year-olds and three-year-olds are surprisingly alike. (As you might expect, 13-year-olds hate hearing me say this to their parents.) It’s because those ages represent major strides in independence. Toddlers are mobile, can talk a bit, and can finally explore the world around them. They play and explore with enthusiasm, but they also make sure mom and dad are nearby. That’s because they know their parents will protect them – keep them from running into traffic, for example, or from kissing a light socket.
Thirteen-year-olds go through a similar phase of newfound independence and exploration, but they also know that they’re still kids at heart. They need to feel like the adults are protecting and taking care of them, too. They might yell, “I hate you!” on a weekly basis, but they need and appreciate the chance to still be a kid.
Now, compare that need with quotes like this one given to ESPN by a former president of the WNBA: “Mo’ne Davis could actually be (the) antidote to the loss of young people in baseball.”
Well, no pressure there.
“She’s the most talked-about baseball player on Earth right now,” Mark Hyman, assistant professor of sports management at George Washington University and the author of three books about youth sports, told The New York Times. “More people are talking about her than Derek Jeter. That’s a lot for a 13-year-old kid.”
To her credit – and contributing to the impression that she’s older than her years – Davis seems to understand how crazy it is to get all this attention. She told Sports Illustrated, “People were like, ‘Oh, there are going to be people running up to you taking pictures,’ and I thought it was going to be a bunch of little kids. But it’s grownups! And that’s, like, creepy.”
Like, yeah, it is.
Susan Perabo was the first woman to ever play college baseball at a NCAA school (at Webster University, then a Division III school near St. Louis). Now she’s a Writer in Residence and associate professor of English at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “Mo’ne fits that profile I put out there, the imagined profile of what I thought the girl and woman would be who eventually breaks that barrier (into professional baseball),” she told Yahoo Sports. “But she’s only 13. The best thing personally that could happen to her is everyone forgets her for a while. It’s overwhelming to be in the spotlight.”
Now, I’m as impressed as anybody by Davis’ success at the Little League World Series. Any 13-year-old who can throw 70 miles-per-hour and show poise on a national stage certainly deserves admiration and praise. From her coach. From her teammates. From her opponents. From her parents. From her friends and family.
But from the rest of us? For the good of Mo’ne Davis, it’s time to tone it down.
(Carl Grody, LISW-S, specializes in child, adolescent, and family therapy at Grody Family Counseling in Worthington, Ohio. He also offers sports performance counseling. To contact Carl, call 614-477-5565.)