Jaden Newman is 9 years old. She also just became the youngest person ever recruited by a college program.
Jaden plays basketball. I’m no talent scout but I saw a 30-second video of her playing – and she’s damn good. Clearly, the University of Miami thinks so, too.
While I understand why many people are celebrating this fantastic achievement, it still makes me squirm a little. I’m not sure that we should be celebrating colleges recruiting 4th graders.
It’s wonderful that Jaden is such a talented, hard working kid who has found something that she loves to do. But can’t it just be left at that? Isn’t that enough? Why does basketball need to be something that defines her future right now? There’s a lot of baggage that comes along with being labeled a “phenom” before you hit double-digits.
I’m not sure why a university needs to take ownership of Jaden’s future at this point. She should have the freedom to wake up next Wednesday morning and decide that she doesn’t want to play basketball anymore and that she is much more interested in the debate team. Childhood is all about being free to explore who you want to be for the rest of your life. And if there is pressure of a college scholarship and this precedent-setting recruitment, I worry it will stifle her vision for herself.
Maybe Jaden really did find the thing she wants to do for the rest of her life at the age of three. Maybe this is just giving her a great option down the road. I hope that is what happens.
When I was three, I started my career and I identified myself as an actor for the next 18 years. Then, when I was 22, I slowly realized that I didn’t want to do that job anymore. I had never even bothered to ask myself what else there was, because it hadn’t occurred to me that there were other options available. I assumed I was incapable of anything else. Suddenly, I had no clue who I was. I identified myself as an actor before I identified myself as anything else. If you had asked me who I was, I would have said:
1. An actor
2. A girl
3. A Canadian
So, if I wasn’t an actor anymore, was I anything at all?
For me, it worked out – I don’t have any regrets. I was able to find a new path and eventually found my self-worth somewhere else (thank you, therapy). But not all kid actors end up in a good place. I hope Jaden knows that she has the ability to be something different if she wants – even if it doesn’t come with the media attention and the prestige of college sports. Just because she is good at something doesn’t mean she is required to do it.
When little kids say they want to be firefighters, we don’t suit them up, put an axe in their hands and send them out there. But with sports, music and acting, it seems like the rules are different.
I believe that it’s always important to know, wherever you are in life, that you are allowed to change your mind. None of us have to be just One Thing. If we all had to commit to what we wanted to be when we were little – there would be a whole lot of firefighters and ballerinas. And my husband would be a bird.
So, go do what you love, Jaden. Kick ass and have fun – whether you want to be a basketball player, a firefighter, a ballerina or a bird. I’m pretty sure you’d be awesome at all of them.