Editor’s note: Peggy Drexler is a psychology researcher, documentary producer, and author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” She is executive producer, most recently, on “My Name is Pauli Murray”, a film which premiered at Sundance, is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinion on CNN.


Eight-year-old Sam Adventure Baker on Friday became the youngest person to ever summit El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, a 3,000ft rock formation that is 2.5 times taller than the Empire State Building and a class 5 climb in the National Climbing. Ranking system.

Courtesy of Peggy Drexler

He did it as part of a group of four that included his father, Joe, who told CNN his son “was in a harness before he could walk.” According to Sam’s website, SamAdventure.com, the boy climbed the multi-pitch – that is, very advanced – Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs at the very early age of three.

Certainly, Sam lives up to the middle name his parents gave him. And what’s wrong with that? A lifetime of adventure is a good thing parents want for their children, especially in a time when we worry about the impact all that screen time is having on their brains.

Beyond the benefits of being outdoors, encouraging kids to set goals and helping them achieve them teaches them the importance of aiming high and doing hard things. This gives them confidence in their daily life and in their future plans. As Sam’s website says, “Adventure builds courage” and “every mountain Sam climbs is destined to be another challenge he will learn to overcome.” He learns the importance of physical fitness, as well as skills he can use for the rest of his life.

Indeed, it is difficult to oppose the hope of Sam’s parents for their son. It’s one of the reasons the family aims, according to Sam’s website, to use their experiences to make movies that “inspire parents to do great things with their kids.”

But how can parents know if they share a special love (of anything) with children and, in turn, help them find passions or rather place their own hopes and dreams on them, and count on them to achieve them?

Sam’s parents are avid climbers. They fell in love while rock climbing. Climbing means a lot to them, and it’s only natural that they want to share that love with their son, as parents with other interests in their children often do.

But it’s important for them, and for like-minded parents, to exercise caution as well. Whether the pursuit is physical, like climbing a 3,000 foot mountain, or intellectual, like getting good grades, there’s a fine line between sharing and encouraging kids and pushing them beyond their natural abilities.

It can be easy for parents to want to show off through their child. It can be easy for parents to take it personally if a child doesn’t want to do what their parents want them to do, and therefore difficult for some children to say no.

This is when inspiration and influence can become imposition.

Granted, giving a child the middle name “Adventure” would seem to indicate a life of adventure, which is what Sam’s parents hope for him. It may also be what they expect of him. But how much room does this leave for Sam to explore his own interests? Or to know that it is even possible to have your own interests? When the interests of the parents become those of their children at such a young age, how do you know that the child would not, on his own, choose something else?

In the photos that appear on his website, Sam looks happy, but some of that joy definitely comes from being with his dad. While this can create a strong parent-child bond, it can also, if done over time, encourage people to please and over-depend.

Without dismissing what’s admirable here, it’s important to raise these points – and to hope that Sam’s mom and dad, and other parents like his, will allow their children room to express hesitations or alternative preferences, and to agree if and when they do.

Child-conscious parenting isn’t easy – it’s probably harder than a class 5 climb. But absolutely essential for raising children to think and act for themselves, and be whoever they want. be. Because that’s how children gain confidence; this is how the objectives are achieved.