Why the Dutch Are Dropping Their Kids Off In the Woods

Written by Erin Feher
11:24 am

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In America we have the helicopter parent, the snowplow parent, and even the jet-fighter parent. In stark contrast, the metaphorical transportation equivalent in Holland might be the taxi parent: drop them off and speed away. The New York Times recently wrote about the Dutch tradition of “dropping”—a time-honored practice of leaving preteens in the woods at night to find their own way back.

“The Dutch—it is fair to say—do childhood differently. Children are taught not to depend too much on adults; adults are taught to allow children to solve their own problems. Droppings distill these principles into extreme form, banking on the idea that even for children who are tired, hungry and disorientated, there is a compensatory thrill to being in charge,” writes Ellen Barry, who accompanied a scout group in Utrecht on their dropping.

And while the Dutch have long ranked high in having some of the happiest children in the world (presumably thanks to their good sleeping habits, family meals, and all-weather biking), their kids don’t spend all their time frolicking in the woods. One of the children on this particular dropping was Stijn Jongewaard, an 11-year-old boy with a serious Minecraft habit. The reason his parents opted to make Stijin rough it for the night? He spends too much time in front of his PlayStation. His mother, Tamara, said he needed to start taking on greater responsibility, and that the dropping was one step in that direction. “The time window in which we can teach him is closing,” she said. “He is going into adolescence, and then he will make decisions for himself.”

In essence, that is what dropping is all about—teaching resilience, teamwork (kids are dropped in small groups of 3-5), and practical skills like wayfinding and staying calm under pressure. But the true reward is the sense of accomplishment and confidence the kids experience once they finally stumble back to their destination, sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning.

When Stijin finally made it back to camp, after nearly 4 hours of hiking in the dark woods, he was hungry and exhausted. But he was also exhilarated (and claimed to not miss his PlayStation one bit). The next morning, he said that when he had children, he wanted them to experience a dropping. “It shows you, even in very hard times, to keep walking, to keep going,” he said. “I have never had to do that before.”

You can read the full story in The New York Times right here.

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