Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Parents, Send Your Children to the Night Woods

Illustration for article titled Parents, Send Your Children to the Night Woods
Screenshot: Focus Features

The Dutch are mildly endearing weirdos, and that ethos apparently extends to the world of parenting. The New York Times published a story about the Dutch tradition of “dropping,” in which teens and pre-teens are literally dropped off in the middle of the fucking woods late at night and have to find their way back to base. Participants usually stumble back to base around 2 or 3 in the morning, hungry and exhausted after hiking in the dark for miles.


Why? The same rationale behind many forced nature excursion: Character building. Honestly, they might be on to something.

From the Times:

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 disoriented, there is a compensatory thrill to being in charge.


Pia de Jong, a novelist who has raised her children in New Jersey, said it reflected something particular about the Dutch philosophy of parenting.

“You just drop your kids into the world,” she said. “Of course, you make sure they don’t die, but other than that, they have to find their own way.”


This is apparently such a normal part of growing up in the Netherlands that the Dutch assume that it’s the norm everywhere. They’re also tickled by the fact that such a commonplace rite of passage was given the New York Times treatment.

But I don’t know, who are the real weirdos here (emphasis mine)?

In some variations of the challenge, loosely based on military exercises, adults trail the teams of children, but refuse to guide them, although they may leave cryptic notes as clues. To make it more difficult, adult organizers may even blindfold the children on their way to the dropping, or drive in loop-de-loops to scramble their sense of direction.

Sometimes, they hide in the underbrush and make noises like a wild boar.

There have been isolated incidents of droppings gone wrong, of course, including at least two occasions in the last decade of children being fatally struck by cars. Such occurrences are far from the norm, but enough to prompt more safety regulations in the “dropping” industry.


The kids that the Times profiled were only given an old school GPS device for their excursion, which was taken away from them at the halfway point in exchange for snacks and water. But they all made it back just fine: They got a little lost, ran into a deer, and lived to tell the tale! One of the participants, an 11-year-old gamer, no longer felt as tethered to his video game console after braving the woods. I mean, that feeling will likely only last a few days, but hey, good for him!

Americans should absolutely adopt this custom of dropping their kids in the fucking woods and roughing it. As scary as some of this sounds—are there bears in the Netherlands?—I generally approve of this freaky nature shit. My boyfriend participated in similar activities with camping organizations when he was a kid, including a time in which he had to sleep in the woods overnight, alone, and fend for himself... for fun. He ended up sleeping on a rock in the middle of a lake that night. While he was doing that, I was probably busy watching Degrassi reruns and reading fanfiction. Guess which of us is better adept to adversity and tough decision making.

Staff writer, mint chocolate hater.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter


As a Dutch person, this is not as commonplace as it sounds. It’s mostly a thing scouts do at camps. I remember a night-time hike at school camp but this was with my whole class. I loved it a lot! Friends organized a camp for a student organisation and they also did a dropping. They loved it.

Also: gun possession is extremely low, there is not as much crime as in the US. The woods may sound scary, but it’s a tiny and highly populated country. At 41,543sq km we’d fit in the USA about 234 times. My brother recently moved to the small town mentioned in the article (Austerlitz) and it has some lovely woods. It’s practically all flat country, with clear paths. You’re also rarely more than 5 km from a large road or highway. And they have GPS, probably a phone and near perfect coverage.

The scariest animal you’re likely to find is a boar or a deer. Maybe a fox. There haven’t been any wolves for 200 years, but since a few years they are dropping in from Germany every now and then. A cow if you pass a farmer. If you find a bear you have wandered into a zoo.

So yeah, it’s fun. A little scary in a good way. The danger is mostly from road accidents, these will unfortunately happen anywhere and anytime.

The Dutch kids are some of the happiest in the world. As one of the NY times commenters said: in the US if you drop them at school you should be happy if they don’t get shot. I’d prefer meeting a deer in the dark.