The Dutch call it "dropping": Parents drive their children to a remote location at night, drop them off, and say good luck. The tweens (and occasionally teens) have to navigate woods and dark roads and make it back to summer camp alone. Parents might follow but won't guide, might leave mysterious notes, and sometimes hide growling in the woods. Regardless, the kids are on their own. "You just drop your kids into the world," says a Dutch novelist in explaining the idea. "Of course, you make sure they don't die, but other than that, they have to find their own way." Indeed: The New York Times follows a group of children in a 10pm dropping who are left miles from camp on the edge of a forest with only a basic GPS device. It's almost 2am when they stagger exhausted into camp.
Droppings have been criticized and even turned to tragedy. Dutch children were killed by passing cars in 2011 and 2014, leading to greater regulations; they now carry a cellphone for emergencies and sport high-visibility vests, among other things. On the upside, children are taught independence in a culture where adults often let kids solve problems on their own. "It shows you, even in very hard times, to keep walking, to keep going," says an 11-year-old boy after his dropping. "I have never had to do that before." But it can be shocking for foreign parents, like Genine Babakian, an American who writes at Wordsworth Fine Phrases that she needed persuading from her Dutch husband. Eventually she saw it as a healthy contrast to helicopter parenting. "Is it any wonder that Dutch children are reportedly the happiest in the world, as UNICEF reports?" she writes. (Read more parenting stories.)