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The Dutch train their children with independence by leaving them in the forest at night and asking them to find their way home.
One evening in July, the car stopped at the edge of the forest at Austerlitz, Netherlands. The door opened, two 12- and 15-year-old boys and a 12-year-old girl came down. The driver immediately drove away.
The children walked in the forest a few kilometers away from their summer camp, with only a rudimentary locator to find their way. Night falls, only children are together. “Is this the right way?”, They asked each other. “Maybe,” Thomas, 12, said. Young group goes deep into the forest.
This is a Dutch tradition called “leave the night” challenge, in which young groups are left in a forest and need to find their own way back in the dark.
In some variations of the challenge, adults follow them but do not lead the way but may suggest some clues. To increase the difficulty, adults can blindfold children or drive around on the road to take them to the forest so they cannot remember the way. Sometimes adults hide in bushes and make noise like wild boar.
In the Netherlands, children are taught not to rely too much on adults and adults who need children to solve their problems. The challenge of “leaving in the night” was built on the Dutch teaching philosophy of children that even when children are tired, hungry and disoriented, they still need to take care of themselves.
Many Dutch people were delighted to recall the memory of the trials. Rik Oudega, 22, said he was stopped by traffic police when driving in the opposite direction on a one-way street. When the police asked Oudega to pull down the door, they saw four children being blindfolded.
Oudega is worried because he violated traffic laws and may be mistaken for suspicious behavior. He tried to be calm. “I told them that I was on my way to take the kids to the challenge. They looked at each other, smiled and told me: I wish you a good night and don’t break the law.”
11-year-old Stijn Jongewaard, made his first challenge at Austerlitz. His mother, Tamara, said it was time for him to be more independent and this challenge was a step to do it.
“Stijn is 11 years old. It’s about time we can’t teach you anymore. Stijn is going to be a teenager and then he’ll make his own decision,” Tamara said.
After walking for half an hour, Stijn’s group went astray. They stopped walking, discussed for a few minutes and turned back. Suddenly something big jumped up from behind the bush, startling the children. It was a deer.
There have been cases of incidents during the implementation of challenges. In 2012, German media reported that five Dutch boys in Germany called the local police for being stuck in the cliff. German correspondent calls this “dangerous adventure”.
However, Dutch journalists believe this story is not serious and the level of danger has been exaggerated. They affirmed such challenges are the most fun activities when going camping.
In 2017, the Scout leaders in Belgium left 25 children in the forest, then drank beer and fell asleep, causing the children to roam the forest beyond the predetermined time limit. Finally, they came knocking on the door of the local people and were given a ride. Parents are not happy about this incident.
Pia de Jong, a 58-year-old Dutch writer who lives in New Jersey, said the tradition reflects a special thing about the Dutch parenting philosophy: “You let me explore the world myself. Of course, You have to make sure that they are not life-threatening, where they have to manage. “
However, de Jong also began to question whether the challenge is really interesting. “Imagine you get lost and don’t know where to go. Maybe for 10 hours, maybe all night. It’s already late everyone has a bit of fear. I don’t really think it’s a good thing to do with children”.
In 2011 and 2014, some children participated in the ordeal were killed by cars when walking along the road. Since then, organizers have to comply with a number of regulations, such as a group of children who have to carry phones to prevent emergencies, wear reflective vests and be guided by traffic safety rules.
At 1 am, Stijn and his companions walked for three hours. They went on and on without seeing any sign of approaching their destination as a campsite.
Stijn looked blankly forward. “My parents are sleeping. My sister is sleeping. My mind is tense and my legs are tired,” the boy said.
A child gave up but the other group still tried to move on. After the half-way group, the adults who supervised the challenge gave them snacks and water but confiscated the locator. You have to rely entirely on instinct, no one complains.
“I still have to go,” Stijn said. “I don’t know why but I still have to continue.”
Nearly 2 hours, the group reached the destination. They sit at the campfire and eat and go to sleep in the tent. The next morning, Stijn said that he wanted his children to have a similar experience later.
“The challenge shows us that even in very difficult times you still need to keep going. I’ve never had to do it before.”