HOW TO BREAK A CHILD’S SPIRIT: 25 Surefire Techniques

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

  1. Value only that which can be counted.
    photo by angela lee
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  2. Raise children under protective house arrest. Remove nature from their lives. Make sure they never get their hands muddy or their feet wet.
  3. Fight with your spouse or partner as much and as loudly as possible.
  4. Never fight with your spouse or partner.
  5. Whenever describing the future, make sure it looks like the post-apocalypse.
  6. Immerse children in virtual violence, to the exclusion of other forms of experience and expression.
  7. Immerse them in or threaten them with real or imagined violence at home or in the neighborhood.
  8. Take away their access to surrogate grandparents in the neighborhood, or to other positive adults.
  9. Plan every minute of their lives. Eliminate alone time.
  10. Politically sanitize education, so that nothing controversial and therefore really interesting – like religion or race – is ever discussed.
  11. Make sure their teachers pay more attention to “standards” than to students. Shift the focus of school counselors exclusively to academics.
  12. Repair nothing. Show them by example that anything old or broken should be thrown away and replaced by something new.
  13. Cancel recess, drop field trips, cut extra-curricular activities, criminalize play. Devalue and defund art and music.
  14. Never encourage them to make up their own games.
  15. Teen-with-Frog2-225x300
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    Make sure they always play by the rules.
  16. Punish the daydreamers.
  17. For hyperactivity, resort first to drugs. At home and at school, make sure they sit as much as possible.
  18. Create schools with no windows, playgrounds with no green, neighborhoods with no place to walk or play independently. To accommodate digital technology, narrow the use of the senses.
  19. Never allow them to grow anything; make sure they’re never responsible for another creature’s life.
  20. Tear down their tree houses and forts.
  21. Load the parents with too much debt and work. Do nothing about the widening gap between rich and poor.
  22. Do the generational dump; repeat this mantra often: Our generation has failed; now it’s up to you.
  23. Tell them they can’t do anything right.
  24. Tell them that everything they do is wonderful.
  25. Set the example. Live in fear.


Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” which includes a Field Guide of 100 Actions for Families and Communities.

Like Rich on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RichLouv 

 Top photo by Angela Lee

More reading

All Children Need Nature: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

The Bond of Shared Solitude: In an age of wall-to-wall media, how do we connect to our children and spouses? Here’s one way. 

Is Happiness the Key? – Larry Rosen, M.D.

The Wonder Bowl:  Ten Spring and Summer Nature Activities for Kids and Adults

In Defense of Boredom

Don’t Tear Down that Fort! Ten Lessons (and More) that Kids Learn from Building Their Own Tree Houses and Forts

The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Our Schools Become, the More They Need Nature

You Can Get Your Students Outside — and Still Meet Your State Standards – Michelle Aldenderfer-Griffin

10 Ways You Can Add “Vitamin N” to your Classroom & Beyond

Smart Pills vs. Nature Smart: Want Your Kids to Do Better in School? Try a Dose of “Vitamin N”


  1. Great and depressing list. I love the way you don’t avoid the political, Richard. Giving our children time in nature means we have to address tough issues like work hours, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the ridiculous cost of education. We can try our best to offset some of these factors (e.g., ensure poor kids at least have safe playgrounds and recess) but unless poor kids have safe parks outside their front doors and the money to sometimes escape the city, they will still be missing out.

    • Richard Louv

      Thanks, Fiona. I do think that there are conservatives as well as progressives (and folks in between) who would agree with the list, as a critique, while proposing different solutions. I believe there is more common ground here than may initially meet the eye. Thanks for your kind comment.

  2. The one thing on this list that made no sense to me was the virtual violence line. It’s a clear dig at video games, but studies have shown that video games do not raise the risk of violent tendencies. I can say at least from personal experience that I grew up playing video games (and hiking and playing with other kids and all the other things you espouse), and video games fostered storytelling, problem solving, and exploration and left me with a love of games that extends beyond the digital to very social sports, tabletop, and cards. On this issue I think you’re locked into a narrow, generational view that punishes an artistic medium for its relatively rare excesses and ignores all possible benefits and potential. Video games are as misunderstood by today’s older parents as rock and roll was by theirs.

  3. Richard Louv

    Anon, point taken. So I clarified that sentence. I’ve never been anti-tech, but pro-balance. The video games themselves are less the issue than, for some kids, the extreme displacement of other experiences and expression. Your description of your own life suggests that you did have that balance. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Richard, you are a clarion voice on the complex value of nature to our youth and the legacy of our actions and inaction.

    Its a thought provoking list, we need to continue the dialogue and appreciate that healthy kids and communities are more resilient with a strong connection to nature.

    Thanks for all you do.


  5. Thank you for this. Recently I’ve been questioning my own parenting as we don’t have much money & I’ve been trying to be strong when my daughter wants to throw things away just because a part is broken. I think that by letting kids get dirty, be wrong sometimes, & showing them how to repair things we are empowering them.

  6. So this is the beginning of a long list with a lot of good teachings for us parents. Here are two more:

    26. Teach them only to value their heads’ and minds’ capacity to handle and process information, but leave them confused about the nature and purpose of their hearts, bodies, souls and spirit.

    27. Emphasize the importance of results and efficiency, not relationships


  7. Excellent list overall, and thank you. I disagree with you, however, about parents fighting. My husband and I disagree sometimes, but we keep the conversation civil and caring, even if we feel upset. We prefer to negotiate our differences without “fighting”, and I think we set an excellent model for our child in so doing.

  8. Re the virtual violence comment… Just FYI… My mind immediately related to the senseless virtual violence of movies – the idiot zombie and vampire films, war movies and futuristic apocalypse scenarios – that can leave folks numb after two hours of sensationalizing visual and aural scenes of destruction. How little do we (much less Hollywood) consider the effect on the warm ball of wax that is a child’s mind. Only after I ‘scrolled’ thru a mental list of the demented films that many kids are allowed to see at the theater (in the dark, larger than life scariness) did I even think of to the connection of video games.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking list, Richard. Instead of another typical ‘to-do’ list, I like it’s presentation format of a “Don’t do this” list. Some heavy stuff there; much food for thought. Sharing this link… Ina.

  9. Elisabeth, I think you missed that fighting was a 2 part observation. I believe he’s saying it’s bad to see parents constantly fighting (which doesn’t always mean literally physically fighting), but it also says it’s bad for kids to never see their parents fight. I think the description of your relationship where the kids see you disagree, but see you keep it civil and work through it is exactly what he’s saying is ideal. 🙂

  10. Thanks for acknowledging the insidious force of debt, which is often piled up in a vain attempt to buy stuff that will make our kids happy. Or so we’ve been conditioned by advertising to believe.

    I once worked with a woman who worked long hours leading up to Christmas so that she could afford to buy “nice things” for her kids. She had a big heart and no one could fault her generosity. Still, I wondered at the time if working less, and being around the kids more, would’ve have been the better gift. I’ve learned that there’s only so many winter nights when your kids will want to bake cookies; or so many afternoons when they’ll want to make a snowman. When they outgrow those times, they’re gone.

  11. Hello Rich,

    Parents need to realize that if they spare the rod, they”ll spoil the child! Instead of electronics, put a fishing rod in every hand and a butt in every boat. It is interesting to note that there are now over 500 High Schools in the nation that now support a Varsity Bass Fishing Team. And there were over 1200 Bass Boats on the water at the National High School Bass Fishing Championships last year. Limit their electronic experience to the Fishfinders.

    This trend may provide a healty and exciting new avenue to get the next generation into the woods and on the waters. Along with the National Archery in the Schools Program, (which recently set a new Guinness Book of Records for the largest of gathering of archers in a single location at the National Public School Archery Championshipsl) these traditional outdoor pursuits may eventually prove to be one of the single most effective means of getting a potentially “wood- less generation” back to their rightful place in the wild world, and they’ll learn to protect the places where they practice.
    Not all schools can offer such opportunities, but the budget for a Mountain Bike Team, a Ski Team or a Canoe Team is far less than a Football Stadium, Baseball Field or a Basketball Auditorium.
    In addition, these ‘all natural pursuits’ are far more likely to remain as lifetime pursuits, where as only a small fraction of high school athletes continue to participate in organized team sports after graduation.
    competitive outdoor pursuits are also well suited to the average athlete, who may not be able to jump higher, throw harder or run faster than all the rest of the jocks. We need a lot more amatuer adventurers, than we need professional athletes.

    Keep up the good work, I’m off to the brook out back to take my flyrod for a walk.

    Tight lines,

    Fishless Joe

  12. Hi Richard,

    Great article. A member from our community would love to see it published in our local newsletter.

    Would this be ok with you?



  13. My #26 addresses what I am seeing as (another) very misguided trend in public education: Convince them, and their parents, teachers, school administrators,etc., that the future will demand that every single one of them is fully trained in math. Let them know that, regardless of how bad our teaching of math may be, and regardless our supposed acceptance of learning style theories, if they don’t “get it” it’s because they’re lazy.

  14. Hi Richard ji,
    The list is an eye opener.
    I realize that we forget all those small things that gave us happiness in childhood- soaking in rain, building forts during vacation, accompanying grandfather to fields, waiting for our turn to play with the new football in school, lending -borrowing story books etc.These activities inculcated in us patience,being close to nature and the value of hardwork.
    May be today kids are getting more than they ask for- the problem of plenty has siezed happiness from the kids and so they get bored easily.
    Your article says a lot about what can be done to make their childhood memorable and enjoyable.
    Thanks once again.
    Looking forward to more help in child upbringing.

  15. No list will ever be perfect……I can add another 20 + items to the list
    Somewhere along the line you have to start somewhere – I think this is a very good start !


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