The Brighter Side of the ‘Play Date’

7 Oct

A couple of months ago, there was some attention drawn to what I thought was a fairly humorous movement to do away with the ‘play date’ (One example: ). Bloggers and parents alike were weighing in on how planned-ahead play dates have ruined the spontaneity of running down the street and knocking on doors to find a friend, how inconvenient it is to have to be affable with some kids’ parents and even how structured play dates make kids unable to make up games and activities to combat their boredom.


I read many of these blogs and the numerous comments that followed – almost all of which agreed with the negative side of the parent-driven play date. One dad said that play dates were ruining an entire generation. A mom of three said trying to keep up with her kids ‘dates’ and having to talk to a bunch of parents she didn’t know made her so angry that she ended up yelling at her kids almost every time they were on their way to a friends’ house to ‘play’. And yet another parent was annoyed because he had to do the calling and arranging, when he wanted to brush it off to his 6-year-old daughter.


What was interesting to me is that almost all of these bloggers and commenters had something strikingly in common – when they mentioned the ages of their children, it was sure to be between 3 and 6. And this is where my disagreement with the idea that play dates are unnecessary or bad for our kids’ social skills comes in. Although I think that both spontaneous forms of playing with the kid down the street and the planned ahead ‘date’ can and should exist in harmony, lots of (younger) parents may be missing the brighter side of the play date.


I loved when Ben could see me making new ‘friends’ because of him! For one thing, he was a shy kid (not so much anymore) and I thought it was important for him to see that even when I didn’t know someone, I was willing to reach out to them and maybe even make a new friend of my own (by the way, I am introverted by nature and it was never easy for me, but I had to push through to set the example).


And as time marched on, I let Ben know that it was up to him to begin arranging to hang out with someone….all in due time. So if (newer) parents would give it just another couple of years, here’s what they’d find….


When a kid reaches about fourth or fifth grade, the words ‘play date’ cease to exist. Extremely uncool. At that point, they just want to ‘hang out’ with someone. (I dare you to call it a play date and see what happens when your son or daughter turns 11.) And they will be happy to tell you exactly who they want to hang out with. So, they’ll start coming home and asking if Joey can come home with them on Wednesday. And yes, you just might have to send an email or text or Facebook message to Joey’s mom or dad to see if it’s okay. Is that really so hard?


And those same parents might not believe this now, but knowing all of those other adults and how they raise their kids can help you immensely when your kid gets to middle and high school – you’ll figure out who’s home when the party is at their house, who you can trust to drive your precious cargo around and who you can count on in times of need. And…you might just pick up a few life-long friends along the way. (See my piece on the Value of Mom Friends: Sure, you just may run into a few nutty moms along the way, some major helicopters or control freaks, or a health nut or two. But those encounters make for good cocktail party stories, and sometimes help you know who you stealthily avoid (or who to turn to when you need to ramp up your workout…).

And I promise you – before you know it, your son WILL be out throwing around the football without you telling at him to get outside and get some fresh air (if you’re lucky, he might just ask you to join him). Your daughter WILL want to walk around the neighborhood with a friend and your dog – and just happen to walk past the house where the cute eighth grader lives about three blocks away.


Your kids WILL arrange their own hang-out time, activities and sporting events. And YOU will be asked to drive – but now you’ll be asked instructed to drive in silence so you don’t embarrass them, or pick them up a little further down the street than you might like, or drop them at the football game but please don’t stay and if you insist on staying, for God’s sake, PLEASE don’t speak to them.


As much as I do agree that the term ‘play date’ is a bit over-used, kind of cheesy and annoying to hear, it serves a purpose. Besides the point that lots of kids don’t live in neighborhoods that lend themselves to just running down the street and banging on a door, lots of parents work. So, we find ourselves having to plan a little bit more ahead, budgeting our time and weighing priorities and schedules. I’m thinking that’s not really a bad thing – for our kids or us.


For now – cherish the ride in the car in which you can actually talk and laugh and sing together on the way to a friend’s house (instead of talking over and censoring lyrics and language). And most of all, cherish all the great teachable moments that play dates can impart on your kids.


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