Is Our ‘Playdate Society’ a Bad Thing?

A recent blog post gone viral bemoans parents' emphasis on 'playdates' instead of the carefree, neighborhood fun of days past. Do you agree it's a problem?

One mom’s take on what she calls our “playdate society” is generating a lot of buzz in parenting circles.

In a blog entry on Huffington Post titled, “The Saddest Thing About Living in Our ‘Playdate Society,'” Jennifer S. White describes how parents must create playdates if they want their kids to have any friends.

Unlike the days many of us remember of running around with the neighborhood kids under little to no supervision, today’s kids are apparently more busy with their own activity schedules and most of their friend-time happens when a couple moms agree to a specified date, time and place to get together.

So if you’re not in the local moms group, approaching random parents at the park or networking at Jungle Java – or, maybe, you’re not at any of those places because you have a job – you’re pretty much out. And, naturally, so are your kids.

“The world is different from how it was when I was small. My children’s early lives are vastly different, too,” White writes in her post, which has been shared more than 8,200 times. “For the most part, I’m OK with that, but sometimes I’m not, and when I think about that one little gleaming seed of truth at the heart of why, it’s often because I don’t think it’s ‘fair’ that I have to be a popular playdate mom in order for my kid to have some friends.”

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White’s sentiments are striking a chord with many parents who can understand the feeling.

“I feel the same way… I sometimes feel that if I don’t schedule playdates my daughter is missing out on something,” Suzanne Waxman commented, in part, on White’s post. “Growing up in the ’80s was so much easier and carefree … miss it.”

But others feel the playdate culture is a good thing, especially since it means more supervision for young children.

“The world doesn’t seem to be a different place, it is a different place. I wish my mother hadn’t let me run all over the neighborhood and left me under various neighbors’ care, because a lot of really bad things wouldn’t have happened to me,” Shellie Arnold commented. “I don’t see ‘playdates’ as a loss of something wonderful. I see ‘playdates’ as an important step to try to keep my child safe.”

I can see both viewpoints. When my kids were younger, I struggled on and off to find good “mom friends” I had anything in common with and I realized how quickly my kids’ toddler buddies could disappear when it turned out the other mom and I didn’t quite “click.” It feels a bit like dating except our kids are the ones who miss out if our attempts fail.

On the other hand, the idea of neighborhood kids running around free together isn’t quite compatible with the toddler and preschool years anyway and it’s not until kids are school-aged that “drop-off” playdates are even discussed. If we had to guess, the same parents who let us roam free with neighborhood friends probably weren’t jumping through any hoops to make sure we had toddler besties.

As commenter Raina O’Hare points out, “Your daughter is only 4 – a bit too young to have the kind of free range friendships you are remembering from your childhood,” she writes. “I’m betting the bulk of that playtime happened when you were a little older. So there’s still hope.”

The “playdate society” does seem to continue to some extent as kids get older but I can’t say I’d have it any other way. I’d love my kids to have more neighborhood friends to play with but that wouldn’t mean I’d send them off on their bikes with a sunset curfew or let them play at a neighbor’s house if I didn’t know the parents. I’ll feel the same whether their friends are across the street or across town, even though it requires a little more effort.

Statistically safer today or not, many modern parents require a little more supervision for their kids. I’ll hang onto it as long as possible.

What do you think? Is our “playdate society” a bad thing? Tell us in the comments!

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