When I was young, playdates did not exist; at least I don’t remember playdates. When I was a child we just went to the house next door and played with our neighbours. Our parents knew we were nearby and could easily call us for dinner. There were also times when the family had plans and playing with the neighbours was not an option. There were things like homework or chores or music practice. And there were family times where it was just the four of us doing whatever we wanted to do together.
Things are different now. I first heard the term “playdate” when my son was invited for one. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Now I understand it to be an opportunity for children to play together that is arranged by the parents and supervised by the parents. If you’ve read my other posts, then you know I believe wholeheartedly in learning through play and in the benefits of play. You will know that the last thing I want to do is stop children from playing. So what’s wrong with playdates, you ask?
Here’s my problem with playdates. Children are with other children at school all day. They have social opportunities at recess and at lunch time. Some of the class time is social too with group projects or team sports or partner work. If children play with other children every day after school, they are always learning from each other. When do they have an opportunity for family time? When do they have opportunities to learn from adults? What about other activities that they are registered or enrolled in: music lessons, sports, art classes, girl guides, boy scouts and the list goes on. What about chores? What about homework? What about good old family time? When does that happen? Does it happen at all? I also worry a little that if children spend so much time with their friends they may lose their ability to think independently. Will they always be trying to be liked or say the right thing? Will they come to a point where they are unable to think of anything at all to do unless they have a friend right beside them?
I believe time alone is valuable. I believe time spent with other generations is valuable. We can learn so much from people who are older/younger than we are. I believe in families. Families need opportunities to cement their relationships. There’s a great book written by Dr. Gabor Mate on this very topic called Hold on To Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers. I highly recommend reading this book if you have children or are planning to have children.
Am I suggesting that children stop having playdates all together? No. There is value in having time with friends. Here’s my suggestion. Parents, I encourage you to have some limits around playdates. Set aside some time for the family and don’t let anything interfere with that time. Make it golden. It is important for everyone. All future relationships are built on family relationships so put some effort towards preserving them. Make them strong and solid. This can only be achieved by avoiding “playdate overload.”