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Erin Stewart: Boycott the play date? Why not just do it right?

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6 2014 9:50 a.m. MDT

The playdate should be given back to its rightful owners — the kids, writes Erin Stewart.

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One blogger dad is calling for a boycott of play dates, at least for what the play date has become among modern parents.

On his site, DadNCharge.com, he says these contrived and scheduled play dates for his children are “altering the spontaneity of our children. It has become too formal with set dates and times and has rendered my son incapable of calling his friends because he feels awkward asking, especially when a grown-up answers.”

I agree that the play date of today is very different than the playing-with-the-neighbors afternoon of yesteryear. Kids don’t just bike to each other’s houses like they used to and they usually watch the streetlights turn on from the safety of their living rooms.

I think a large part of this phenomenon is because parents are more keenly aware of stranger danger and all the risks out there for kids. The media feed these dangers to us in handfuls, so we feel we are being negligent if we let our kids roam the neighborhood for hours unsupervised.

I also think parents are over-scheduling themselves and their children, and this bleeds over into the play date arena. We pencil in play dates on our Google calendars in between soccer and piano and homework time. And then when the predetermined play date time rolls around, many mothers think they have to provide some sort of activity so the friend can take home a craft or treat or something as evidence that they did, in fact, have a true play date.

So, I agree with DadNCharge that the play date has changed from what it used to be. But we shouldn’t give up on them because it’s not the play date’s fault, after all. It’s ours.

We, as parents, are the ones trying to make play dates fit with our lives. We want them to be orderly, planned and well-supervised. But the best play dates are messy, completely chaotic and have nothing to do with mom or dad.

I admit I fell squarely into the camp of Type A Mom play date maker for a while. I was new to the play date scene, and I wanted to host great play dates for my kids. I made treats and planned activities and found myself limiting the number of play dates because I simply wasn’t up for it.

Then, I realized the secret glory of the play date: Kids will play without you for hours if you let them. Now, I love play dates because the kids are happy, learning and running around like crazies, and I get to do whatever I want within earshot.

Those are the play dates where kids actually use their imaginations to fill the time because mom isn’t going to plan out playtime for them. Kids learn to share. They learn to invent their way out of boredom. They learn to solve their problems without a parent intervening.

So, no, let’s not boycott the play date. Instead, let’s reinvent it. Better yet, let’s hand it back to its rightful owners — the kids.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 3-year-old daughters divebomb off the couch behind her.

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