Play dates have basically bureaucratized childhood (and parenthood)

My wife and I had an issue on Sunday morning that basically stole our joy the rest of the day. It was a little stupid thing about schedules but it’s part of a bigger issue relating to how things have changed over the years.

The issue was about me taking our youngest daughter swimming. She wanted to go after church but my oldest daughter had invited a friend over to play on Sunday afternoon (it wasn’t for sure she was coming — she “might come over”) and this friend might be bringing her younger sister that was my youngest daughter’s age. So we are dealing with a friend “might” come over and “might” bring her little sister — paralyzing us from doing anything. My wife insisted that we couldn’t go swimming — I insisted I’m not going to base my schedule on the whimsy of the whole “Play Date” model.

I took my youngest daughter swimming anyway and we got home shortly after the sisters got there. After me and wife had been fuming about it all day, it was a fairly uneventful scene to see all the girls playing together when we got home from swimming. This was of course after several texts back and fourth between my wife and the sister’s mom about drop off and pick up times (they live 2 blocks away and the girls are 5th and 7th graders). Sometimes it takes more texts back and forth to schedule a Play Date than it does to get a kitchen remodel done.

When did things get so bad that kids can’t say “I’m going outside” when they are leaving the house and know to come back in time for dinner? When did it change that a 10 year old can’t walk a few blocks to his friend’s house and knock on the door and ask “can you play?”.

This whole model of the parents contacting the other parents and coordinating a “play date” has taken away part of being a child. You can learn something by just putting down the game controller, walking outside and discovering the world. It’s kind of hard to schedule a play date to lay in the grass on a hill and watch the clouds go by. Or find a body of water to see if you can see a frog or snake then walk from there to the store and buy some gum.

Growing up has become so sterile — kids don’t leave their house unless their parents have prearranged the trip with several texts. Nobody in my generation ever asked their parents if they would call one of their friend’s mom to see if they could play. When I was a kid, we set everything up ourselves and then asked. “Is it alright if I go here?” or “Can he spend the night?”. Play was initiated by the children, not the other way around.

I’m really not advocating unsafe behavior but kids have more risk getting hurt by someone they know then some stranger stopping and throwing them in their trunk.

I’d love to forget all about this “Play Date” mentality for kids older than a certain age — freeing kids to just have some unstructured fun, blossoming where they are planted, and growing geographical-friendly relationships organically.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Jeff Jarrell’s story.