So . . . what is a "playdate", anyway?
August 31, 2014 3:37 PM   Subscribe

What is a playdate, anyway? Is it a social occasion where parents hang out together while their kids play together in close proximity? And how did this pattern emerge? do people in other countries do this or is it mainly an American thing?

I find it hard to wrap my head around the notion because it seems so alien to my own experience. when I was a kid, if you wanted to play, you went out and did it yourself. Parents had their sphere and we had ours. sSo, if you could please explain this parenting trend to me, I would be forever in your debt.
posted by jason's_planet to Society & Culture (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We do that with our 4 year old. He's not walking to a another kid's house to play. At least hopefully not. Hence going to a friend's house to see said friend and a kid of similar toddler-ness.
posted by jpe at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

It is when one parent brings their child to meet another child so they can play. Many American parents do not let their children go out and play unsupervised. Also, many Americans live in suburban neighborhoods that are far from public parks and inconvenient for pedestrians (some do not even have sidewalks) requiring a car to get around. Hence the involvement of the parents because children can't drive. Also, the parents may live in a neighborhood with few children of the same age or not be well acquainted with their neighbors.

I don't think it is a new trend. It has been a "thing" for as long as Americans have lived in suburbs requiring a car to get around.
posted by pravit at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would hazard that it arose with post WWII car culture and the burbs.

Before this, you lived in a city, where there were plenty of kids and people around, or you lived on a farm, where you and your (very likely existent) siblings played with each other and nature.

With car culture + flight into suburbs + "teach parents to fear so they continue to buy and make our economy boom, rah rah USA", parents had to physically bring kids together because distances between people had suddenly gotten so large.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Here's the major thing that changed: two-income families. In the good old days elementary-aged kids came home after school and played outside. Now they are often in daycare, which is scheduled, and then to make up for the lack of vigorous activity there, weekends & later evenings are often organized sports. Little guys are in daycare and then tired out.

So, parents schedule play dates because there is no critical mass of kids just hanging out, and to feel out who is around and safe, they usually go along until (here) the kids are 5 or 6, depending.

It's not a Portlandia-style conspiracy, it's the changing nature of community in a society where middle class means two full time jobs.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2014 [25 favorites]

Can we not do the Today's Parents Are Awful dance?

I grew up in NYC in the 70s and 80s. SAHM. Play dates were the norm. It was a drop-off deal once we were old enough. Still is for my 7 year old.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:46 PM on August 31, 2014 [33 favorites]

BTW, I wouldn't call it a playdate. It's just going to a pal's house to have a beer and let the kids do whatever.
posted by jpe at 3:46 PM on August 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Some parents call it "getting together for tea/coffee/cocktails" and they sit in the kitchen or on the porch or outside and chat while their kids play. Seems pretty universal to me when your kid isn't old enough to go someplace under her own power. The OP may not remember his pals from his toddler days.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It happens in Australia. We do it when our kids are small and they make a friend we'd like to support them seeing more of but are not old enough to arrange for themselves. We also do it when they are older and we don't know the other parents well enough to leave our kids unattended in their care.

Until I know the other family very well, my children don't go in their home without me staying and having a cup of tea with the other parent . That would be true of many parents here, I'd guess. But weirdly, lots of parents have trusted me with their kids when they hardly know me. Just yesterday in fact!

But arranging it with other families means our kids get to play with the kids of their choice, not only the kids that live next door who may be the wrong age or not have similar interests.

When I was a kid, I roamed the streets as all kids did and played with whoever we found but also was only taken to the houses of my parent's friends. There kids I wanted to play with that lived pretty far away and weren't friends with my mum, I never saw them. And my family have way more time commitments than I did as a kid with music, language and swimming lessons all happening after school, not during. This means we make extra effort to ensure our kids get the reward of seeing their friends. And most of us live in the hope of making good friends with their parents and swapping babysitting. Not many of us have grandparents in the picture (living far away or dead), or they're quite elderly.
posted by taff at 3:53 PM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I am about 10 years younger than you (born in the early 80s), and I definitely remember events that would now be called play dates, in addition to just regular "going out and playing." Usually a playdate would occur when I wanted to hang out with a kid who didn't live in my neighborhood, like someone I used to go to school with but moved away from, or a kid from a youth sports league or community youth drama class. Their house was not close enough for me to just walk over there so we'd have to schedule a day and time to visit each other's houses.

My mom is not a helicopter parent, unless I vastly misunderstand the definition.
posted by muddgirl at 3:56 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

My kid is 3, and his best friends live 5-20 minutes' car ride away, and until recently there was only one other kid between about 0-12 in the neighborhood. We do playdates a few times per month. I was literally just having a chat with one of his friends' parents today about how we're *right* on the cusp of being able to straight-up drop the kids off. But mostly we do as you describe. The most successful playdates are just as much fun for the parents, as we crack into some snacks and chat with minimal interruptions.

He's not over-scheduled; we're not hovering (except with the kid that likes to strangle mine that my son inexplicably likes.) He also goes to the playgrounds and runs with whoever happens to be there. They come home from preschool and say they want to play with a particular friend, we contact the parents and set something up. I don't see how hanging out at someone's house with a kid my kid likes is a sign of What Is Wrong With The World.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Parents of young children catching up with other parents so their kids can hang out has happened forever, now we just have a word for it. And if supervising my two year old while this occurs instead of letting him run amok in traffic makes me a helicopter parent (seriously, was that necessary?!) well then, so be it.
posted by Jubey at 4:00 PM on August 31, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My impression has always been that playdates are as much about the stay-at-home parents getting out of the house to socialize with other parents as they are about their kids playing.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

In the sixties our Moms took turns supervising while the other moms went grocery shopping, to doctors appointments or just had a couple of hours with a good book.

In our neighborhood the moms were pregnant a lot, and they would do coffee-klatch, and roll lumpia. (We lived in a Filipino neighborhood.)

It's basically parents arranging to let very young children be together. As we got older, we arranged our own dates. Mostly by riding our bikes to the park.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think a lot is vocab - like bromance and BFF, no one talked about "playdates" but the basic idea it's supposed to refer to isn't actually that complicated. I think we just said "going over to Heather's house". As a child I was pretty oblivious to whether the parents were hanging out together but it seems like that would be specific to individuals.
posted by mdn at 4:42 PM on August 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

I live in Canada, and we have playdates here too. As noted above, it's just a way for kids to play and adults to socialize. I think the main change from the past is the name "playdate"... the concept itself isn't really new at all.
posted by barnoley at 4:44 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up calling get-togethers with kid-friends "playdates". That's all they are - getting kids together on purpose to hang out together. Parents would usually not stay to hang out (though I don't remember too much from before the age of 5 or so). This was in New England, and I was born in the late 1980s.
posted by bubukaba at 4:56 PM on August 31, 2014

I was a kid in the 1970s. Before I entered kindergarten my sphere of friends consisted of my cousins and my parents' friends' kids. I had playdates, I guess, but they were planned for when the adults wanted to get together and socialize. We kids were different ages and were tossed together for the duration. When I started school, we were more free-range and set up events on our own.

Today's playdates are more kid-driven. As in, the parents are hanging out mostly because their kids are "friends" at "school"/daycare. The parents' friendship might grow, but it's secondary to the kids'.
posted by kimberussell at 5:00 PM on August 31, 2014

Best answer: Playdate = Sam would love it if Jimmy comes over Saturday to do lego. Can you drop him off about 2? Great!

I imagine there are families where the moms get together and talk (particularly when the kids are small/preschool) but for my family (where there are no other kids my son's age within a half-mile radius except the girl down the street who only wants to play Barbies) but in my experience, it's as much about arranging the drop off and pick up as it is about getting kids together.

When I was a kid, if you wanted to play, you went out and did it yourself.

When I was a kid in the early 1970's, I grew up on a tree farm with our nearest neighbors a mile away and our nearest neighbors with kids easily 5-6 miles away. I certainly went out and played myself (and rode my bike all over hell and back) but if I wanted to go visit a specific friend, a call between parents and a car ride was the way to make that happen. The terminology has changed (we would have called it "Call her parents to see if she can come over") but the idea hasn't really.

On the other hand, my husband grew up on military housing which was a very kid-rich environment, and his experience closely mirrors the current experience of his sister, who lives in a condo complex where virtually every house has kids. Kids running in packs, in and out back doors, out from early morning through dusk.

I think it mostly has to do with a) having a different name for the thing; b) population density - if there are a lot of kids around, you don't need to schedule, but if you live in a place where there are few kids and/or there is long distance travel you do.
posted by anastasiav at 5:30 PM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is not really a foreign concept, I promise. Surely when you were a kid you had some friends who didn't live in the neighborhood, and parents had to help with arrangements and transportation?

Sometimes parents stay, because the kids are little. When kids are older, parents don't stay unless they are also friends. You probably don't call it a playdate when you meet a friend for coffee, but it's the same thing, just with kids.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My kids were all born in the 1970s. I never heard the term play date until the 1990s when my favorite cousin had kids. It seemed to me at the time to be a yuppie term, the kind of thing that yuppie parents scheduled in advance like all those children's activities they went to. Busy busy people.

Things were more spontaneous and informal when my kids were young. We had a lot of friends with kids, sometimes they would just stop by without calling, and I did the same.
posted by mareli at 6:05 PM on August 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's how I conceptualize playdates (US, 1990s):

I had playdates as a young kid (under 10), but it wasn't about the parents getting together, it was more like a group of parents/families taking turns babysitting. Basically, whichever kid had a parent or older sibling home to babysit that day would have their eye on all of a small group of kids, and the families of the kids in that small group took (usually informal) turns with babysitting duty. The "group" would usually be me and maybe a couple of my closest friends, it didn't consist of every kid I would play with outside on a given day.

As a younger kid (from babyhood to age six or seven), I just played with the other kids in my building or on my street, but at that age we still needed some amount of supervision. So if one kid's parent or older sibling was going to be home to babysit on a given day, one or two or three of that kid's friends would be brought to their house to spend at least a few hours playing while the friends' families were busy working/running errands/whatever. The families took turns, but it was an informal thing (they'd arrange it one playdate at a time, there wasn't a set schedule). At that age, kids would almost definitely be both dropped off and picked up.

Even when I would play with other kids in my same building, since kids have not-the-best concept of time, my mom would usually have to come get me and their moms would have to come get them when it was time to go home. When I was older (maybe ages seven to ten or so), parents would arrange a playdate, and I would ride the bus over to the other kid's house at the end of the school day, or get a ride over to the other kid's house if it was a weekend/vacation -- otherwise, it was virtually the same as when I was younger.

By middle school (age ten and up), I was arranging social things for myself and nobody's parents were really involved anymore, except in terms of giving permission to go over to someone else's house and in terms of giving rides if necessary.

If I remember correctly, I had these kinds of playdates usually once or twice a week (and that was basically normal -- I wasn't an especially popular or unpopular kid, I don't think). I also went to daycare until I was old enough to stay home alone -- the playdates were in addition to that.
posted by rue72 at 6:08 PM on August 31, 2014

Best answer: In my experience, formal playdates are for toddlers and preschool aged kids who don't have the agency/skillset to decide to go play at a friend's house. Once you're old enough to get around on your own steam, playdates are no longer necessary.

Of course, "old enough" varies depending on a lot of different things. When I was a kid in the 80s, we lived in a suburban landscape with lots of other young families, and there were plenty of kids my age within walking distance. So I was old enough to "go play" when I was around kindergarten age. In big cities, "old enough" might be more like upper elementary school, when you can be trusted with keys and metrocards and the like. In a rural area, all play with children your own age might be parent-scheduled until you have friends with driver's licenses.

There's also the phenomenon of modern suburban fear and kids who are privately educated or homeschooled, for whom, despite the opportunities for unstructured play with other children, that's not an option due to what I'll politely call local social mores. But I don't actually have experience with that, so I'll avoid idle speculation.
posted by Sara C. at 6:39 PM on August 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is not really a foreign concept, I promise. Surely when you were a kid you had some friends who didn't live in the neighborhood, and parents had to help with arrangements and transportation?

Nope. Everybody I hung out with in primary school was in the immediate neighborhood.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:37 PM on August 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

My son is eight. He doesn't yet have the organizational skills to keep track of his own schedule, and neither do his friends. So he tells us that he'd like to get together with so-and-so, and we call/text so-and-so's parents to arrange it. That's it, nothing complicated.
posted by alms at 7:42 PM on August 31, 2014

I took a bus to school K-2nd grade so everyone I went to primary school with lived in a different neighborhood.
posted by muddgirl at 7:49 PM on August 31, 2014

Yeah, not sending my daughter across an incredibly busy street (the 6 years we've been here our fence has been hit once and two cars parked on the street have been written off and one almost written off) even though one of her best friend's is totally within walking distance. Her BFF however, is not within walking distance (although they went to the same kindy). As it happens, her BFF's mother and I have some enormous similarities and get along very well so whenever we can get the time we hang out for four to six hours drinking tea and snacking and talking while our kids run rampant all over the hostess' house (we swap when we can). The rest of the kids in the neighborhood? Randoms she doesn't want to go play with.

She's five, there's no 'arranging one's own schedule' for her, for the same reason she doesn't make her own doctor's appointments, cook meals, or clean the bathroom. It's not developmentally appropriate, nor does she know the schedule's of me or my partner.

When I was a kid, I would play with some of the kids on my street. I was not five though, and we were set far back from the road and it was a rural/regional area. It was also how skeezy older brothers perved on their younger sibling's friends (and realising how young I was is hella fucking creepy as an adult). And even then, someone had to have supervision. You might go from one house to the other, but someone had responsibility. Otherwise we often went to my mother's friend's houses and played with their kids but that was more about my mother's relationships than ours.

(Australia, childhood in the early 80s)
posted by geek anachronism at 3:05 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Families are smaller now - fewer children per family, fewer children per suburb. You can't just roll out the door and play with kids if there are none.

I arrange play dates for my kid, but he's like, a bit over one, and it's more so I don't lose my ever-loving mind and get to talk to another adult every once in a while.
posted by Jilder at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think the critical distinction between what I (and it sounds like you) did as a kid and today's playdates are scheduling and parental involvement. From about age 4, I just free-roamed our neighbourhood, as did most kids, after school and on the weekends. I went to a specialty elementary school, though, so made friends that did not live right on my street. Hanging out with them outside of school time took a little more planning, and usually happened on a weekend. It was arranged by us kids, though. Like, Hey mom, can Nicole sleep over on Saturday? OK, Nicole, ask your mother if you can sleep over on Saturday.

Now, as indicated above, most kids don't free-roam and most also don't come straight home after school, so that whole unscheduled after school time doesn't really happen. Most of the kids at my daughter's school are dropped off in a car and picked up in a car. And many have sports teams or other evening activities, so no free time Monday-Friday. And parents today are way more meddling hands-on than mine were. I have been encouraging my daughter to handle the arrangements for her social life since she was very small, but I am a total anomaly in her circle. When she wants to hang out with a kid, I encourage her to call them up and invite them over. When her friends want her to hang out with them, their moms send me an email or text message trying to find a date that works in their busy schedules. It's totally not how I roll, but it is definitely the norm, even now that she is 11. I don't know at what point this'll stop, but I hope it's soon.
posted by looli at 8:40 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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