do you worry about what your kids are doing on play dates?

One of my favorite bloggers recently asked a question on her Facebook page that was too hot for the blog. And I don’t mean Fifty Shades of Gray-hot. She’d “been made,” as she put it, by the other mothers at school, who– wonder of wonders– had discovered her blog and were actually reading it. And here was her too-hot-to-blog question:

I am struggling with how to respond to the increasing requests for our kids to go over to another child’s house after school. I don’t really feel like touring someone’s house or having a few conversations gives me the info I need to feel confident – if anything my job has taught me that there is no “profile” or outward marker for trustworthiness. But then I feel like a jerk when I keep saying no, and also feel bad because my kids feel left out. (But not bad enough to change my convictions). How do I say no gracefully?

Honestly, this about blew my mind. Wait: you say NO to play dates? You say no to free babysitting, a kid or two less until dinner time? Assuming they’re not convicted serial killers, why not go for it?

I mean, I wish play dates didn’t have to exist at all; I wish my kids could walk home from school, have a snack, cut across a few yards to Susie Krupski’s house, and then play Barbies until the church bells ring at 6:15 which means it’s time to get home for dinner. That’s how I did it, unless Susie had to go tot the dentist or something. Plan B: Megan Scanlon’s house.

And so I do think my ten-year-old should have more control over his own social calendar than he does. But that’s not life in New York City- or from what my friends tell me, many other places- these days. If my kids don’t have pre-scheduled plans after school, the chances of them happening upon a friend to play with is close to nil. If my kids didn’t go on play dates (or host them) they wouldn’t have developed the relationships with their friends that they have.

But this blogger had 107 responses to her question, most saying I know, me too, it’s so hard. And once I stopped and thought about it? Some great points being made. To wit:

It’s hard to casually interview a classmate’s parents on the things that matter to me: 1) Do you keep porn in the home and are you 100% sure your kids don’t have access to the stash. 2) Do you have guns and are they locked away. 3) Will my kids actually be playing or just watching tv at your house. 4) Will they be playing in the main area of your home or in a room behind a closed door. 5) Are their older brothers at home. 6) What internet filtering software do you use on your computers. 7) Does your child have an unsecured ipad or iphone. . Are there other adults living in your home. 9) Do you let the kids roam the neighborhood. 10) Does your child play violent video games. Etc etc etc. Not exactly the questions you get answered in a drop-off situation.

If this mom asked me those questions? No porn, no guns, no violent video games. That’s easy. But:

3) Will your children actually be playing or just watching TV? I would have absolutely told you “no TV during play dates at our house,” but that would be a lie, since Maggie told me just last week she and her friend “mostly just watched TV” during their play date at our house. (Note to self: have even those conversations with the babysitter that seem completely obvious.)

4) Will they be playing behind a closed door? Maggie and her friend usually put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign as soon as they get home, so they can get all American Girl without interruption from

5) the two older brothers who are at home. 8 and 10. Utterly innocent. But yes, there.

6) Our internet filtering software? “Ask Mom before using the computer.”

7) access to an unsecured iPhone? Well, mine, if it’s not in my pocket. I don’t let them use it during play dates but I don’t “secure” it.

In other words, although I think myself an attentive and upstanding parent, I would fail this person’s Play Date Pre-Screening. And even though I can swear her children would be safe in my home, I can’t say she doesn’t have a right to disagree.

I trust my kids’ school, I trust the parent body, I like their friends and feel comfortable with them having play dates with families we’re acquainted with, even if I haven’t visited the home. If I ever worried about anything, it would be that they were playing video games or watching TV the whole time. Or at least, that’s all I worried about until today.

How about you? Do you forbid play dates, pre-screen where they occur? Do you have rules for play dates in your own home? Would your home pass the Play Date Test?


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

OHmommy March 12, 2013 at 8:47 pm

I would never say NO – I believe playdates are a healthy part of childhood that teaches many valuable lessons that can’t always be taught in school. And it’s “free childcare”. Win – win! But I like you, trust our parent body in our small close-knit community.


MarinkaNYC March 13, 2013 at 12:37 am

I’ve never asked those questions. Because I know when the kids are at my house, sometimes they do want to play video games and watch TV and I make the call on whether that’s ok or not. The parent hosting isn’t going to be an exact replica of me (their loss!) and they’re going to have to trust me. And vice versa.


amywlsn March 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm

That’s always how I’ve done it Marinka- at least I guess so- but I never second-guessed it until now.


WellReadWife March 13, 2013 at 11:56 pm

No one has ever pre-interviewed me before a play date, thank goodness! I have basically the same philosophy as you when it comes to computer and iPod Touch supervision. As long as they’re in the room with me, and I can see what sites they’re on, I’m okay with them going online.


Stephanie Macaluso Bartolo March 13, 2013 at 11:57 pm

I have so many different things going on in my head about this that its actually hard to formulate a post. As a mother of 3 beautiful girls, I consider myself a good parent, but good God people, let’s get a grip here. I have had plenty of “play dates” in my home and taken my kids to many as well. But, they weren’t really “play dates”. Sometimes it was a group of kids hanging out playing with puzzles or legos. Sometimes it was an adult BBQ with kids running around. I never scheduled “play dates”. I scheduled “playing with your friends with parents I like and trust”. Did I ask a bajillion questions? No. Do I trust my gut about people? Damn skippy. My kids have friends who have older siblings. We now have a teenager in our own home. Not all teens are out to molest my kids. I think people have gotten a little outrageous with all their helicopter parenting. They are raising their kids to be paranoid and scared. Bad things happen. Period. They can happen to anyone, anywhere. There’s no way to predict when or where or who they will happen to. I let my kids be kids. I let them go to homes where I like the parents. And, to be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t want to pass that test. Those kind of people creep me out. And we certainly would never be friends. Therefore our kids wouldn’t be friends outside of school. Sorry for the rambling, but, this topic just struck a real nerve with me!


The Tired Mother March 14, 2013 at 1:50 pm

We’re pretty careful with who we let the kids go with, probably because my husband used to work for the courts and had way too much exposure to the molesters of the world. If I don’t know the parents, we have the kids here until I we start to feel comfortable with the family. Even still, we’ve still had some instances of unmonitored YouTube watching, and Call of Duty play. And we later found out that one of the fathers had a problem with alcohol. You really have to just step up your parenting game, and decide what’s going to fly and what’s not and have the wherewithal to go over all of that with your kids (for example, the kids know that they may NOT play Call of Duty, and while it has never been discussed with them, they may not go over to that house if only that father is there.). Even if you had the cojones to have someone fill out a waiver, you’re never going to know what another family is doing behind closed doors. And kids will just be kids, and they don’t have the best judgment, even when they are being watched. There is a certain amount of trust that needs to happen. But you can stack the deck in your favor.


Wendy Panzner April 3, 2013 at 4:55 pm

My son is only two, but I think of things like this for the future, when solo play dates will happen more and more. I’m hoping I can use the time to prepare *him* for situations, not keep him from his friends. Now, of course, I don’t want to send him into a bad situation, and I only want to okay trips to trusted families’ houses. But as others have said, bad things can happen at even the seemingly safest houses. But if I can slowly build up his “right and wrong” centers by casually talking to him about the people/places/things that should send up red flags, maybe he’ll have the wherewithal to make simple decisions to leave/call me/say something when the wrong things are happening.

I remember being at my friend’s house as a very young girl and her parents weren’t home. Her slightly older brothers decided to watch an R-rated movie that I knew I wasn’t allowed to watch. When a sex scene came on, I left the room because I remembered my mom telling me (but not scaring me or threatening me with punishment) that I was too young for that kind of thing. I told my parents about it and they were very proud. I don’t know if they talked to the other parents or not, but I was allowed to go back because my parents knew I could be trusted even if others couldn’t. Hopefully my son will be receptive to discussions like this, because I can’t imagine severely limiting his world.


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