When I wanted to play as a child, I simply headed out the front door, rang the bell of a neighbor, and we would start a kickball game. Today, in order for my child to play with a friend, play dates have to be arranged. When did playing become so scheduled? Has the drop-in play date disappeared? Is it because children’s time is over-planned? Are families too busy? Or is it that we are so used to mediated technology that showing up unannounced is simply not done anymore?
Arranging play dates, though, seems to involve its own set of rules and codes that I’m still learning. A friend of mine told me how she reached out to another mother via text for a play date and didn’t hear back until a few weeks later, when the other woman texted her availability for the following day. My friend said she purposely waited a few hours to respond because she didn’t want to look too available. She felt like she’d been thrust back into the dating world.
I’ve had many a play date go wrong. At the request of my daughter, I invited one woman and her daughter over to our house, and the woman seemed horrified by my dry erase board listing our detailed meals planned out for the week (I don’t understand: doesn’t everyone have one of these?). She never returned my calls after that. Was I too neurotic for her daughter? Some parents, rather than dropping off their children, stay during the play date. This makes for awkward conversation, in which I try to avoid revealing too much information, not unlike a first date. As a working mom of children who take the bus to school, I feel I’m at a distinct disadvantage, because most play dates are arranged during the school pick-up. I am so disconnected from that social network.
I wonder what this group of children with parents who are so involved in their social interaction will be like when I have them as college students in another ten years. Once, children met their friends via their physical proximity, the neighborhood. You learned how to hang out with those around you. Now, will over-scheduled play dates with children that are pre-screened by parents encourage kids to seek out more tailored matches? What happens when they enter college and are thrust into the proximity model again? Or, will administrators and new computer programs mimic the tailored play date experience for choosing roommates / suitemates / classmates? Sometimes, I miss just ringing the bell.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts