Want More Creative, Healthier Kids? Ditch This Social Activity

Parents mean well, but dad Chris Bernholdt says organized playdates are ruining America’s children.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Jul 28, 2014· 2 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Dating used to be a rite of passage for teenagers, but nowadays kids as young as two participate in organized hookups. Their moms or dads do all the scheduling. Yes, folks, we’re talking about playdates, those social events where one child’s parent calls, texts, or emails another kid’s parent and asks, “Can we get Zach and Olivia together at 2 p.m. on Saturday?”

Father of three Chris Bernholdt is convinced, as he wrote on his blog, that all this “playdate garbage is ruining our kids.” The concerned dad shudders “every time someone asks me if our kids can have a playdate together,” and he has embarked on a crusade to change parents’ reliance on organized social time.

“The structure, the formality of it, the overscheduling, the kind of forced play rather than the spontaneous play, the free play,” Bernholdt, who lives in upstate New York, told Today. “If you’re scheduling things for them all the time, they become dependent on the schedule, so they’re constantly coming to you asking what’s next, what’s next."

Bernholdt believes that parents who constantly handle their child’s schedule are stifling creativity. He isn’t just blaming other moms and dads either. Bernholdt’s speaking from experience. He blogged that he found that his organizing playdates has “rendered my son incapable of calling his friends because he feels awkward asking, especially when a grown-up answers.”

At a time when 30 percent of American kids are overweight or obese, sending the message that a game of capture the flag or kickball has to be organized in advance could have an adverse effect on kids’ health. If they’re not in the habit of regularly running and jumping with their peers, boys and girls are probably parked in front of a television or a video game console.

However, eliminating playdates is easier said than done. Violent crime rates have dropped over the past 30 years, but because of fears over abductions or sexual abuse, parents are no longer OK with letting their kids freely roam the neighborhood.

“As a victim of a pedophile and survivor of a sexual assault, I sure wish my parents had been more vigilant,” wrote one anonymous commenter on Bernholdt’s blog. “Even if my kids are probably safe, I’m not willing to take a chance on them going through what I did. So, I’ll let them play and I’ll be vigilant, because the two are not mutually exclusive. Stop denigrating parents who are attentive.”

The other elephant in the room is the overscheduled nature of modern American life. Even adults have a hard time getting together with their friends, and most folks don’t have the bandwidth to kick back on a porch swing with their neighbors.

“We often have two parents working outside the home, and they need to know what’s going on because the schedules are all over the place,” psychologist Jennifer Hartstein told Today. “I think that’s part of the bigger issue of how do we slow ourselves down as the adults in these children’s lives, to be more present?”

Most moms and dads probably aren’t going to stop working long hours, so letting kids take the lead and come up with playtime activities is likely what needs to happen. As for Bernholdt, according to Today, the dad has “started organizing outings like a visit to the zoo with other stay-at-home dads. They insist what’s happening here is not a playdate.”