The last time my eight-year-old son hosted a play date at our house, his friend wanted to play a video game. My son said they couldn’t. His friend asked if they could watch a movie. My son said they couldn’t because, “My mom says no technology during play dates.” “Why not?” asked his friend. “Ask my mom.”
And the boy did ask me. The short answer was that there were plenty of other things for the boys to do besides turning on something that would require a screen. They figured out other things to do and other games to play and were fully engaged for their three-hour play date.
Here’s the longer explanation, though, about why we don’t allow technology during play dates at our house.
- Play dates should be about socialization. Both my son and his friend are only children. They both benefit from the opportunity to interact with a peer. And when a screen is involved, there’s little interaction, little chance for these two boys to engage in a conversation.
- Play dates are complicated enough. Before a play date, I always double-check with the child’s parents to find out if any snacks and/or beverages are completely off-limits. I don’t want to feed a child something he isn’t regularly allowed to eat. Likewise, different families most likely have different rules and guidelines about what can be watched and/or played. So I make it easier for myself, and take anything screen-related out of the equation.
- Play dates are opportunities for creativity. The boys were in my son’s room, rummaging around my son’s toy bin and found some old Yo Gabba Gabba dolls. The boys made up a game with these dolls (dolls that hadn’t been played with in quite some time). I heard lots of laughter from this spontaneous, unscripted, unplanned game. (And they played it more than once).
- Play dates allow kids to have new experiences. When I was a kid, one of the best parts of playing at a friend’s house was the chance to play with new toys; toys I didn’t have at my house. My son’s friend was quite intrigued by my son’s toy cash register, and was quite happy to play market and scan the bar codes of the play milk.
- Play dates shouldn’t all be the same. What you do at one friend’s house shouldn’t be an exact copy of what you do at another friend’s house, or even at your own house. My son and his friend painted their hands and made handprints. I painted their feet and helped them walk across paper to make footprints. My son’s friend said he had never done that before. (And while he was waiting for his turn to get his feet painted, he looked through our art supplies and busied himself making a butterfly out of pipe cleaners).
- Play dates are lessons in basic play skills. Regardless of their ages, children on a play date need to rely on basic rules of play. Compromising. Playing fair. Taking turns. Sharing. Cleaning up one game before beginning another. Those skills are best practiced in non-screen games.
- Play dates are about play. My son and his friend were upstairs and downstairs, many times. They played together, and they played side-by-side as each created their own block structure. They snacked on homemade ice pops, popcorn, and juice boxes. They talked. And they played. We took technology out of the equation, and they found other things to do, other games to play.