Playdates are a great way for kids to make new friends and strengthen existing friendships outside of school. They also provide an opportunity for children to develop skills to support them with socialising, conflict resolution, and other important life skills. As parents or guardians, we often aspire to be the household known for hosting the fun playdates with the best snacks and toys ensuring that other children will want to come back again! However, the ubiquity of electronic devices in our lives can sometimes spark controversy when it comes to whether they should be permitted during these playdates.
Different households have varying rules and approaches when it comes to device use; some parents may allow unrestricted access to e.g video games and social media, while others adopt a more controlled approach. Some parents may believe that allowing kids to use devices freely can encourage independence and technological literacy, while others may prefer stricter limits to foster face-to-face interactions and promote alternative activities. For others, it's not even on their agenda. It's important to remember that each family may have its unique reasons for their approach to device usage during playdates. While it's natural to feel influenced by the practices of others, staying true to your own values and rules is essential especially if you have a digital family plan and have an idea of how you want your child to engage with technology. Be open to discussing these differences with other parents, as it can lead to a better understanding of each family's perspective and perhaps even finding common ground!
Ultimately, the goal should be to create a comfortable and respectful environment where children can engage in meaningful playdates while respecting the host family's rules and values.
Tips for Managing Playdates and Digital Devices:
If You're Hosting:
- Communicate your digital values ahead of time, especially if you plan to allow electronic devices during the playdate. Be clear about which devices you allow and if you place time limits.
- Specify the type of programs/films you have on offer and whether that is OK. If your child uses a gaming console like the Nintendo Switch, ask if the visiting child is allowed to use it, never just assume.
- If you don't typically allow devices, mention this to set expectations for the other child and maybe give examples of what activities/toys they will have on hand instead.
If Your Child Is Going to Their Place:
- Share your expectations with the hosting parent. Politely express that your child isn't ready for computer games or phones for example, and you'd appreciate it if they engaged in alternative activities.
- The hosting parent may be understanding and share your values, or if not you can consider hosting the playdate yourself under your own rules
If you encounter resistance or conflict:
- A helpful response might be, "I understand that at your house, iPads and video games are part of playtime, but in our household, we prefer to encourage other activities like XYZ. I completely respect your choices and I hope you respect ours too." This allows for a constructive conversation about the values and activities you prioritise during playdates.
Plan Ahead! Think of some simple activities for them to do to keep them engaged. Some ideas:
- A Scavenger hunt for snacks around the house, then put on some music or a fun podcast/Audio story while they enjoy their finds. A massive hit of dopamine worth 15-20 minutes.
- Get creative with Lego bricks by laying out a diverse selection and using the Brickit app for inspiration. Challenge the kids to build new creations, and for added excitement, set a timer for a burst of accomplishment (and dopamine of course!) This hands-on experience provides an excellent learning opportunity helping kids learn the value of taking turns, compromising, and problem-solving. (20-30 mins).
- Buy yourself a wireless Bluetooth microphone for talent shows and singing sessions- You could even sit down with your child the day before and create the playlist as an activity together. Or ask the other parent for their own child’s favourites too. (15 mins)
- Explore science-based experiments like invisible ink tests using everyday items like paper, water, turmeric, hand sanitiser, and baking soda. It's super fun, minimal mess, and appeals to all ages up until 12!
Devices don't have to be the default, with a bit of planning, these activities can keep kids engaged and entertained while minimising the use of digital devices yet giving them a lovely dose of happy hormones like dopamine and serotonin which will have them wanting to come back again.
So now you’re well in over an hour into the playdate, time for some free play until the doorbell goes :).
A friendly Reminder!
- Device Rules: Families have different rules for using devices. Some allow a lot, and some have strict limits. It's okay to have your own rules but it’s never ok to ignore others’.
- Stick to Your Beliefs: Follow the rules you believe in, even if they're different from others. Stay true to what you think is right even if it does make you the "difficult" parent.
- Respect Differences: Understand that every family's rules are based on their reasons and values. Show respect for their choices and try to find common ground if needed.
- Open Communication: It's okay to talk to other parents about playdate rules and preferences. Open communication can help everyone understand and respect each other's points of view.
- Positive Playdates: The main goal is to have fun and positive playdates. It's about children enjoying time together while following the host family's rules and values.
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