Why one dad wants to ban play dates

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By A. Pawlowski

The play date has become as much a part of childhood as homework and sleepovers, with parents happy to arrange a set time when their children can socialize in a supervised and controlled setting.

But one dad says the play date is ruining kids and the basic concept of play. Chris Bernholdt — who is a stay-at-home father of three kids and one of the parents featured in TODAY’s “Modern Dads” series — says the very word makes him shudder.

So what exactly does he hate about play dates?

“The structure, formality of it, the over-scheduling, the kind of forced play rather than the spontaneous play, the free play,” Bernholdt told TODAY, adding that play dates stifle kids’ creativity.

“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 has been causing a stir ever since he wrote a post titled, “Banish the Playdate,” on his blog earlier this month, venting that the ritual makes him feel ridiculous and causes his kids to lose the ability to think for themselves. He finds the back-and-forth emails with other parents to make plans exhausting and feels like he should be preparing a cheese plate as a "host" for his guest kids. Meanwhile, children have lost the ability to connect, he believes.

“(It) has rendered my son incapable of calling his friends because he feels awkward asking, especially when a grown up answers,” Bernholdt wrote.

Some commenters have struck back, with one reminding Bernholdt that “it's a scary, different world we live in now,” with parents feeling that kids are no longer safe to play in their front yards or ride off on their bikes unaccompanied.

Experts said play dates are simply a necessity of modern life.

“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,” said Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child, adolescent and family psychologist. “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?”

Bernholdt's wife thinks stomaching play dates might be easier for women, who tend to group together, while men socialize differently, she said.

In his quest to banish the play date, Bernholdt 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 play date.

Experts say it’s not so much the play date that may be ruining childhood, but children’s obsession with gadgets and video games.

The play date may just need a “rebrand,” TODAY’S Willie Geist noted.

“Just change it to 'get together,'” Al Roker said.

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