ANN ARBOR, Mich. — How much would you need to know about a family, parent, or household before you allowed your young child to play there for a few hours? The “playdate” is a staple of American childhood, and often times a child’s first opportunity to make some friends and possibly a long-lasting connection with a peer of their own age. However, a new national poll finds that nearly half of surveyed parents (48%) have declined a playdate invitation because they weren’t comfortable leaving their child in the other parent’s care.
Interestingly, despite these widespread concerns among parents, the poll, conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, also showed that only one in four parents have been asked about safety issues before hosting a playdate.
Among parents’ top concerns about dropping their children off at another person’s home include their child being left unsupervised, possibly hearing foul language, having unrestricted access to medications or other harmful substances, and getting injured.
“Playdates allow children to develop independence, gain experience interacting with other children in an unstructured setting, and have fun with a friend,” says poll co-director Sarah Clark in a release. “Before parents send their child on a playdate, they need to feel confident that their child will be safe and appropriately supervised. Making sure children will be safe and well supervised during a playdate often means asking the host parents about key safety issues. However, our poll suggests that many parents are not proactive when it comes to having these conversations.”
A total of 881 parents with at least one child between the ages of four to nine took part in the poll. If offered a playdate invite to a family’s home they didn’t know very well, 22% said they would leave their child there to play for a few hours, while 43% said they would have to stay there with their child for the play date. Another 22% said they would flat out decline the invitation.
When asked what factors influence their playdate decision-making, some of the top responses among parents were: their child being particularly shy around strangers (17%), their child being afraid of certain pets or animals (11%), food allergies or specific dietary requirements (8%), and any other health conditions their child may have (6%).
Most surveyed parents said they would make some type of effort to learn more about the family extending the playdate invitation. Some would do this by asking other local parents, families, or neighbors, while others check social media, inspect the other families’ neighborhood, or ask teachers and school faculty. Some respondents would even check sex offender registry/criminal records.
“Many parents seem to be cautious about sending their child on a playdate at a new friend’s home, especially if they aren’t familiar with the family hosting the playdate,” Clark explains. “There are several steps they can take ahead of time, including meeting and talking to the family, that may help them decide how to respond to a play date invitation.”
According to researchers, there are some additional factors that more parents should be asking about, such as risks related to any pools or trampolines, and whether or not the hosting family owns any guns that could potentially be accessed by the children.
Clark and her team theorize that many parents don’t ask as many questions about safety before a play date as they should because they are worried about offending the other parents. However, according to the poll, parents largely shouldn’t have this concern; 73% of respondents said they wouldn’t be offended if asked about safety concerns by another parent before hosting a playdate.
With this in mind, researchers suggest that parents plan beforehand for pre-playdate conversations.
“It may be helpful to develop a checklist to guide the conversation,” Clark concludes. “This could include asking questions about supervision, weapon and medication storage and the family’s rules about potentially hazardous activities like using a trampoline. Parents should also communicate in advance if their child is fearful of certain types of pets or has allergies. Together, parents sending their child on a playdate and the host family can determine strategies to help children feel safe and comfortable.”
The poll can be found here.