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A play-date at a new friend's house: things to ask?

My daughter came home the other day saying she scheduled a playdate with her new friend whose name I didn't recognize.  They were in the same class this year, she tells me.  She handed me a piece of paper with all her parents' contact numbers.   20130913_125857

Just then, my phone rang.  Great timing, it was the friend's mom.  One of our phones was a bit choppy, but all I gathered was: "Hi, this is [so-and-so's mom]".  Due to a weird connection, I couldn't even catch her name!  But, what I did catch was the fact that her daughter and mine would walk home together after school and that they'd play.  "Could you pick her up at 5?" she asked.  I said, "Sure," and I took down the address.

It occurred to me: I didn't know this family, I didn't know this friend, I didn't know anything about them.  It made me nervous.  I turned to last year's school directory, and we looked up my daughter's friend.  I saw the names of her parents listed (no address) and I did a quick google search on each.  Nothing much came up aside from "yellow pages" and other random directory listings.  Hmpft.

Do your kids have playdates with friends you might not even know, whose parents you definitely don't know?

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No. If I don't have some kind of relationship or rapport with the parent, my kids don't go to their house. However they can come to our house. Call me helicopter if you wish but I'll never regret doing what I can to protect my kids. There are too many variables at a house of someone we don't know. And not all parents are in the same mindset that our family is.

I'm curious Op: why didn't you stick with your gut? Why did you sell yourself out when you clearly weren't comfortable? You shouldn't let yourself be intimidated by children or other parents. You'll sleep better if you stay the to your feelings without being worried about what others think. Next time in that situation you might opt to have the child to your house instead.

IDK.....if you have all that contact info for a nearby kid, it's really probably fine. I've also probably relaxed a LOT since my daughter's in middle school, and it isn't her neighborhood one, so she's friends with lots of kids whose parents we don't know.

To be fair, WE'RE usually the ones hosting, but to do date I've had parents permit sleepovers and even a trip to stay at Great Wolf Lodge just based on a phone chat.

Honestly, your typical abductor/molester wouldn't do things right away, anyway---but would work to ingratiate themselves and gain your trust first. If the kids already walk home alone, then we're looking at least 8 or 9, if not older. I think it's fine.

Remember, kids used to do a lot more by themselves, upsupervised----and the stats on things were no higher.

@zumpie, I'm not so much concerned about the parents being child molesters as I would be worried about things like: 1) is there a gun the house? Is it locked up? 2) will there be second hand smoke from parents who might smoke? 3) will there be teenage siblings doing god-knows-what( porn? mairijuana? etc)influencing my kid, just to name a few. I don't mean to sound like I want to control everything but I'd like to minimize exposure to some things as long as I can- if I can help it.

I share some of the same concerns as you, Crankycrank. When I went to pick up my preschool age child from a night of visiting relatives, my little one opened a closet and pulled out some toys they wanted to show me, at which time I could see 2 rifles leaned up against the corner in the back. I was horrified that my LO had stayed the previous night with guns that weren't locked away in a safe. It was quite unsettling. They said they always put the guns in the safe when LO is there, but obviously it slipped their minds this time. It was definitely a reminder that I need to be verifying that this stuff has been taken care of before we get there.

@cranky---honestly, if your kid is past a certain age, you kinda have to accept that bad things exist AND simply discuss these issues openly with your kids. And yes, 8 or 9 is old enough to discuss these things.

The gun thing never really registered when my daughter was elementary school aged, because NO ONE in our neighborhood would've ever had a gun. And if they did, they would've locked it up.

In the case of teenaged siblings, that's something you simply have no control over, whether you know the parents or not----because I'm pretty sure their parents don't know about any of it, either. Plus I can guarantee you a pot smoking 16 year old is gonna have zero interest in hanging around its 9 year old pesky sibling and little friend.

As for passive smoke, while I'm certainly not a fan, I also accept (again) that I don't get to control everything and a couple of hours in a house with someone smoking a ciggie isn't going to really have any truly lasting effects. And FYI, I grew up with smokers, hate smoking, etc....but I also recognize that, again, you can't control everything, all the time

We live in a neighborhood with a small local school, and everyone pretty much knows everyone else. So, for us, that hasn't been a huge issue. But I would never let my kids go to a house where I haven't at least met the parents. As with all things in parenting, I listen to that little voice of intuition to guide me in decisions, and I just wouldn't be comfortable not knowing more info.

I did want to comment on the gun thing though... a pediatrician friend of mine who practices in a busy PDX practice asks all of her patients' families about guns, and she has found that about 60-70% of the families do admit to having guns in the house. So, while I used to think we lived in a neighborhood where people wouldn't own guns, I have started asking, and have found that yes indeed, there are people I never would have expected to say yes. It's interesting - and it does lead to a conversation about how well the gun is/isn't locked up.

We don't have a gun, but I guarantee you there are neighbors you'd never expect to have one who do!

I personally wouldn't feel comfortable having my sons go to a friend's home until I had at least met and talked a bit with the parents. I grew up with a completely different experience. My mom knew some of my friends' parents but there were times she would allow me to go to a sleep over and I don't remember her checking out the situation. Perhaps she just assumed that because it was an affluent area(we were not affluent by any means) that it would be okay? Also have to agree about the gun thing, I have just started asking the gun question and have been amazed how many families have guns in their homes.

@anotheranon, while I certainly think it's true some gun owners aren't the ones you'd think would be, I find your friend's numbers a bit suspect and wonder if perhaps (s)he practices in a less urban area? Because 60-70% is considered very high ownership, in fact Wyoming, which has the highest percentage of gun owners tops at 59.7%.

A recent CNN poll found that nationwide, only 32% of Americans actually own guns---and this, of course, includes areas where EVERYONE has a gun...so it's a bit difficult to believe that in a city as notably progressive and left leaning as Portland, we'd see such a higher percentage.

In fact, Oregon itself bears this out with 39.8%----and we all know most of those owners are NOT in Multnomah County. BTW, these figures are from 2007, gun ownership has been declining since then.

http://usliberals.about.com/od/Election2012Factors/a/Gun-Owners-As-Percentage-Of-Each-States-Population.htm

Oh also, @Heidi---yours and my posts clearly crossed. Your parents permitted that because parents simply let kids do more, alone, or unsupervised "back in the day".

And truth be told, some of that isn't such a bad thing....because while obviously no wants anything bad, ever to happen to their kid---it's more likely to happen by someone they know than by someone they don't. And letting your child know you trust them and teaching them self reliance and independence isn't really so bad.

http://www.consistent-parenting-advice.com/overprotective-parents.html

You make some good points Zumpie. I'll check out the link.

How old is the child? Mine isn't to the age yet of planning his own playdates- he's still at the 'we have to both ask our parents' stage, esp. because we are the transportation (it's not a neighborhood school, so few ppl live all that 'close'). We do know everyone, but we also keep the same class for group for 3 years, and even at the 3 year merge, you tend to know the other group somewhat. If we didn't know someone, we'd potentially call/email to say hi first and maybe make plans to see each other at the school one day first... but then my kid also as said above isn't at the age to make his own plans, and if he did, I don't think he'd made them without a few days notice. Nor would it be a name that I didn't know, it would be someone that he's been talking about, so I would have seen the child and the parent, but again, this is because of the age of mine and it sounds like this has to be a bit older child in this case.

The 'they can always come here' trick only works if the other parent isn't like you... if they are, they are going to say/do the same thing- want your kid to come to their place! I suppose a solution then could be a meetup at a public venue with parents in tow, who can then sit on the sideline and get acquainted...

@Spottie---I agree about particularly the "they can come here" part, because that also kinda leaves an unsaid, "we're better than you freaks" quality to it.

I would guess the OP's kid is a bit older than yours since the kids were going to walk home together. I believe my daughter was 8 1/2 before she did that---and she's REALLY independent (it was her decision and choice to do so). Since plenty of PDX parents won't let their middle school kids go home by themselves, that should tell you something.

I would be careful about making assumptions about who owns guns and who doesn't. If it is of concern to you, you should ask directly.

I learned this recently when my mother in law (with whom my kids spend quite a bit of time) made a casual comment about my father in law's new interest in purchasing guns and going to the shooting range. He was in law enforcement years ago, so this wasn't a total surprise. Still, we had to sit down and have a very candid conversation with them about where they are kept, are they loaded, locked, what kinds of locks, etc. It was a very difficult conversation because, as you might assume, people are pretty touchy about their second amendment rights in this country. I honestly can't imagine having that conversation with almost-strangers. So, if someone says they have guns in their house, I think I might just not allow my child to spend time there. Not judging people who are gun owners. Just saying it's a lot more complicated that saying, "Are your guns put away?"

Honestly, I'm about as anti-gun as you'll ever find----but I certainly wouldn't be one bit surprised that someone previously in law enforcement would still be interested in guns. I would also be perfectly confident that such a person would be VERY much aware of gun safety. Particularly around their grandchildren.

Along the lines of other concerns listed upthread: my mother smokes both cigarettes AND marijuana. Neither of which are done in my household. Didn't mean I didn't trust her completely to care for my daughter----because she certainly didn't (and doesn't) get high around my daughter.

And lest anyone "go there" that is not the same thing as leaving your child with a raging alcoholic or heroin junkie.

Haven't come across OP's scenario yet (kids too young?), but what strikes me is that NOT ONE parent has ever asked ME if we have guns, smoke, use pot, play Grand Theft Auto, or whatever.

My kids free-range around our block; there are a few houses we don't allow them into because of our gut feelings. So far, school-mate playdates have been non-issues because we've already met the other adult(s).

We prep our kids over and over and over and over (from gun safety to how we expect them to behave to how to navigate when a family does different things/is OK w/different things than ours is). Kids not embarrassed or mad to ask my permission or to ask the other parent to text/call me about playing a game that might be slightly off-axis from what we allow (even if, in fact, I really could give a hoot about, say, a drive-and-crash WII game: I totally fine with the formality of asking and, after, talking about it, figuring it sets a good precedent ;) )

As an aside: Next-door-neighbors and their kids hunt/have guns. After one hunt, the dad asked my permission to show my kid the weapons. I said yes and stayed close by. The dad did such a great job: he pointed out the parts and what was used for what, the whole time doing a very strict gun-safety lesson. He wouldn't allow my kid to touch the guns at all or go "in front" of them; he (and I) wanted to demystify them and solidify how dangerous they can be. No handgun for display, however; I guess that's a more likely candidate for tragedy?

I think that the biggest factor in the decision-making process is knowing your own kid, what they are capable of, comfortable with, and how well they will act they way you hoped they would act/how you taught them to act.

If your kid is incredibly curious, will get into things that you never expected, then you probably should have more frank conversations with your kid and with the potential hosts. If your kid is a rule-follower (mine tells me when other kids eat junk food, fgs!) then it's a different decision tree.

That said, I also think there is a big difference between an afterschool or few hours playdate with someone I don't know and a sleepover at someone's house I don't know. I would be much more comfortable with the first before the second.

Well, the good news is, you have all of that contact information -- so you can call her back and get a better connection, and all of the information you want. ;)

(OP here)

Mamas, I love the feedback. Thank you!

As it turns out, when I looked up the kid in last year's directory, my husband had met the mom at a Bike-to-Work event, they had even exchanged emails about getting our families together for a hike. It never did work out, but we did know the family. I checked the directory just at the time that the kids were being dismissed, with the idea that I'd just meet them at school & walk home with them (my kid is a 4th grader, her friend is a 5th grader) if I still didn't feel comfortable. After getting a bit of peace of mind, I let it go knowing that at least we did, actually, know the family.

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