Some would say that children today are plagued by helicopter parents who over-schedule their offspring with soccer practice and piano lessons, art classes and tutoring, and pre-scheduled play dates.

The carefree, spend-the-summers-outside-and-drink-from-the-water-hose childhoods that many of us experienced in the 1970s and 1980s are gone, they say. And what’s left are children who are over-scheduled, over-stimulated, hooked on iPads, iPhones or other screens, leaving them ill-prepared in terms of socialization.

It’s the “play date society” of today’s American communities that is just plain sad, wrote mom Jennifer S. White on her Huffington Post blog last week.

“My friends who live in subdivisions have the same ‘problem’ I do: We have to create ‘play dates’ in order for our kids to have any friends,” White wrote. “It’s unfair, really; it’s unfair to all involved.”

White said her child has few friends compared to the neighborhood gang of friends she had during childhood, because when she was growing up, it wasn’t necessary for the parents to be friends in order for the children to play together.

“Yet society — and, in particular, mommyhood — has comfortably moved entirely away from hanging-out-with-the-kid-down-the-street, to this play date mentality, where we need to invite people with other children over for a short span of hours,” White continued. “We are supposed to then engage in slightly awkward small talk while our children interact. Afterward, we part and go back home, across town or to different towns.”

Today’s childhood is vastly different from the one many parents experienced only two or three decades ago. Perhaps the digital age and social media caused the most drastic change, but I’d argue that the “helicopter parenting,” which started to become a norm in the 1990s and 2000s, aided in the creation of “play dates.”

But free-range childhood is not dead, and neither is the neighborhood gang that White nostalgically refers to from her own childhood. Instead, I’d argue, my children are experiencing more of that classic childhood than I did as a kid. The difference is the neighborhood.

As an elementary-age kid, I grew up in a subdivision occupied by retirees and empty-nesters. For most of my childhood, my sister and I were the only kids on our street. Sure, that made it easy when it came time to sell Girl Scout cookies and trick-or-treating at Halloween. But when it came to playing with other kids our age, there was no “neighborhood gang.”

When my husband and I were house-hunting as an engaged couple 11 years ago, we weren’t looking for kid-filled neighborhood or one that came with a playground. But the fact that we ended up in one has been such a blessing. We live in a small, tight-knit historic district where everyone knows everyone, including the kids.

Neighborhood friends constitute the core of my kids’ friendships — and mine, too. If my kids get restless in the house, they go outside. They may run next door or two doors down to see if a friend wants to play. They may go from house to house, gathering a group to meet in the neighborhood playground with their light sabers or Nerf guns in tow, playing at the park until sundown. In the summer, they may play in the sprinkler in the yard, ride their bikes or use their walkie-talkies to communicate with their best friend one street over.

The thing is, we don’t worry about planning play dates, because they do it well enough on their own. My kids rarely complain of being bored, because they know that if there’s nothing to do in our house, there’s plenty to do outside.

And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News. Reach her at lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.