Play date waivers: A bizarre new trend in parenting

In any happy childhood, playtime bumps, lumps and scraped knees are common place. Accidents happen. But what if you're asked to sign a waiver before your child heads over to little Johnny's house to play?

It's a surprising new trend that is spreading fast across mommy blogs and news outlets and being met with a mixture of concern and disdain.

One specific instance is mentioned at Free Range Kids where a mother writes in for some advice on how to tactfully deal with a four-page-long play date waiver a neighbour insists she sign before allowing other children to enjoy (and potentially injure) themselves on their trampoline.

And according to a recent Miss Manners column in the Washington Post, this isn't an isolated incident of overly cautious parenting.

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"It sounds like an American phenomenon, frankly, and it's a bit alarming," says Nicola Savin, family law lawyer at Birenbaum Steinberg Landau Savin & Colraine LLP.

"At some birthday parties people are asked to sign waivers, if they're at a paintball place, indoor playground or any kind of activity centre…the location itself asks each parent to sign a waiver. That's not unusual. But I've certainly never heard of this occurring in anyone's home."

Savin says that depending on how such a waiver is written, it could be binding and help to protect overly paranoid parents, so long as there is no gross negligence:

"If a child knocks heads with someone on a trampoline and injures themselves, if they had a standard-form waiver for that, that probably would work. But if the trampoline itself was faulty or there wasn't adequate reasonable supervision, it might not protect them."

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Savin does not know of any documented cases of parents being asked to sign waivers prior to play dates in Canada. According to her, parents are far more likely to sue school boards.

"To be honest, I don't think most parents even think about it."

But considering everyone is suing everyone for everything, from too-hot coffee to excessive flatulence, should you be worried?

Before you draft up a play date waiver, Savin suggests you consider the protection you may already have in place.

"Most play dates can proceed without any significant problems being anticipated. I mean, accidents do happen, but that's why you have…occupier's liability or homeowner's insurance, and if a child is injured in any manner on your property, it'll be covered," she says.