I’M CONFUSED – being confused is a fairly normal state of affairs for me – but I’ve recently come across a phrase that sent me scurrying to Wikipedia for an answer.

The phrase was play date.

Apparently, a play date is an expression primarily used in the United States for an arranged appointment for children to get together for a few hours to play.

Play dates have become common because the work schedules for busy parents, along with media warnings about leaving children unattended, prevent the kind of play that children of other generations participated in.

That leaves me speechless. Actually I’m not speechless otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write this column. But I am appalled.

Firstly, I am disgusted that yet another horrible American tradition has crossed the Atlantic to go with Trick or Treat, high school proms and fast food obesity.

But I am even more concerned about the implications of play dates.

For those not in the know, apparently children these days aren’t able to either amuse themselves or form friendships of their own. They are not capable of independent play and it would appear they are not capable of independent thought. No, they need their mums to act as their social secretaries and organise playtime for them.

I just can’t get my head around this. It’s the summer holidays and when I was young, this was the time of year that meant one thing to me – freedom.

I was free from school, I was free from adult supervision most of the time. I was also free to find my own friends, to take risks, to get dirty, to go on adventures, to sprain my ankle, to laugh and cry and all without an adult in sight.

My mum certainly didn’t vet my friends like some kind of maternal MI5 operative.

Some days, my friends and I would take a packed lunch, get on our bikes and simply disappear all day. We wouldn’t get back home until the sun was going down. And all this when the idea of mobile phones was the subject of science fiction.

I am led to believe that kind of thing doesn’t happen any more.

Nowadays, every waking moment during the summer holidays has to be filled with organised activities, kids clubs, petting zoos and the dreaded play dates.

OK, you may argue that the world has changed since I was a boy and I would have to agree.

My childhood was a long, long time ago when, according to the received wisdom, the world was a safer place. The doom mongers and naysayers among us these days would have us believe that bullying and stranger danger were invented in the past 15 years.

That, of course, is absolute nonsense. There were just as many bullies around when I was a child and yes, there were strange men who you steered well clear of.

I am prepared to concede that things have changed a lot since I was a boy – many of them for the worse – but in the spirit of journalistic investigation, I did a little more digging and asked my own children, a couple of young adults about their experiences growing up, especially during the long summer holidays.

Yes, they conceded, there were the odd organised events – an outing to Manchester Airport to watch the planes come and go, a visit to Tatton Park, a trip to Chester Zoo – but remarkably, their summertime experience was remarkably similar to mine.

They remembered long days simply "playing out", sometimes in the street, sometimes at a friend’s house and sometimes in a disused factory at the end of the road.

They now accept that, looking back through adult eyes, playing in the factory was remarkably dangerous but was something they wouldn’t have missed for the world.

I bet if that happened these days, I would have social services round at the house, knocking the door down and telling me I am an unfit parent.

But have things swung too far the other way these days? Are we too over-protective? Do we really feel the need to control every waking moment of our children’s lives?

I suspect we – and our children – are currently living in a climate of fear whipped up by certain sections of the media. What a pity that kids can’t just be kids any more.