"How do these things change as your children get older?"
Too much friend time makes children selfish. Children who are around peers too often start to think more about their peers than their family. This focus on self encourages them to with draw from family.
If children have limited contact with peers when they are young, they will most likely not become dependent upon having friends around for their happiness. The last thing I want is a child who thinks that their happiness comes from something or someone else. Happiness comes from inside us all, and for the most part, we also get to choose our own happiness as well. So, it is a disservice to children to encourage them to think that friends = happiness.
I never suggest for my children to call a friend. I have learned my lesson on this point the hard way.
I am a very social person, so it only makes sense that my children are social too. When my oldest son was a baby, we had a friend who had a son close to the same age as my son. Being good friends, we parents of these two cute babies started encouraging our boys to play together even before the babies could walk. Needless to say, we were excited for our children to have friends right from the start.
As time went on, we encouraged our son to play with many children. I invited neighborhood children over on a regular basis, and signed my toddler up to be in play-groups with other neighborhood children as well. For a short time I thought I had given my son a good start; lots of good friends to be with all of the time. Then disaster struck.
My son began begging to play with friends every day, and sometimes even multiple times. Whenever my son couldn't find a friend to play with he would become moody and upset. If he didn't have a friend, he thought life wasn't good, and started to imagine that other children were playing together and not including him. He was an emotional mess, and I knew I had been the creator of this mess.
We took time off from friends for a really long time to help my son regain focus of what was most important in life. He does much better now, but out of all my children, my oldest son has the hardest time being away from friends. If I had only known what I was doing when I was handing my son all those great times with friends on a silver platter.
My oldest daughter is also very social, but I raised her differently. I never mentioned playing with friends to her. I never told her to call a friend or brought what time of day it was to her attention. I wanted her to live free from being socially bound. Mission accomplished.
Don't get me wrong, she has always had lots of friends, but she doesnt' have to see one every day. In fact, she goes for weeks some times between asking to play with friends. For a 10 year old girl, this is amazing! I was not like this.
When she was small, friends would come over, and ask Paije to play. Paije would say, "No" because she wanted to read her book instead or work on a craft project. Because I never suggested play time for her happiness, she doesn't really think that play with friend time has a lot to do with her happiness. She just looks at it as a fun thing to do sometimes.
I am so happy I figured out he social thing after my first child, because my other three children are much more free to think and do without always being interrupted by play dates.
Don't get me wrong, we play a lot, and have lots of friends, we just don't put playing with our friends as a top priority in our lives, that's all.
So, to more accurately address the question above, I think children under age 8 should be home most of the time with periodic peer association and play dates. During ages 8-12 the child is probably ready for more group interactions like clubs and extra curricular activities as well as having friend play time a few times per week. Youth ages 12-18 should be focusing on becoming an adult. They should gradually start leaving their childhood behind them, this includes a lot of play time. Play time becomes more sophisticated. Studies should become increasingly important. They should start earning money for jobs etc. They should start group boy/girl activities. Youth this age have lots of responsibilities, so they are usually only left with a little time on the weekend for friend fun, outside of school, and church etc. My 12 year old son schedules one afternoon per week to call a friend. He feels he gets enough time with the one afternoon.
One additional note about boundaries with friends.
When I was a girl, I had months of my life where every Friday night I slept over at a different friend's house. I wish I could say that these sleepovers were always wholesome, they weren't.
Our family has chosen not to do sleepovers, unless cousins are visiting or we are visiting cousins. We do late-overs instead. We invite our friends over to eat dinner, play games and watch movies until late (11:00 or so). Then, we take them home and everyone sleeps at their own house. We love late-overs! Also, late-overs don't ruin the next day by making the children so tired, and by starting the day off with a friend at the house. Just an idea
To be continued.......