Sleepovers are woven into the fabric of American childhood. In today’s world, an invite to a sleepover may likely outrank the wonderment and anticipation of waiting for the tooth fairy.
Writing an article about the inherent dangers of sleepovers is as popular as pillaging honey pots from Winnie-the-Pooh. Why would I try to discredit what all believe to be a magical childhood milestone? Because sleepovers aren’t what they used to be, we need to unravel the sleepover pastime and alter the tradition in some ways.
If your child asked your permission to peddle his Huffy bike into an unfamiliar neighborhood late at night, what would be your response? Most responsible parents would emphatically answer “no, absolutely not” to this seemingly absurd request.
Then suppose your child came to you and asked permission to stay the night at a friend’s house, what would you say? Most likely, you would answer “yes” with as much enthusiasm as though she made it the finals on “The Voice.”
We should rethink our “yes” to the second scenario as quickly as we blurt out our “no” to the first scenario. Simply by delaying or denying this favorite kid activity, you will not relegate your child to a life of wallflower status.
When we consent to a sleepover without thinking through the potential danger, it’s as though we’ve granted our child permission to meander through that unknown neighborhood on his bike, late at night, without the protection of nighttime biking gear. Our kids need and expect our protection.
Sleepovers aren’t the Same as They Once Were
Personally, I recall fond memories of pre-teen “slumber parties.” We were a nest of girls who transformed into nocturnal creatures. After noshing on pizza from the neighborhood store, Lucky’s Superette, we gorged on endless bowls of generic brand ice-cream scooped from a plastic container with a lid the color of Brach’s cinnamon red heart candy.
During adolescence, I coasted through the sleepover phase unharmed. As I glance back, I remember only one slippery sleepover incident. A friend’s creepy father drained my comfort level for sleepovers with his slithery words fueled by too much vodka.
By then, the thrill of sleepovers paled in comparison to getting my first job and Friday night football games.
1. The Reality of the Dangers
There are unavoidable circumstances where parents relegate the protection of their children to others. Daycare providers and educators protect your children in your absence. Typical sleepover parties don’t qualify as one of those unavoidable situations.
The shocking reality is that children are most vulnerable to Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) between the ages of 7 and 13, prime sleepover years and 90% are abused by someone they know, love or trust.
If those statistics don’t have you reconsidering the modern day sleepover, then this Facebook post by pediatrician and mom, Dr. Tobi Adeyeye Amosun might:
“Slumber parties: I wanted to address this separately because of it being a sensitive subject. My daughter is allowed to go to a select few friends’ homes (like five families) for sleepovers. Never parents that I don’t know extremely well, which means she doesn’t get to sleep over at school friends’ homes. Never large groups of kids, where one kid being separated might not be noticed. That said, I can’t tell you how many times patients tell me the first time they were touched inappropriately or the first time they saw pornography was during a sleepover. I only get one chance to raise my kid, and I’d rather be a mean parent who is no fun than have the other possibility.”
For my kids, invitations to sleepovers began to trickle in at the age of four. Something deep inside the cavern of my mommy-heart felt unsettled about the prospect of a pre-school sleepover. At first, we sheepishly declined invitations for sleepovers hoping that friends didn’t receive the decline as an insult towards the friendship.
Serving in church ministry and hearing the real life stories from victims of CSA empowered my husband and me to boldly yet politely communicate our stand on sleepovers for our kids.
2. Formulate a family policy
I am not advocating a helicopter parenting style or suggesting that you unleash your inner Tiger Mom talons, just seriously consider the facts and devise a family plan for sleepovers.
For our family, the paralyzing reality that Child Sexual Abuse could take place anywhere is debilitating enough for parents, so establishing a “no sleepover policy” until age 13+ reduced the chances of a perpetrator annihilating our kid’s innocence.
The Logic to Our Family Sleepover Policy
We decided that at age 13+ our kids developed enough reasoning and analytical skills to debate and challenge an authority figure, whether it is a friend’s parent/older sibling/uncle or an older neighbor about inappropriate talk, “safe-touch” versus “bad touch,” or pornography.
By the teen years, we trusted that enough fireside family conversations regarding the magnitude of child sexual abuse, the dark side of technology, and our hyper-sexualized society cultivated an awareness about the reality of these issues.
During the teen years, children flourish in argumentative and debate skills, questioning everything from political boundaries to elections, and even, parental rules. Rather than squelching this natural tendency in teens, we mentored our kids to debate respectfully with clear logic and reasoning. Were these conversations with our teens without the occasional robust, right-on-the-edge of a disrespectful tone? Of course not. These fundamental communications skills could serve them well in a potentially dangerous situation.
Each one of our kids reached this stage of teen development at a different age. One of our children had an expressive language delay, so we waited a year or two beyond 13 years old before granting this child the privilege to do sleepovers. A few years later, this particular child voices great relief that we didn’t push her into a situation that she just wasn’t ready to handle.
The Sleep under/Half-sleepover
My caboose kid participates in sleep under with families that we know well and trust. At ten years old, she packs her overnight bag with her favorite mermaid PJs, her beloved glittery stuffed mermaid and has fun with her friends until 10:30. Then, we pick her up and bring her home.
On occasion, she erects a little resistance to the policy. Is it hard not to cave? YES! But my job as a parent is to protect my kids even at the expense of their social calendar.
And let’s be real, when all the younger chicks are tucked in the nest, everyone gets a better night sleep. Except for the long awaited trip to grandma and grandpa/ aunties and uncles, sleepovers can wait.
3. Rehabilitate Your Sleepovers
Sometimes we need to adjust. We don’t build homes the same way we did fifty years ago, birthday parties are now mini receptions, and if something breaks, we buy new. Few things in life are the same as they once were. The reality of this is somewhat dismal but accurate.
The same logic applies to parenting and the myriad of childhood circumstances that come with the job. Sleepovers are one of the childhood pastimes that we need to modify to protect our kids.
With the sleepover conundrum, we are dealing with a far more serious issue than “am I a terrible mommy if I give my kid sugared cereal in the morning?” This subject should be a topic of discussion within families long before your sweet child receives his first e-vite.
Deciding how to handle sleepovers doesn’t require parenting wizardry. It does demand a new outlook and possibly a different approach to a ritual that seems to be a favorite tradition in Western culture.
We want our children to be as cunning as the narrator eventually became in Dr. Seuss’ I had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew:
So I said to myself,
“Now, I’ll just have to start
To be twice as careful
and be twice as smart
I’ll watch out for trouble
in front and back sections
By aiming my eyeballs
in different directions.”
Do you have a sleepover family policy? If so, please share what works or didn’t work for your family? Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention?
This article originally appeared at DeniseSultenfuss.com.