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.
Why You NEED a Family Sleepover Policy
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.