Sleepovers: A Childhood Rite of Passage or a Too-Risky Proposition?
Sleepovers and slumber parties were an integral part of my childhood in the ’60s and ’70s. When my kids were growing up in the ’90s and ’00s, not much had changed. Both my girls had best friends they spent the night with regularly, and they also went to many slumber parties. Slumber parties and sleepovers were an expected part of the social life in their schools. I not only allowed them to go, but I also urged them to attend. Yet, if I were raising children now, I’m not sure I would be so enthusiastic. Are sleepovers an important rite of passage in a child’s social life or a too-risky proposition?
It’s easy to say times have changed, and of course, with the internet so easily accessible, there are more dangers, but some have always been there. I remember being at a slumber party when I was in the 6th grade, and the father came in from having been out to the bars, and he started drunkenly yelling at us. I was terrified. Nothing happened, but it was scary. Another friend I spent the night with regularly had parents who rarely appeared, but we knew they were there as evidenced by the trail of cigarette smoke coming from their bedroom.
Arguments In Favor of Sleepovers
I continued going to sleepovers and slumber parties from when I was ten until I graduated from high school and most of the time, it was a positive experience. There is a valid argument for allowing sleepovers and slumber parties.
1. It’s a good socialization experience.
Spending the night is a way to bond a friendship, to take it to the next level.
2. Experience other family traditions and customs.
Not every family is alike, and that’s OK. It is good for kids to know that families can be different. I loved going to one friend’s house because it was so quiet. It was just her and her mom, and things were orderly and peaceful. I also loved going to another friend’s house because her family had eight kids, and things were loud, fun, and chaotic. It can be an eye-opener to see how other families function. It can teach a child to be more flexible in thinking and accepting of differences.
3. Begin developing independence.
Spending the night away from home isn’t for every kid, but for some kids, it gives a little taste of being away from mom and dad and the beginning of learning some problem-solving skills.
4. Parents Get a Night Off.
You have a free night if you have an only child and they go to a sleepover. If you have multiple children, it takes some fancy finagling for them to get invited to sleepovers on the same night. If the stars are aligned correctly, you hold your breath just right, and cross your fingers, it is possible.
There are benefits to kids going to sleepovers, but there are also potential risks. These are some questions to consider asking before allowing your child to sleep at someone’s house.
1. Are there guns in the house?
If a firearm is in the home, is it locked, and is the ammunition locked in a separate location? One in three families with children also have a gun in the house. One thousand three hundred kids younger than 18 die from shootings each year. Forty percent of unintentional shooting deaths in kids ages 11-14 happen in a friend’s home.
2. Will there be alcohol or drugs in the house?
I was surprised that some parents of high schoolers thought it was permissible to serve the teenagers alcohol. This is illegal and not justifiable on any level. If you consider allowing teenagers to drink at home, remember that you could face legal consequences. It varies from state to state, but in Oklahoma, the parents can pay fines and serve time in jail.
3. Will adults be present?
What adults will be there? Do you know them well? We sometimes think our kids are safe if they are with family or close friends, but the reality is most sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members or close friends.
4. What access to movies and the internet will be allowed?
At one sleepover, my ten-year-old daughter informed her host that she wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies. The solution offered by the host family was that my daughter had to sit in the hallway while her friend watched a movie in the TV room. Awkward and not much fun for my daughter. The internet is now everywhere, so this could be a moot point and out of your control. Does your child have good judgment and the ability to withstand peer pressure if pornography is being viewed or violent games are being played?
5. Will there be kids of the opposite gender present?
This may or may not be important to you, but having that information is appropriate. When I picked up one of my daughters the morning after a slumber party, I was shocked to find out it had been a coed slumber party. That would have been nice to know before my daughter spent the night.
My daughter had one friend who frequently spent the night with us, and each time her mother made me go through a list of questions that made me feel I was on trial. In retrospect, I understand and commend her for asking the tough questions. Even though confrontation is difficult, it is wise to ask the uncomfortable questions to ensure kids are safe. If I had a redo, I would ask my children if they felt comfortable going and respect their choice if they didn’t want to spend the night at people’s houses. If I did allow them to stay over, I’d make sure they had access to a cell phone and a code word that would alert me to come and get them.
As you can tell, I’m still not sure how I feel about sleepovers and slumber parties. I can play the devil’s advocate for both sides. Maybe there isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it’s a conversation worth having. Each family must weigh the pros and cons and decide what’s right for their family and each child within the family.
There has been a lot of conversation about the risks of sleepovers and a growing trend away from them. I’m curious about what local parents think. Are sleepovers an important rite of passage in a child’s life, or do they present risks you aren’t comfortable taking? What decision have you made and why?