This week we celebrated Jonah’s thirteenth birthday by having a party with six extra boys sleeping over. There was a lot of noise, flying water, laughter, and–Man, do teenage boys eat! It was a super fun party though, and I’m glad we did it.
Sleepovers are not our norm however, and like many of you, we’ve wrestled with where we stand and how to handle the topic of sleepovers for our kids.
If you have kids, I’m sure you have faced (or will soon be facing,) the sleepover dilemma. Maybe it’s not a dilemma for everyone, but for many of us–it is.
Because most of us grew up doing sleepovers, and have great memories of the late nights, silliness and FUN of a good sleepover. (As a kid, I hardly went a weekend without being at a friends house or having a friend (or four) at mine.)
But we also know (and sadly, some reading this may have personally experienced) the fact that sleepovers can also be the setting for life-altering, traumatic experiences.
Sleepovers put kids in a position of facing a multitude of uncomfortable situations–from seemingly small things, like a late-night scary story that haunts them for weeks to come, (I remember a few of those to this day!) to the more extreme (but more common than I want to believe) stories of exposures to porn, child molestation, and so on.
It’s a fact: Our world has changed. Where evil has always been present, the availability to evil (hello–Pornography on big brother’s cell phone!) is a game changer.
Even with a family that you think you know and trust, during a sleepover there is greater potential for a family member or friend of the family to find their way into your child’s personal space and do damage that can last a lifetime. There are countless stories to prove that is a legitimate concern.
The potential harm in a simple sleepover is enormous.
But to be fair–The benefits of a sleepover done right, can also be great.
Is there some way to find the balance…to give your kids the experience and memories of what some consider a childhood rite-of-passage, without worrying that you are being irresponsible as a parent?
Well, I’m not sure if there is a guarantee to any of this, but here’s the story of how we’ve handled sleepovers in our family:
When my first boys were just little, I modeled much of my parenting after a respected friend who had four kids a little older than mine. My friend told me that they had a family “rule” of NO SLEEPOVERS. While I was visiting one day, her son’s friend was over, and invited her boy to come over and spend the night. Her son ran to mom and asked permission. She sweetly said, “Remember honey, our family doesn’t do sleepovers.” He nodded, smiled, and walked away. My friend turned to me and said “We have found that a “no sleepover” rule actually is a relief to our kids. They’re young (under ten If I remember right,) and they ask, but they really aren’t comfortable staying at a friend’s house yet.”
Not much later, I read James Dobson’s book Bringing up Boys, and I learned that Dobson was anti-sleepover. Here’s an excerpt from his book. (This excerpt is actually from his book “Bringing up Girls.”)
Sadly, the world has changed in the last few decades, and it is no longer a safe place for children. Pedophiles and child molesters are more pervasive than ever. That is why parents must be diligent to protect their kids every hour of the day and night. …
Until you have dealt with little victims as I have and seen the pain in their eyes, you might not fully appreciate the devastation inflicted by molestation. It casts a long shadow on everything that follows, including future marital relationships. Therefore, parents have to think the unthinkable in every situation. The threat can come from anywhere—including neighbors, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, music instructors, Scout leaders, and babysitters. Even public bathrooms can be dangerous today…
My husband and I talked, and we decided, at least for the early years, that we would also adopt the “no sleepover” rule. It was quite easy, and just like my friend suggested, I think my boys appreciated the lack of pressure when a friend invited them over. The rule took away all of the need to negotiate with our kids, and explain to other families why we might let our boys stay at some homes and not others.
Once or twice when my husband worked a night shift, I had a friend spend the night WITH her little boys, and that worked out really well. It was more like a camping party than a real sleep over.
At some point, as our boys got a little older, we had a few situations come up where it really made sense to have them stay with a friend: Once Dave and I had the chance to get away for a night for our anniversary, and a time or two when I had to travel and Dave was working. During those times, we asked a family that we trusted completely, if our boys could stay with them. We knew the kinds of movies they let their kids watch, we knew their rules on just about everything. We felt very safe. By then, our boys were also old enough to talk to about how to act at someone else’s home, as well as how they would handle it if something unexpected happened. They knew how to call us, and we practiced what they might say or do if (heaven forbid) something completely unexpected happened. If they felt uncomfortable in any way, they knew what to do about it.
The flip side: When kids are at our house, we have most often offered to drive them home after a long day/evening as well. We are more likely to invite other kids to sleepover at our home than letting our kids stay with someone else, but we don’t do it very often. In our own home we can keep an eye/ear on things, and though we give the kids plenty of freedom to run wild, having them settle down for the night in our own home gives us control over what they are doing/watching, and removes the worry about middle of the night weirdness, and so on.
The way I see it, a sleepover almost always means less sleep, and a less happy/productive day following. And, I always remember the good old quote my mom has said, “Ain’t nothing good happens after midnight.”
We have continued to maintain our GENERAL “No sleepover” policy. Even though two of our boys are in their teen years, this helps us avoid spontaneous sleepovers where we haven’t had the time to find out exactly what is going on, who will be there, etc. in addition to that, we maintain our “Exception Clause.” This means that there are times where we will let our boys sleep at someone else’s home. Usually it is for a birthday party and only at homes that we know are well supervised and the group of kids are all kids we know. Sometimes we use the exception for our convenience, like before a surf contest when we are carpooling with another family.
I have heard more recently of families choosing to do “sleep-unders,” “late nights,” and “half-overs,” where kids play all evening long, but come home to crash in their own beds late at night. I like that. (I just don’t like being the one to go pick up at 11 PM, haha.)
I would love to hear where your family stands on sleepovers, and any experiences you’ve had to help shape those decisions. There is no judgement here, just wanting to share and learn from one another.
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