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Kids Attending Sleep-Overs

Most of us grew up attending sleep-overs.  The practice has become controversial in recent years, however.  This blog will address this thorny issue and how parents can handle it.

Sleep-overs can be fun, bonding experiences for kids.  At sleep-overs, kids can take part in time-honored rituals, like gabbing and giggling ’til midnight and being wired from lack of sleep the next day.      But sleep-overs can also be traumatic.  From the bedwetting child who is humiliated by an accident at a sleep-over; to the child who attends a sleep-over with a new social circle and, absent parental supervision in the middle of the night, tries drugs for the first time; to the child who attends a sleep-over in the home of a closeted pedophile . . . sleep-overs come with risk.

As parents, if we allow our kids to attend sleep-overs, we sign ourselves and our kids up for the risks that come with that decision.  If we forbid our kids to attend sleep-overs, we deny our kids the bonding opportunities that come with sleep-overs.  In social circles that embrace sleep-overs, the net effect of that can be social isolation.  Oh, and let’s not forget that, if we get too protective of our kids, our kids may exhibit push-back and go through a rebellious phase, the likes of which will make us shake with dread.

Also, in sleep-over-oriented social circles, parents may experience peer pressure to consent to sleep-overs.  Picture this:  your daughter Janie has been invited to a sleep-over at the home of her best friend, Carla.  You tell Janie that you think sleep-overs come with too many risks, so you say “no” to the sleep-over.  The next day, you receive a call from Carla’s parents: they want to reassure you that their house is safe and the kids will be supervised throughout the sleep-over.  You think, “Yah, right: which one of you two is literally going to be awake all night to keep a watch on the kids . . . because you know the kids will be awake all night, right?”  And you wonder how many pedophiles would say, “You’re right, it’s best not to send Janie to my house, because I promise you that I would violate her if she were here.”  No, even the worst offenders would profess to provide a safe place for a sleep-over.   But in the face of repeated reassurance from Carla’s parents, you will begin to feel pressure.

Talk with your kids about the risks involved either way.  Let them hear that, no matter what decision you make, you are acting with their best interests at heart (rather than acting out of indifference or rigidity). 

If you choose to allow sleep-overs, talk with your kids thoroughly about the risks of sleep-overs and develop plans to minimize those risks.  For example, you can give your kids a cellular telephone that they can use to call you if they find themselves getting into a situation that makes them uncomfortable . . . and make sure they know that they can call you at any time of the night, and you will come pick them up.  You should also ensure that your kids know what behavior you expect of them at a sleep-over (i.e., that they should conduct themselves in accordance with your family’s value system and withstand any peer pressure to the contrary). 

If you choose to forbid sleep-overs, talk with your kids about how to work around the down-side of missing out on sleep-overs.  You don’t want your kids to become socially isolated, so you need to provide them with alternative social bonding contexts.  You will also need to brace yourself for your own peer pressure (i.e., from Carla’s parents). 

As parents, we need to assess the risks of our kids attending sleep-overs versus the risks of our kids not attending sleep-overs.  There is no one guaranteed, sure-fire safe or right  answer: you’ll have to make the decision that is right for your family and hope that it will all work out ok. 

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