Did you think that the Homeschool vs Public School mommy war was the biggest war brewing? Not so. Usher in the Sleepover vs. No-Sleepover debate. Sure, I believe in moral absolutes, but sleepovers are not one of them. The decision to allow or not allow sleepovers, is in no way an indicator of quality parenting, no matter what new parenting opinion seems to be claiming.
Let’s agree first that there is nothing inherently immoral about sleepovers. OK? Nowhere in the Bible, or Book of Mormon, or Doctrine and Covenants, or For the Strength of Youth, is there a prohibition against the sleepover.
Now, there are parents who don’t allow sleepovers because they had bad experiences as a kid at a sleepover, or they or members of their family, are victims of sexual violence or molestation. Those fears are based on real situations and to them the risk is not worth any reward. And those parents have to weigh the pros and cons of any activity where their child is out of their sight. They have to act on their knowledge in the best and most emotionally accessible way..
But, just like many rites of passage of the kid-dom, the sleepover has been hijacked by secular culture. Modern parenting trends deem the sleepover as a vehicle to offer up your children to sexual predators and drug dealers.
And this makes me sad, because it massages the idea that everyone is evil and there are drug dens behind all of our friend’s doors. In truth, most people aren’t predators nor are most of us on drugs. Treating boys and men like they are all waiting to assault our daughters is a great injustice. It is an equal injustice to treat every home as an Opium den without some justification. Let’s not base sleepover decisions on emotional button pushing by decades of enhanced urban legends about the nefarious “daughter of the Bishop” or the “Son of the Stake President” always out to drag our good teens into the dark recesses of sin. (It’s always a son of a Stake President who is always at fault in these Mormon Sleepover -Turned Crime Spree Urban Legends. Why is that?)
While, it’s true, bad THINGS, like being introduced to porn, drugs, sex, and bad Rock and Roll, etc. will happen at some sleepovers, it doesn’t have to happen.
Yes, there could be danger, but no more danger than letting kids hang out after school before you get home, or all day Saturday when you are at work. Supervision is always the key to preventing the bad stuff.
Perhaps the sleepover seems so dangerous because parental supervision during sleepovers is usually behind a closed door, sleeping, unaware of what is happening under their own roof.
But, there are ways to make sleepovers safe, fun and valuable learning experiences. However, it requires you to stop being the victim, doormat or the bystander to today’s culture.
First, let’s assume you are an involved parent. You know who your kids are texting, and you know what they are texting. You know where they go on the internet and you know where they go when they take the car, if they drive. You, eavesdrop on phone conversations, in the rare event that they have one. You frequently check their room for indications of drug use, or other warning signs. You have filters on your internet and parental limits on your TV/Cable, so they don’t use your house to surf naughty stuff. Yes, let’s assume you are a good parent.
Let us also assume your kids are generally good. Yes, even the snarky, smart-Alec teens who leave their laundry on the floor can still be considered good. You know if your kid is trustworthy or not. Good kids should be trusted to plan sleepovers and outings with friends.
So when a good kid says they want a sleepover, it is a good idea that you and your child both have the same picture in your head as to what a sleepover “looks” like. “What do you want to do at this sleepover and who do you want to invite?” Your kids may just want to eat popcorn, watch movies and stay up late. That’s easy enough. Maybe they want to do a craft. Maybe your boys want to have a video game marathon. All of this is wholesome fun with friends. Now, all YOU have to do is organize it. And this is THE key.
There are steps you can take to ease your discomfort, maximize safety, and make it fun for the kids.
- Have the sleepover at your house: When they mention they would like to have a sleepover, realize that you are in control if it is at your house.
- Understand that you will get little to no sleep: You are in charge and fully liable for anything that happens in your house, or while the kids are in your care. Yes, they will be loud. Yes, they will be obnoxious.
- Give Rules: When you have all the kids in the kitchen to give the blessing on the pizza, tell everyone you are glad they are there and give them the rules, No leaving the first floor!, No going outside, no swimming in the pool!, Any movies y’all choose to watch have to be approved by me!,Leave the cookie dough ice cream alone! Tell them the rules about profanity and jumping on furniture. Then tell them where you will be, so any kids not familiar with your house, will know that you are there. No, you won’t sound mean! You will sound like a parent…like a good parent from the movies; the kind of parent every kid secretly wants, right? the kind of parent that cares.
- Stay close to the “party”: If the video game marathon is in the basement, YOU sleep in the extra bedroom 15 feet away with the door open. If it’s in the Den in your small house, sleep where you can hear everything that happens.
- Have everyone sleep where the party is: A group of tweens should sleep all together on couches and the floor. Containment of the guests altogether keeps everyone in view. One night on a floor with blankets and pillow won’t hurt anyone.
- Invest in security cameras: No, really! It’s time. They are so cheap and easy to install now, they can really give you peace of mind even beyond the sleepover. A few well placed cameras outside and a few inside, allow you to keep track of kids from your cell phone. Plus, if Tim, a kid who has never been to your house, starts planning a midnight escape to toilet paper a girl’s house, your own wise kid can interject, “Dude, my dad can see everything on the video cameras, it alerts him if anyone leaves. I’ll never get to have another sleepover.” When kids are aware they can’t get away with anything, they can relax and go with the flow. Also, if there are ever any accusations of misconduct, you have a full video timeline of people’s whereabouts for the entire time. (Remember, to NEVER put cameras in bedrooms or bathrooms or places where folks undress or where there is an expectation of privacy or you open yourself to a whole other lawsuit.)
- Make a rule that bedrooms are off-limits OR that doors stay open: In our house, bedrooms are pretty much off limits to guests and unless you are dressing, doors stay open. Most activity stays in common areas. No kid has complained about this rule, so I think it’s a good one.
- Plan excursions to TP or prank homes: Hear me out! This is why and how. There is a right way and a wrong way. Ditzy teens, especially boys, think that a good way to express admiration for a girl, is to toilet paper the girl’s house or perpetrate some other silly prank. (A real player knows that it’s not really the best way to get chics, and this might be the best time to sit the boys down and give them the talk…. on how not to be lame.) But, pranking is a “thing” for teens, and you, the good parent, can help facilitate a good quality and safe prank. First, YOU need to make them understand that pranking should never be cruel or destructive to property. You don’t want the sleepover to end with formal charges of vandalism and trespassing. When you prank someone, or allow your kids to do it, ALWAYS call the parents of the intended victim. “Hey, my son wants to prank your house with his friends.” Other parents who were teens once, will get this. If they say, “bring in on,” then you are golden. If you want to have even more fun, tell the intended victim’s family that you are coming to TP their house, so that when you show up in the dark, they are waiting in the bushes with the water hose. These are the memories you want to create. “Remember when we went to Tina’s house to TP it and they were in the bushes with the water hose? Ah, Good times.” If the teens do something that would add chores for the other parents, like TPing the house, remind your rabble-rousers that before anyone goes home the next morning, they will un-TP the house after the victim gets to see it, take donuts, make it party. If the teens perform other pranks, make sure they leave tokens of Good Will. If they Saran Wrap Tina’s car doors shut, make sure they leave a package of Oreos or something embedded in there somewhere. The sleepover/prank scenario is the PERFECT opportunity to show kids how to be responsible and kind, while being clever and having fun.
- Plan sleepovers when only one sex is in the home: There are situations when you might know that your daughter’s girlfriend has the hots for your teen son (or vice-versa). Or, one of her friends is a little more worldly than you feel comfortable with. Honestly, we all know that teen girl who shows more cleavage than the San Andreas fault and flirts incessantly with every male she can find. If she is part of the sleepover, send the men away. A spurned, or opportunistic teen girl can make claims of sexual misconduct against sons and husbands. Whether they are true or not, even a charge found to be false can ruin a man. Schedule sleepovers to coincide with Father/Son campouts, Scouting overnights, Scout camps, EFY, etc. If you want only boys at home, send the girls to another friend’s house or coincide with Girls Camp. You won’t have any issues with girls and guys trying to rendezvous and there won’t be any accusations of misconduct.
- Establish a bedtime: Really! Young kids often want to try to stay up all night, but they really don’t. A lights-out policy of midnight or 1 a.m. is reasonable. And remember, you are sleeping only a few feet away, right? so you are in control of the TV and lights. For all night marathons, set up a recliner in the corner.
- Be in control: You are the adult and the parent, and what you say goes! The video games they play and the movies they watch are for YOU to approve. If at any time something gets out of hand, quickly shuffle all the boys (or girls) into the car and take them home. Call the parents beforehand so they know to expect their kid’s back. Don’t make idle threats. Discovery of drugs or alcohol require an immediate call to parents and maybe the police.
- Don’t allow spur of the moment sleepovers: Unless the person is someone close to you, that is considered part of the family, have an automatic rule that you need plenty of notice to plan a sleepover. This is not unreasonable. Remember, you will not get sleep, and arrangements to send the males or females in the house may have to be made. And, if this is a child you don’t know, you really need to call their parents and get a feel for their rules and gauge how they feel. Most parents have trepidations about sleepovers. You aren’t the only one.
- Realize you don’t have to be fair: Yes, you can say NO! to having Tommy over and YES! to having Darrell over. Yes, you can say YES! to boy sleepovers and NO! to girl sleepovers. YES! to teen sleepovers and NO! to tween sleepovers. “Why can’t I have Tommy over?” they might ask, where you can reply, “because he is a pothead and potheads can’t be away from their stash and his stash is not coming in the house!” If you have established yourself as a caring and reasonable parent in the eyes of your kids, they’ll complain, but they’ll understand.
It’s really not as intense as it sounds. Good kids make for easy sleepovers and even instituting only some of these ideas will make a huge difference.
I’ve said NO to some sleepovers. I’ve also said, “why don’t you invite some girls for a sleepover” and have been told, “Sleepovers are for kids, Mom!” Your results may vary. And over time, your kids will develop relationships with kids that can sleepover whenever they want. There are a few kids that we know so well, they know the drill. I expect the same behavior from them as my own kids. They know I’ll tell their moms if they don’t eat the broccoli and they also get put on the chore chart.
By following most of the advice above, we have never had a problem or even a speed bump at a sleepover.
So before you give up on sleepovers, think it through. Life is about relationships and friendships and memories. You may not be able to get over the fear you may have! But don’t let a few bad apples ruin an American Institution. Once again, most bad situations in a kid or teen’s life can be greatly reduced if the PARENT simply helps guide the kids. Believe you, Me, I have dropped the ball and gone lazy in the parenting end and it didn’t take long for it reflect in my kid’s behavior. Parent with a purpose and parent with action and even sleepovers won’t have to be a moral dilemma.