Sleepovers: Rethinking This Potentially Unsafe Childhood Pastime

 

sleepoversSleepovers 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.

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.

sleepover

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.

Each one of our kids reached this stage of teen development at a different age.  One of our children had an expressive language delay, so we waited a year or two beyond 13 years old before granting this child the privilege to do sleepovers.  A few years later, this particular child voices great relief that we didn’t push her into a situation that she just wasn’t ready to handle.

The Sleep under/Half-sleepover

My caboose kid participates in sleep under with families that we know well and trust.  At ten years old, she packs her overnight bag with her favorite mermaid PJs, her beloved glittery stuffed mermaid and has fun with her friends until 10:30. Then, we pick her up and bring her home.

On occasion, she erects a little resistance to the policy.  Is it hard not to cave?  YES!  But my job as a parent is to protect my kids even at the expense of their social calendar.

And let’s be real, when all the younger chicks are tucked in the nest, everyone gets a better night sleep. Except for the long awaited trip to grandma and grandpa/ aunties and uncles, sleepovers can wait.

3. Rehabilitate Your Sleepovers

Sometimes we need to adjust We don’t build homes the same way we did fifty years ago, birthday parties are now mini receptions, and if something breaks, we buy new.  Few things in life are the same as they once were.  The reality of this is somewhat dismal but accurate.

The same logic applies to parenting and the myriad of childhood circumstances that come with the job.   Sleepovers are one of the childhood pastimes that we need to modify to protect our kids.

With the sleepover conundrum, we are dealing with a far more serious issue than “am I a terrible mommy if I give my kid sugared cereal in the morning?”  This subject should be a topic of discussion within families long before your sweet child receives his first e-vite.

Deciding how to handle sleepovers doesn’t require parenting wizardry.  It does demand a new outlook and possibly a different approach to a ritual that seems to be a favorite tradition in Western culture.

We want our children to be as cunning as the narrator eventually became in Dr. Seuss’ I had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew:

So I said to myself,

“Now, I’ll just have to start

To be twice as careful

and be twice as smart

I’ll watch out for trouble

in front and back sections

By aiming my eyeballs

in different directions.”

 

Do you have a sleepover family policy?  If so, please share what works or didn’t work for your family?  Do you have any tips that I didn’t mention?

Don’t Cram Your Kid in a Curriculum Box

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18 Comments

  1. Maggie Milker on June 13, 2017 at 2:13 pm

    Agree, we need to be careful with sleepovers. For me, I also consider gun safety….Are guns left out or locked away? But, most of all I trust my gut and check in with myself before giving an answer.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 13, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      You are so right about gun safety! Yes, taking that minute to pause and think the situation through is wise.

  2. Becky Hastings on June 14, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    This is such a tricky topic. The necessity to protect our children is obvious to us, but how to best do so is tricky.

    I think we also need to pray. Pray about each child and situation. It may be different for different kids (which makes it very hard!) I also don’t want to live in fear. Finding the balance is difficult and it is worth having these hard discussions to do so.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm

      Definitely a call to prayer with this subject matter as with everything! You are right about handling the situation differently with each child.

  3. Na'omi Keith on June 14, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    Hello,

    I really like the idea of having an age for sleepovers. I remember being a 10-year-old 4th grader going to a sleep over but going home when it was time to go to bed. I was not ready by any means and not comfortable with the situation. Also, I like to compromise of half sleepovers. The kids get the experience of a sleepover without the actual sleeping over. These are great suggestions. Our culture has changed so much, we need to too.

    Thank you,
    Na’omi @ RoyaltybyGrace.com

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 14, 2017 at 3:20 pm

      I couldn’t agree with you more about how our culture has changed which means we must reevaluate. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Dani | Free Indeed on June 14, 2017 at 3:36 pm

    I definitely plan on being careful with whose homes my daughter is allowed to visit and sleep over at, because I want to be cautious with what she’s exposed to. The statistics about abuse was eye-opening concern that I hadn’t really considered before! I also though it was neat you helped your children learn to engage in conversations with wisdom and conviction.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 14, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      You are wise to consider the “being careful” option. I believe that God gifted me with children of varying strengths and abilities, and of course, weaknesses. We weighed all of those as one unique God ordained package.

  5. Jen on June 15, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    I get it! this is a great topic, and one I don’t think I’ve read many posts about, but we definitely have a policy. I love that you said that you job as the parent “is to protect my kids even at the expense of their social calendar.” I too have no problem with saying no and sticking to it, especially when it comes to the safety of my children, Anybody could be anything, you just don’t know and can never tell sneaky or evil people by their looks. So err on the side of caution. I’m definitely sharing this. Oh by the way, our policy, typically if a flat out NO. just recently we let our son sleep out at a family friends house for a party. this was something that my husband and I came to an agreement on after deliberation and deciding that we knew the friends very well. Even then, I think there will always be a scare factor.

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 16, 2017 at 8:46 am

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to ready and comment. We battled the issue with very little information out there available to parents. For the next generation, it must be different because the world is different.

  6. Donna Reidland on June 16, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Denise, this is such an important issue to consider and pray about. I think your “rules” are wise in today’s world. Like one of the other commentators, there may be individual situations and maturity levels, but sadly, things are not like they were. And even then things happened. Thanks for addressing the issue.

  7. Cynthia Trejo on June 16, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Until a couple years ago, I had never even given this much thought. I remember sleepovers growing up with fond memories, but they were only with a few friends I was allowed. I haven’t had any issue with my children asking yet, but I planned to say no. I like the “sleep under” idea. So it isn’t quite a no, but it keeps them safe.

  8. Sarah on June 17, 2017 at 10:11 am

    We have said no to so many sleep overs and just started saying yes to a few. We have also done a few half sleep overs. I want to know the families and like them. The girls are disappointed with no, but they get over it!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 18, 2017 at 4:43 pm

      Good to know that you have a strong resolve for this topic!

  9. Jennifer | www.feastingonjoy.com on June 17, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    I so much agree with this post. Those stats are staggering. From day one we have a no-sleepover policy. These days, there is just so many things that can happen. From technology to trafficking and more. It’s scary. When we partnered with O.U.R (Operation Underground Railroad) and followed more and more of their journey rescuing children from sex trafficking it further confirmed our resolve. The reason we just say no to all sleepovers is that it gets too complicated on a case by case basis. It prevents a lot of strife that our kiddos know not to even ask. Thanks for sharing this well-written post!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 18, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks for the information about O.U.R.! I will follow their journey as well.

  10. Mary Carver on June 20, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    Hi Denise! Thank you so much for this post. My girls are still too young for sleepover invitations, but I’m sure the issue is just around the corner for us. I appreciate your perspective and how much you shared with us. I’m a fellow Hope*Writer, and I also work for ForEveryMom.com, a Christian parenting site. I believe our readers at ForEveryMom.com would appreciate this post, too – so would you allow us to republish it on our site? We’d give you full credit as author, link back to the original post here, and include your bio and head shot. Please let me know if you have any questions and if you’re interested. Thank you!

    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 21, 2017 at 3:05 pm

      What an honor it would be to show up on your site. Let me know if there is anything else that you need from me! Again thanks for the opportunity to minister to more families.

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