By Marie Osborne, Crosswalk.com
“Hey Mom, my friends were just wondering if we could sleep over at their house.” I was a little taken aback at this question because we didn’t know this family very well. I didn’t realize that my kids were getting to the age where everyone would start having sleepovers.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Of course, I grew up going to sleepovers and so did my husband. We each have had a variety of experiences. I happened to have some bad ones. I was exposed to things that weren’t appropriate for my age. I was put in situations that were uncomfortable for me. I was bullied late at night, while the parents were sleeping. We watched movies that I definitely should not have watched at that young age. Things were discussed that I should have never known about, but there’s something about that time after 10 p.m. when the parents are asleep and not paying attention when the darkness comes out.
My husband has a lot of fun and positive memories of watching funny movies, staying up late playing video games, sharing inside jokes, playing pranks on each other, being innocently silly. I had some of those memories, too. Staying up late telling jokes, laughing till my sides hurt, doing dances to our favorite songs, doing each other’s hair and makeup. Some of our fondest childhood memories are from sleepovers, but we also live in a different time.
It’s Not the 90s Anymore
We live in the time of the Internet and readily available pornography. We live in a time of social media where the innocent photos and videos kids take can be posted for millions to consume and comment on. And it’s so hard to know where other families stand on these issues. Do their children have access to the Internet? Do they have social media accounts? Do they have their own cell phones? Will they be recording and posting things online? Will they be scrolling and watching things unsupervised?
And then there is the issue of physical safety. It’s a sticky situation to ask parents if they have guns in their homes and if they are properly stored. Is there alcohol available? Will the kids be supervised at all times or will they be allowed to stay up much later than the parents? There are just so many questions.
We have decided to only allow sleepovers with families that we have known for quite some time. Of course, other kids and families have asked, and I’ve had to turn them down. But as the question continues to come up, we’ve had to be really open with our kids about our criteria and decide what our rules are around sleepovers.
Right now, they are only allowed with a very small, select group of families. My husband and I have known the parents for decades, and we are very comfortable with the rules they have in place and the level of supervision in their homes. But what happens when our kids get older? Will we broaden the scope and allow them to stay with people we have known for less time or barely know at all?
Choosing Friends Well
We have several concerns when it comes to sleepovers. What are the kids like? Are these kids a good influence? Will they make good choices? Will they be kind to our kids or will they take the opportunity to bully them? This has been more of an issue with my girls. It seems girls decide to be hard on one another at a young age. There are a few girls that are often catty or petty with them during playdates. Those girls are not ones I want my girls to have sleepovers with. It just seems like a recipe for disaster.
Another issue is when the parents are going to sleep. Do they allow the kids to stay up as long as they want without supervision? My kids were once invited to sleep over at one home, and the parent mentioned they finally had to go to sleep at 1 a.m. so they put themselves to bed while the kids stayed up in the living room. This is not something we are comfortable with at all. We want our children to be in bed asleep before the parents, at least at their current age.
The Age of the Internet
We are also concerned about internet access. Are their computers in the bedrooms? Will the kids be allowed on the internet behind closed doors or in some other way unsupervised? Do they have cell phones they can use unsupervised? With the proliferation of pornography and other online evils, we just want to make sure our kids are not exposed to dangers online at a friend's house.
It can be tricky to bring up the topic of guns with another family, but it’s important, especially if the kids will be unsupervised in any way. Do you have guns in your home? Do they remain locked up? Do your children have access, or would it be possible for them to access the guns unsupervised? The possibility of children pulling out a gun to show off and having a horrible accident is all too real. We want to make sure our kids have zero chance of seeing a gun at a friend's home.
Beyond that, we need to feel comfortable with the character of the parents and the other kids in the home. How will they treat our kids? How certain are we that there is no abuse of any kind in the home? Knowing someone’s character takes quite a bit of time, and this is really the sticking point for us in regard to sleepovers. It takes a long time to be certain someone is safe for something like a sleepover.
The Late Over Option
As it stands, I can’t see that we will expand our “safe” families much beyond those we have already trusted our children with. Our family members and two family friends. That’s it. Luckily, several families near us have started doing “late overs.” My daughters were invited to one last year. The kids all went over and watched movies and played games until around 9:30/10, then everyone went home. The kids were supervised the entire time, and parents were allowed to stay if they wanted to. It was a great opportunity to do something fun late at night and feel very grown up without the difficulty of navigating an actual sleepover.
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