By Vicki Little
“Mom! Can Suzie and I have a slumber party?” I don’t know what popped into your mind just now, but my mind is filled with memories of frozen bras, kissing Joey McIntyre posters, sneaking out (once) to experience a disappointing kiss from a boy whose name I can’t recall, and playing “truth or dare” with dares that increased in intensity as I got older. But regardless of those activities, close friendships were formed and memories were made. I actually was a pretty tame high schooler, so I am sure there are more risqué things that have happened — but we survived, right?
If you haven’t heard already, sleepovers are no longer a “right of passage” for kids. More and more parents are opting out of the tradition. I really haven’t put much thought into it since my children have only received a handful of invites, and I honestly haven’t felt that they were old enough. But the invitations are coming more frequently, and I need to make up my mind on whether we will or we won’t allow sleepovers.
As luck would have it, I was sitting at my daughter’s gymnastics class one night when a group of ladies started the “great slumber party debate, ” as I now affectionately think of it. Some moms were absolutely baffled that we would even question whether kids should be allowed to attend slumber parties. Why would anyone deny their child the memories and independence that come with this age-old tradition? One lady said she swears by them, although she admitted that she rarely saw her daughter this past summer and that during the weekends, her daughter goes MIA as well. She pops in and says “hi, ” changes clothes, briefly chats or sleeps, and then heads back to quality time with a friend. The parents often alternate weekends so that each family gets an opportunity to be child-free and all is fair in terms of the hefty grocery bill involved with sleepovers.
The other side of the argument is heavy with the “what-ifs.” This isn’t like a simple “what if they watch a scary movie and have nightmares for a month?” (Although that alone would convince me to say “no” until I was certain that I would not have to spend a month with a child’s foot on my kidney as I sleep.) These “what-ifs” include: What if my child is exposed to drugs or alcohol for the first time? What if my child gets molested or bullied while they are there? What if my child is forced to do something she isn’t comfortable with?
The pro-slumber party crew was quick to say that these were all potential problems. We had all played “truth or dare” when we were kids. We had all snuck out at night, and watching scary movies and playing pranks is in the definition of “slumber party.” Many moms admitted that they had their first drink or cigarette at a slumber party. Statistically, kids are more likely to be abused or molested by a family member than a stranger, and wouldn’t the kid have an idea if there might be bullying happening at the sleepover? Everyone knew whose parents did drugs or left alcohol out and were then willing to look the other way while the kids stuck their hands in the proverbial cookie jar. And look at us — we all managed to survive somewhat unscathed.
To answer, yes, these are problems we have all faced. But the balance of power has shifted somewhat, and parents are increasingly restricted in how they can discipline their own children, not to mention someone else’s. And let’s just think about the problems that we have now that we didn’t have then. Nearly every child of sleep-over age has a cell phone (and if they don’t, it would probably be wise to let them use one so they can call you, if needed). So now those dares can be recorded on video … and possibly uploaded to social media. Those humiliating moments that happen to those unfortunate kids who fall asleep early? The only witnesses used to be the people at the party. Now those moments are captured and sent to the rest of the school by Monday morning.
The thing is, times have changed. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. But the “new normal” is drinking, having sex, and experimenting at a younger age. Bullying is no longer teasing a kid about their braces — now people are taking videos of their “friends” in the shower and sending them to the whole school. Situations that used to leave us embarrassed but ultimately stronger and wiser are now leaving kids emotionally scarred forever. They can’t escape what happened because it is EVERYWHERE — at home, school, the mall, friends’ houses … screens are relentless. It isn’t so much of “what if” one of these scary stories we hear about in the news happens to our children, it is the fear of “when will it.”
Eventually, a shy mom who hadn’t said much revealed that her family has a modified plan for sleepovers. Her children can stay until 10pm or midnight (depending on their age and whose house they will go to) and then she picks them up. If they want to leave earlier, they call and she gets them — no questions asked. This applies to ALL slumber parties — even if the host happens to be a family member or close friend. Having a family policy that allows for exceptions to the rules only means the children will argue for more and more exceptions. Plus, it isn’t necessarily the parents or the house that may be the problem — it can also very likely be the other guests. Kids can still spend the night at her house, though the electronic rule of no screens in the bedrooms after 7pm still applies to ALL people staying in the house. There are additional rules as well, such as the door remains open at all times and no opposite-sex kids can be there at the same time. With this compromise, her children can have that learning experience while still having boundaries in place.
After listening to the back-and-forth, I realized that every family is different and everyone needs to figure out what works best for them. I really liked the final scenario and have decided that is probably what my family will end up doing. In my mind, I see my children’s spiritual and emotional well-being as a thin piece of glass. I am like the very thin layer of protective plastic that clings to new glass. My one job is to keep that glass from getting dinged up, scratched, or cracked. It may not be pretty, and my kids may try to peel me off — but it is my main job. As the glass gets older and goes through more experiences, the protective plastic may start to curl at the edges and thin out in certain areas until it gradually falls off. I don’t intend to “fall off” anytime soon — certainly not while my kids are still living under my roof and growing. There were plenty of times in my childhood when I was thankful that my mom said I couldn’t do something. There were even times I asked to do something because my friends told me to, but the whole time I was hoping my mom would say “no.” Because that is what parents do. They say “no” at times to protect their children, no matter how much grief they get for it. If my family becomes one of those tragic “what-if” statistics, my precious glass sculptures will be broken. Try as I might, I can glue them back together. But no matter what I do, they will not be the same people they were before the incident. They will never be able to get their innocence back. So I guess that means I am going to be the mean mom who says “no” to slumber parties. No one ever said being a mom was easy.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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