Personal Story

I Loved Sleepovers as a Kid, Here’s My Approach as a Mom

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Whether or not to let your children participate in sleepovers is one of the current parenting debates happening on social media. I’m 35 years old, and growing up in the ‘90s and ‘00s, I had sleepovers with my friends all the time. I had overwhelmingly positive sleepover experiences, and those nights away from home with my girlfriends formed some of the core memories I hang onto today. However, though I had fun, I know not everyone has the same fond feelings about sleepovers and slumber parties, with some people even having unsafe and traumatic experiences. Both sides of the sleepover debate—to participate or not to participate—are valid.

Currently, I let my third-grader have sleepovers at friends’ houses if I have previously interacted with the family at least a few times and feel comfortable with the household. However, just because this is my current stance, it doesn’t mean I’ll always feel this way. I am OK with sleepovers now but may re-assess my stance when my daughter is a teenager. I’m allowing myself to be flexible on the decision as circumstances change. Here’s how my family does sleepovers now and how it might shift in the future.

How my family does sleepovers

For the time being, I am fine with her participating in these nights away from home. Here’s how my family does sleepovers, and these are the reasons why I’m OK with them now:

I’ve already vetted the household

Since she’s only sleeping over at houses where I’ve met the parents, I‘m comfortable asking them who else will be in the house, who will be supervising, and what the household rules are. I’m comfortable communicating what my boundaries are, such as that I don’t want her leaving the house once she’s been dropped off. I’ve also already had conversations about if firearms are present and any other safety concerns.

Technology can keep us connected

She has a phone with her and knows she can reach me at any time. Even though I feel comfortable reaching out to the parents, it makes me feel better knowing she can discreetly and directly reach out to me or her dad on her own without anyone having to know.

We frequently have safety talks

Our family talks a lot about what is safe and what isn’t—including choices that we make ourselves and situations that we can be put into. My daughter and I often have these conversations before bedtime because that’s when she seems the most willing to open up and share thoughts, questions, and concerns. I want her to always feel comfortable coming to me with anything that is on her mind. So far, we’ve been able to keep an open and honest dialogue.

Why I allow my daughter to do sleepovers now

She’s expanding her worldview

I like giving her opportunities to learn from others who aren’t just her immediate family members. The way we do things in our household isn’t the only way to do things. Through sleepovers, she can experience different kinds of family traditions and routines, meals, activities, games, and more. Sleepovers can help expand her worldview and allow her to become more adaptable and flexible.

She’s learning independence

She’s 9 years old, and it’s a startling thought that in just nine more years, likely every day will be a sleepover away from home. I want her to learn independence bit by bit while she’s under our wing and take lots of continuous small steps as she gets older and is ready for more freedom.

She’s making lifelong childhood memories

Those nights away from home, laughing with a group of girls with our sleeping bags in a circle, are still warm memories for me. I want to be able to give my daughter as many cherished memories as possible, too.

Source: @raven.vasquez

Sleepover rules might shift when she’s a teenager

However, though I am OK with my elementary schooler going to sleepovers now because of the reasons above, I may re-evaluate my stance as she gets older and circumstances change. How my family does sleepovers is open to change, and these are the reasons why I might not allow (or deeply limit) my daughter to have them as a teenager:

It will be harder to keep up with who her friends are

Right now, it’s fairly easy to get to know the parents of my daughter’s friends and vet the households because I have to facilitate play dates and do drop-off and pick-up. However, once she’s a teenager, she can facilitate making plans on her own and get herself there. She’ll also have an expanded social circle in high school when all the local elementary schools join together, and it will just not be possible to keep up with everyone she’s socializing with. I’m not sure yet if I’m comfortable with her spending nights away at households I am totally unfamiliar with.

I know what I was up to as a teenager

I know what kind of risky situations I put myself into as a teenager—and usually used “going to a sleepover at a friend’s house” as a cover-up for going somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. Once I got to a certain age, sleepovers were not just about me and my girlfriends chatting in our sleeping bags but were about me pushing the boundaries of the rules my parents set. Looking back, the rules were reasonable, and the scenarios I was in weren’t always a great idea. Of course, at this time, there wasn’t any technology to verify where I actually was, but now there is, so that could change my approach.

Teenagers have other ways to learn independence

I’m teaching my children independence, bit by bit, before they leave the nest. Sleepovers are a great way for younger children to gain some independence, but once they become teenagers, there are other ways to have some freedom from your parents. If she doesn’t go to sleepovers as a teenager, her independence wouldn’t be completely limited—by this age, she can be away from home without us, have a part-time job, etc.

She wouldn’t miss out on the night out

As a kid, the sleepover is the “night out.” As a teenager, once you’re able to stay out on your own until curfew, you’re still part of the group activity. The sleepover part is likely just to sleep (or do something you’re not supposed to). It’s important to me that she doesn’t feel like the odd one out—so if she’s still able to participate in the plans with friends in a safe way before coming home, I think that is a win. Of course, we’ll have the conversations around getting home safely and calling us for help instead of putting herself in an unsafe situation to get home on time.

Parenting decisions are rarely ever easy and straightforward. Choosing whether to allow your child to participate in sleepovers is difficult because, like with many choices, there is some degree of risk involved. However, I am doing what I can with how my family does sleepovers to minimize the risks in this decision as much as possible. I can’t eliminate all risks for my children, but I can take steps to ensure situations are as safe as possible. Personally, I think there are too many rewards to sleepovers for children to eliminate them as an opportunity.

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