“Can I sleepover at my friend's house?”
Our children may receive invitations from their friends to have a sleepover at their friends’ homes from time to time. As parents, how can we respond to such requests? What are some things we might want to keep in mind, and how do we balance between keeping our children safe and teaching them independence?
You have to determine, as a family, what is your stand on sleepovers. Do you not let any of your children do sleepovers due to various concerns? Or do you allow sleepovers from a certain age onwards? The general guideline is to be consistent and clear about the reasons behind your family policy of allowing or disallowing sleepovers in your home.
There are some questions that are good to consider when deciding whether or not to allow your child to do a sleepover: How well do you know the parents of your kid’s friends personally? What are their family values like, and are they in line with your family values? What are the guidelines they have on the types of media that can be consumed in their homes? How many children are invited to their sleepover? What activities will be planned? Will there be one parent or two parents supervising the sleepover, or will someone else, like an older sibling or domestic helper, be put in charge?
If you are not comfortable with any of these aspects, you can explain to your child your concerns for them in why you are not allowing them to have a sleepover. If your children are upset with your decision, help them to understand that your job as their parent is to keep them protected, first and foremost, and not just to make them happy.
If you decide to grant your child permission, assure him or her that if anything happens during the sleepover, you can always be reached, and how that can be done. Talk to them about what they should do if they are asked to do something they are not comfortable with or that goes against your family values. Explain to them that if they need to be picked up at any time, they are free to call you right away.
You can also contact his/her friend’s parents to talk about what you allow and disallow for your child, in terms of food, media consumption, activities, etc.
The same guidelines apply, and you can continue to develop the conversation with your teenager on how they can draw good boundaries in areas like being touched or when they are asked to do an activity they know is wrong.
It is also good to find out in advance what the sleeping arrangements are during the sleepover. Does everyone sleep in the same room or separate rooms? Is there any sharing of mattresses? Are there friends of the opposite sex invited?
A general principle is that sleepovers with the opposite gender is likely unwise, especially at an age when your teens are starting to be curious about sexuality–their own and the opposite sex.
It is a good practice to develop, together with your children, some safety words or codes that they can use if they feel the need to call you to pick them up immediately. For example, “I have trouble sleeping,” “I forgot to feed the dog,” or “I left something at home.” This way, your teenager have more freedom to call you the minute they need to, without feeling awkward about asking to be picked up while being in the middle of an uncomfortable situation.
Again, the same general guidelines still hold regarding finding out more about the sleepover in advance, teaching your children how to refuse to take part in inappropriate activities, and making sure they know you are available to them if they need you.
You may also wish to ask your child if there will be any cigarettes or alcohol present, and what he or she can do if they appear unexpectedly.
Older teenagers would likely appreciate more coaching and less control at this stage, so a sleepover can also be a wonderful opportunity for them to start practising more independence and accountability. Are they able to call you once they get to their friend’s place? Will they inform you if they and their friends leave the house for whatever reasons at night? Will they honour their word about the agreed-upon time to get home after the sleepover?
Giving them more freedom is accompanied by the need for them to exercise more responsibility. It may not always go as well as you would like, but each experience is a learning opportunity to keep building your child up, so that they can eventually be competent in understanding the consequences of their actions and responsible decision-making.
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Check out the Talk about Sex series for more essential conversations with your children.