This article recently appeared on ChicagoParent.com where I am a regular contributor.
Recently I received an email from the mother of one of my second-grade daughters classmates. In it, she talked about the upcoming birthday of her child, how she was hosting a sleepover party, and would my daughter be able to attend on such-and-such a date.
I’ve never met this woman. I couldn’t pick her out of a line up with a gun to my head. Honestly, I was freaked out that she had my email address until I remembered that I included it in the school directory. Her daughter’s name is slightly familiar in my home, but not to the point that I know who she is either. But my little girl was excited at the prospect of having a sleepover – this magical thing that signified in her mind that she was a “big girl”.
My first thought was, “Okay, let’s see if we can make this work”. I look at the dates, and sent the mom a reply that my daughter might be able to attend. I needed to think about this further. Upon reflection, it didn’t seem like such a great idea. After all, this was not a close family friend or relative that I had a relationship with or had known for several years. This would be the equivalent of having a pleasant conversation with the person behind me in the checkout line at Target and letting my daughter go with her on an overnight trip. Except I would have spoken to the person at Target first.
I went to the internet to see if I was the only one freaking out over this concept and discovered that there was a whole movement to stop the practice of sleepovers. It was refreshing to see that, while most of these people were being viciously mocked in the comments of their articles for “taking the fun out of childhood”, I wasn’t the only person that had concerns about this practice.
I’m not interested in making my daughter’s childhood less fun; however I’m also not interested in her having fun at the expense of her safety. If I was to let her sleep over at some one elses home, here are the questions that I would want answered (keep in mind that I am completely willing to answer these to let a child spend the night in my home as well):
- What is your internet / wi-fi policy? Is your wi-fi secure? Does your child have the password? What kind of devices can have internet that the kids will have access to?
- Do you have firearms in the home? Where are they? Loaded / unloaded?
- Do you have alcohol that is easily accessible? Do your children know where you keep it? Will you be drinking while my child is here – even one glass of wine?
- Is there pornography in your home – either magazines, DVD’s, stored on your DVR or access to it on your television through Pay-Per-View channels?
- Does your television have parental controls on it, and what are they set to? Does your child know the password?
- Who lives in your home besides you? Will there be anyone besides you that will be at the house while my child is there?
- What are your house rules regarding modesty, appropriate sleeping attire, bathroom usage?
- Where will the kids be sleeping? If is it on the ground floor and you will be upstairs, do you have an alarm system? Will you be setting it? Does your child know the code?
- Will you be taking the kids anywhere? Driving in the car with my child?
- What are the planned activities that will be going on while my child is there?
Does this seem extreme? Maybe – but wouldn’t you want to know these things in order to make a decision about where your child slept (or just hung out for that matter)? Am I overprotective? Yes, I own that 100%. In my opinion, that’s my job as a mother. When recent studies suggest that up to 20% of girls are victims of sexual abuse during their childhood (and, according to ChildHelp.org 90% of those KNOW THEIR PERPETRATOR IN SOME WAY), I choose not to put my girls in situation that increases their odds of being included in that 20%. Just last month in Texas, a 40 year-old man was sentenced to life in prison for repeatedly molesting eight elementary school girls whom he had access to because of a sleepover.
Please don’t misunderstand – I am not implying that I have knowledge of someone or something inappropriate in the home of the person that invited her. I simply don’t know anything about them. AT ALL.
Being a mother to these two little girls is a big responsibility. I need to protect them to the best of my abilities while raising good, responsible citizens. At this point, I’m not interested to go through the checklist above to have my 8-year-old spend the night somewhere. I’d rather suggest a Saturday afternoon get together or a meet-up out somewhere with a fun activity planned. I think there are other ways to teach your children the independence that is gained from sleeping away from home without the risks to their safety.
What do you think? Are you for or against the practice of sleepovers?