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What's With All the Outright Bans on Sleepovers?

Photograph by Twenty20

Sleepovers were once a rite of passage for young kids, but now with reports of incidents and misconduct so easily accessible, more and more parents are opting out. Just googling for information about sleepovers surfaces a slew of parenting articles about sleepover bans and dangers. I, for one, am kind of bummed about that.

When I was a kid, sleepovers were a recurring thing. In fact, there was one year in fifth or sixth grade when we would have a sleepover pretty much every weekend. There was a whole group of us girls and we would all bring our stuff to school one Friday, load up in a friend’s mom’s van and ride out to their home to wreak some havoc.

We played games (truth or dare, anyone?), watched movies we probably shouldn’t have (like the R-rated "The Lost Boys"), made prank calls (thank you, times of no caller ID!), went night swimming, ate copious amounts of pizza and junk, and stayed up late. Sure, there was drama. Someone inevitably locked themselves in the bathroom crying, cliques were formed and rumors started, but for the most part, we had a blast and I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without them.

Call me naive and crazy, if you want. But I want my girl to have her 'girl time' and experience a little bit of what made my own childhood so much fun.

So, when my own daughter asked to have a sleepover when she was 8, I didn’t even hesitate. I was actually really excited about the idea of returning to my own slumber party days. Movies and popcorn and late-night giggles! Sounded like a good time for them (and a lot of coffee for me). It never occurred to me that some parents weren't down with the concept of their child sleeping over at a house they didn't know much about. I was surprised by some of the questions they asked and a little shocked that not all the girls were allowed to stay the night.

After talking with a few other mom friends, I realized times have indeed changed. Parents today spend much more time curating their children's social circles and vetting their friends, so why would spending the night at a girlfriend's home be any different? Unless they had previously met us and seen our home, it totally made sense why they would have all the questions.

Bad behavior and dangerous pranks at sleepovers seem more common than we remember, like the story of the 12-year-old who poured boiling water on her friend's face as a "joke." These stories escalate concerns about other family members who may be present during the event and lead parents to think that sleepovers just aren't worth it. We can’t control everything our kids do but this type of vigilance can save reputations and possibly even lives, right?

Look, I get the apprehension. As a mother of a daughter, I am always concerned about who she may come into contact with and the things that may happen once she's out of my sight. Those are valid concerns. You just never know what goes on in other people’s homes and how they allow their kids to behave. It can be a very scary thing for some parents to relinquish that control and just throw caution to the wind.

But I also trust my kid to make informed decisions, and she knows that if she feels off about anything, she can call and I will immediately come get her. I have to give her some independence. I have to let her practice being in charge.

Lenore Skenazy, author and founder of the Free Range Kids movement, tells the Chicago Tribune that she recommends teaching your child the three R’s: "Recognize that nobody should touch you. Resist, if someone is doing something you don’t like. And Report, if an adult tells you something you’re not comfortable with."

Maybe traditional sleepovers with a gazillion girls will continue to be a thing of the past, but I'm glad my daughter can still have a girlfriend or two over every now and again. I'll field all the questions that come my way when people ask why and how come she's allowed to sleep over and have friends sleep over. Call me naive and crazy, if you want. But I want my girl to have her "girl time" and experience a little bit of what made my own childhood so much fun.

As long as parents are doing their part to vet the households where our kids spend time, sleepovers can be a great thing. So, if you're like me and totally down with an overnighter or two, party's at my house!

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