Growing up in a joint family with lots of cousins, we looked forward to that weekend sleepover. Since we all lived on an estate with houses occupied by family, we were in each other’s houses all the time, literally like one big happy family.
Some years down the line, as job transfers scattered the family, sleepovers happened with friends. We looked forward to those days so much – usually a Saturday. We were so excited and thought of nothing else through the week. Although, I must confess that as a teenager, I had a lot of convincing to do before my Grandmother would reluctantly say yes. Mind you, I was in high school by that time.
So, anyway, I was at my door yesterday to receive mail and noticed my neighbor sending her excited teenage daughter off, with instructions to call and message. I saw the anxiety on her face and asked her what was up. She mentioned being just a little worried as her daughter was off to a sleepover at her friend’s, and this got me thinking, how does one decide about whether a sleepover is safe?
As for parents, married, single or divorced, the term “sleepover” evokes a range of emotions ranging from excitement to anxiety about the safety of their children, what with all the horror stories on media. Most children do not speak out and never get over the trauma of a bad experience.
Making the decision about that sleepover
While there is no right or wrong answer when our children ask to go for sleepovers, many parents base their decisions on past personal experiences:
- How did our parents go about it?
- What happened to us?
Today, there are prevalent cases of sexual abuse, abductions, and other forms of violence against children. Also, one has to worry about the safety of another person’s home, while considering the child’s welfare while at their friend’s house.
Should You Allow that Sleepover?
Generally, the degree of a child’s safety with regard to sleepovers largely depends on how parents approach the whole issue. Based on individual parenting reasons, there are two choices:
- The hard stance where you lay the rule “No sleepover, ever!” Nothing really wrong with that as every parent has the right to her own personal comfort level, at least according to one divorce liaison agency in Oakland area, no one should judge you.
- Then, there are parents who prefer to allow their children the freedom to go enjoy a sleepover. In this case, there are many ways to make sure the sleepovers are safe both for the parent and for the child.
Here are three important questions to ask and answer before you say yes to a sleepover
How well do you know the family hosting the sleepover?
I remember how often we met our friends and their families. On special occasions, we invited each other home, went on picnics and generally kept in touch. These days, hectic lifestyles have made it more difficult to be as social as we used to be in the past. So it is hardly any surprise when we sometimes don’t know our own next door neighbor too well. This makes it even more important to know the hosting family when it comes to sleepovers.
Clarify any expectations about supervision, movie watching, video games etc. Ensure there are no weapons around and that there will be adult supervision throughout. What are the sleeping arrangements? Older teens supervising the younger children is not acceptable. If you are not comfortable with anything at all, don’t let your children spend the night there.
I remember a friend once shuddering over the fact that the family with whom her daughter was having a sleepover had a party at home the same day. Of course, the children were sent to bed, but imagine – party downstairs, children upstairs. Not the ideal situation for a sleepover!
Have you had a heart-to-heart talk with your children?
Talk to your children about the everyday dangers they are prone to, such as sexual abuse. Be specific. Be honest. Be gentle. These issues cannot be tackled in one conversation, so have a series and with adolescent children, discuss them regularly, periodically. One can never be too careful.
Make sure they are aware that young adolescents are the most vulnerable to abuse. Sexual abuse flourishes on secrecy; hence, an open and candid discussion is the perfect way to help them stay safe. For younger kids, ensure they have names for their private parts, and know precisely what to do should someone touch them inappropriately. Teach them a safe word they can use should they ever need to.
Do your children know they can contact you at any time?
You want to be confident that your children can and will call you if they are uncomfortable. When you know they will, you feel a little better about sending them to a sleepover. Tell them this: Call me no matter what time it is if you are scared or uncomfortable and want to come back home. Your safety is my main priority. Make an excuse if you need to, call and I will be there right away even if it is 3 am and there’s a blizzard blowing outside.
Generally, sleepovers are fun. Nonetheless, things could sometimes go wrong, since there is often minimal supervision for a long period of time. Then there is the fact that when it is late at night, a child may be unsure how to call for help when in distress.
At the best of times, parenting is tricky. Safety is paramount, especially when it comes to sleepovers. After all, it is only fair that children enjoy the fun they expect to have.
So what do you think? Should one say yes to sleepovers?