Children and Sleepovers: What Parents Need to Know

My family doesn’t do sleepovers. Before our children were even old enough to ask, Aileen and I talked it through and determined that we would not allow them. We would simply take sleepovers off the table altogether. A couple of years ago I wrote about this in an article titled Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers and something crazy happened. To date, nearly 8,000,000 people have read it. Every few months something happens within Facebook and it goes viral all over again. In the past week alone another 600,000 people have dropped by my site to read the article.

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Invariably, every time the article gets stirred up on Facebook, I receive scores of letters to the editor expressing either gratitude or disagreement. Broadly speaking, these letters fall into two categories—those who have had bad experiences with sleepovers and, therefore agree with my article, and those who have not had bad experiences with sleepovers and, therefore, disagree with my article. Past experience, whether negative or positive, appears to be the most prominent factor in determining whether or not parents will allow sleepovers. This makes a lot of sense, I’m sure. We often rely on past experience to chart the path forward.

Today I want to allow others to speak. I am going to share some of the letters to the editor I have received just in the past week or ten days. I’ve put them into three categories: Those that generally agree, those that generally disagree, and those that offer an alternate or pose good questions. The title of this article says it contains “What Parents Need to Know.” In this I want parents to speak to parents, to share what they have decided about sleepovers.

I will warn you up-front that many of these letters are tragic, disturbing, and difficult to read.

Letters that Agree

I just read your article on sleepovers. My daughter is almost 27, married with two beautiful children. However, her freshman year of high school—through a study our high school girls were doing in their discipleship groups at church—we found out she had been raped by a neighbor as a third grader on the one and only time she stayed at the home with his family (he, his wife, and two daughters). She kept that horrible secret for six years, and we never had a clue. … During the time of ‘waiting’ for trial and shortly after, we learned of at least three other girls in the neighborhood who were also victims.”

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Sleepovers were a definite no in my family for my younger siblings when I was growing up and are a huge no to nieces and nephews I have now. My older sister and I were sexually abused after my older sister begged to sleep over at a friend’s house when she was in the 9th grade and I was in the 6th. Our father only allowed her to go if we went together, because he thought that would be safer. But it was not safer. Once in a while my dad, with tears in his eyes, says “I’m sorry, I should have known better. I’m your father, it was my job to protect you and I didn’t.” Those are words no father should have to tell their child for the outcome of what seemed a simple, innocent sleepover.

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I just wanted to thank you for your article about sleepovers. My husband and I also decided not to allow our children to attend sleepovers, except the occasional night at grandma’s. Our reasons were basically the same as yours as well, with the exception that the “bad” experiences had to do with attempting séances and other occult-related activities rather than the experiences you mentioned. We also found it would simplify things to have a clearcut line—no sleepovers—rather than picking and choosing which ones would be “safe.” I have not ever heard of anyone else making this decision so it was reaffirming to me to see it in print. And, I am thankful that someone in a role-model position is so clearly explaining the wisdom of going against the grain. Thanks!

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I was raped by my best friend’s father at age fourteen while at a sleepover. I agree with you on every point you make. Things like this happened just as often decades ago as they do now. I’m almost 50. Things like this alter the course of a person’s life, in ways no one can imagine. I know. I have never healed. I’m a follower of Christ and I know I should have, but I haven’t.

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I am a mother who doesn’t typically send my children for sleepovers. However, when my father and stepmom asked to take my daughter, I agreed. During that sleepover my little sister (my daughter was 6, my sister was 9) showed my daughter pornography. She Googled [various sexual terms] and proceeded to act out what she saw on my daughter. My children will no longer participate in sleepovers after this.

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I am the mother of 4 and grandmother of 6. When I was growing up, my siblings and I had sleepovers all the time. I have many friends who were victims of molestation at a sleepover. I have closely witnessed the lifetime of devastation that comes with it. For that reason, my husband and I made it a rule that we wouldn’t allow sleepovers with friends. We allowed grandparents and cousins but not friends. My youngest daughter is 14 and we will occasionally allow her to have friends at our home but we are even cautious with that. Not only does it protect our children, but we protect our spouses and our family as a whole.

Instead of sleepovers, we do “late nights.” We made a decision that based on age, we would decide a late night time for our children to stay at a friend’s house and we would pick them up. When our kids were little, a late night might be 8 or 9. As they got older, into teen years, the late hour increased. We made a commitment to our children that the lateness of the hour would never determine our willingness to let our children attend something. It has worked out really well. And I have found that the drive home brings great conversations and honesty even in the middle of the night.

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I am a victim myself. I know the dangers all too well of what is lurking at sleepovers. Things, that would take a trained eye to catch. When the lights go out, when adults are out of reach. It really just takes a second, but the residue from the act follows through life and alters your life. It alters your being. The innocent child loses normalcy. I just wanted to share this with you. Thank you, for this article.

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As a child growing up, I can remember my grandmother advising my parents not allowing us to do sleepovers at all. However, as a child I was allowed to go to them and have them. Looking back as I got older and started having my own children, I was very strict with my children about sleepovers and eventually outlawed them all together in our household, because as a child growing up I had some awful, terrible experiences at sleepovers and wish they never were a part of my life. There will always be tears and arguments with this job for both parents and their children and in the end tears are good! So let the tears roll and know you are doing something right for the safety of your child/children and it is out of love!

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Our younger daughter was raped by her best friend’s father when she was 12. What followed was a nightmare for her and our family. He continued the sexual abuse for 18 months. He lived 2 doors down from us and he told her he would kill us if she told or quit coming to their house. She is now 29, married and with a child of her own, but that’s only because of the powerful grace of God! She did not disclose her abuse for 7 years, which was filled with multiple suicide attempts, cutting, burning, anorexia, deep depression, residential treatment, years of therapy, another rape in college, substance abuse and more prayer and tears than almost humanly possible.

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I raised my children in the early/mid 90’s. It was the decade of the sleepover. Against my better judgement I let them have sleep over at their friends homes. I wish I hadn’t. My son was exposed to pornography and molested by the other boys. My daughter was exposed to horror films and other things and began cutting herself.

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I agree with the article and have the same rules in my home. My children are allowed to attend the party until it is bed time and then I will come get them. I had a cousin who was molested the whole time she was growing up at her best friend’s house and didn’t say anything about it until she was 18 and had a breakdown. I vowed at that point that my children would never be put in that situation. I allow sleepovers at my home if their friends parents allow, I know myself and wouldn’t allow anything to happen to their children. In fact, boys downstairs girls upstairs if there are other children in my home. I just don’t trust other people with my children enough to take that risk.

Letters that Disagree

I disagree with not allowing sleepovers. I am a mother of four (3 girls and 1 boy) who are now all almost adults. While simply saying no because you are trying to protect your children perhaps makes you feel better about protecting them, it does not empower them. We are what could be called “liberal parents.” We allow sleepovers, we allow parties, we allow outings. However, we are careful about where we allow our kids to go, we always drop-off and pick-up ourselves, and we make sure we get to know their friends and the friends’ families. More importantly, we teach our children to look after themselves, we encourage them to be open with us by not being judgmental, over-protective and unreasonable. We teach them to be strong, independent and confident. They are given space to build this independence with the understanding that with freedom comes responsibility. They have all been allowed to parties where they were offered alcohol but they also know that if they drink, then they will lose the privilege of being allowed to go next time.

When you simply ban things it does not stop children from doing them. It just means they will find a way to do it behind your back, and when they do manage to get what was banned they will not be inclined to do it in moderation. So banning sleepovers can lead to them bunking out. They stop asking for permission to do stuff because they know you are going to say no and instead make their own plans. This I know from first-hand experience.

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I’m responding to your post about not allowing sleepovers for your kids. I was brought up that way also and always felt socially inadequate and over-protected. I felt stunted and was a very late bloomer as far as relationships go. I married late in life and feel my life and therefore battled to have a child because of my age. I feel life could have started far sooner. I feel that parents should have an open, honest communication with their kids and that is the best way to protect them. I think that kids should develop naturally in life and the best form of protection is education.

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I believe that every parent deserves, within reason of course, to parent in any way they wish. I completely disagree, as does the article, that the world is much more predatory now than before. The world has always been predatory, we just hear about it more due to social media. As parents, it’s our job to make sure, every day, every decision, that we are raising good, compassionate, thriving kids. Personally, as parents of 2 boys, we have always been “The House,” whether it be having kids over to play football, basketball, baseball, Nerf war, and/or sleepovers. I know each and every parent of these kids personally, and they know us. We may be in a unique position that in our area in that most people who have chosen to raise their families here are from here, as well as generations prior back to when they were immigrants.

I believe in the inherent innocence of children to a certain age, educating constantly when they are past that age, and love that we create a safe environment for which all the kids at our home can have fun, with the parents of these kids knowing that we allow fun, but no “funny business,” so to speak. Are these kids perfect? No, but they are good kids that know I’m a momma bear that will protect them at all costs, and that knows what is going on when they are at my home. If we all consistently aimed at creating safe places for our kids to feel safe and have fun, this wouldn’t be an issue. There are other homes that also welcome kids in all of the time, and we know and trust them as well. I think it boils down to community, having it, creating it, doing whatever we have to do to allow our children to have the best childhood possible within the scope of modern day issues.

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I know the world is bad and scary too. But, as parents we need to teach our children to trust people, trust humanity. It is not right to teach the kids to always look at everybody with a suspicious eye. Having said that, we also have to teach our kids to be safe, and if they feel unsafe, what is the appropriate thing to do. I beg to disagree that sleepovers are bad. No. It actually is a way of saying to our kids that, “We trust you will take care of ourselves in all situations possible.” Sleepovers are fun for the kids and it is not right to take away that happiness from a kid.

Other Letters

Although I agree with your article, being a mom now myself I know I can’t protect my son if I’m not there. However, I’m a victim of pedophilia. I appreciated so much to get away from my home to sleep without worry of my mom’s boyfriend coming into my room at night. I would spend entire summers away at my friends’ houses. I never had to worry, I didn’t have to sleep with a knife under my bed. I’m forever thankful that my friends parents allowed me to basically live with them through elementary school. Nobody knew. I couldn’t tell anyone, but when I was away, I was free.

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I was intrigued by your article. As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, I often hear this discussion in my circle groups and the comments often amaze me. What struck me in your article was your comment about exceptions. You noted that you did not want to make exceptions because it would, in a sense, open the floodgates. I would just like to point out, though, that you did make an exception. You made an exception for family. This, to me, is opening the floodgates. Why does family get a pass? Why are they given automatic trust over other equally human humans? An overwhelming majority of childhood sexual abuse survivors were hurt by adults that their parents knew and trusted. My challenge to you would be to consider what makes family so special. How can you guarantee your child’s safety from them? And if you follow this spiral, can you truly protect them at all? These questions are probing but intentional.

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I read your entire article and I think it lacks what I believe is the most important thing to do to prevent any sexual abuse on children in all situations. I said “in all situations” because such things can happen anywhere not only during sleepovers. Your article lacks what I always do to my children and that is making them aware about the issue on sexual abuse. I believe that children of all ages have the ability to listen to their parents, granting of course that the manner on how the parents brings out the subject is according to their age level. In my case I always explain to my children about the dangers they will be encountering with other people whenever they are alone . I also told them that they should never allow anybody to look or touch their private parts and if somebody attempts to do it to them, to never hesitate to tell us, their parents. So I think this is what you fail to include in your article. I believe that making the child aware of the dangers they will face is far more effective than merely not allowing them sleepovers.

Conclusion

Each parent needs to decide whether or not to allow their children to participate in sleepovers. The majority of the letters I have shared today would implore them not too. This disparity simply reflects the weight of the letters I’ve received–far more have been opposed to sleepovers than enthusiastic about them. Yet I want to be clear: Allowing or not allowing children to sleep over does not necessarily reflect good parenting or bad, spiritual maturity or a lack of spiritual maturity. God gives us freedom and wisdom to decide what is best for our families, what is best for our children. It is my hope that these letters help parents make informed, wise decisions.

In lieu of a comments section, I accept and encourage letters to the editor. If you would like to write a letter to the editor, you can do so here.