6 Reflections on Sleepovers

I didn’t see this one coming. After over ten years of daily blogging, I tend to have a pretty good sense of which articles have the potential to cause a reaction and which articles have the potential to fizzle. I might have guessed that an article on why my family doesn’t do sleepovers would have attracted a few more readers than usual, but I wouldn’t have believed that in its first week it would be read by nearly 750,000 people. But it was, and I found myself wondering why.

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I’ve spent some time reading through comments and responses to try to understand why so many people were interested in reading about sleepovers. Here are a few personal takeaways from the discussion.

1. Validation

I was surprised to realize how many parents are concerned about sleepovers and how many do not allow them. I think one of the reasons the article spread is that it validated a lot of people who had assumed they were on their own. That “Me too!” factor was important as parents realized they are not the only ones who have made the decision not to allow their kids to participate in sleepovers. On a very practical note, the sleepover discussion is binary—either you do or do not allow them, and that allows everyone to take a side. Taking sides generates controversy and controversy generates shares and clicks. Takeaway: There are a surprising number of people who do not appreciate or allow sleepovers.

2. Controversy

I would like to think that when someone writes, “Why my family doesn’t do sleepovers” or “Why my family loves sleepovers,” we do not take it as a personal affront. Articles like these can represent a helpful opportunity to sharpen our thinking, even if we do not change our position. We are never better or stronger than our convictions and face the life-long challenge of continually deepening those convictions. While I did receive a lot of very helpful feedback from people who agreed and who disagreed with me, there was also an awful lot of anger and bickering. Christians too often do poorly with controversy, even on relatively minor discussions like this one. We are quick to feel judged and slow to extend grace and understanding. If we aren’t careful, “Why my family doesn’t do sleepvers” quickly morphs into, “Why you’re a terrible parent and will ruin your children if you allow sleepovers.” Takeaway: We need to grow in our ability to deal well with controversy.

3. Experience

Perhaps the strongest theme I saw in all the comments and responses was this: Our decisions are inseparable from our experiences. I made it clear in my article that my childhood experience with sleepovers was part of the reason I dislike them. Meanwhile, I heard from many other people who essentially said, “I will never allow sleepovers because I was sexually abused during one” or “Sleepovers are great and I never faced any uncomfortable situations during one.” We are all products of our experiences and we necessarily parent out of those experiences. Parents who had difficult or tragic experiences with sleepovers tend to approach them differently from those whose experiences were only ever good. Takeaway: We do well to learn from one another, rather than assuming our own experience is universal.

4. Fear

Every parent makes certain decisions based on fear—the fear of what may happen if they make a poor decision. Sometimes we deny our children privileges out of a desire to protect them. We rate the uncertainty of a situation higher than the benefit of the situation. One of our foremost fears is making a poor decision that exposes our children to sexual abuse. For many people sleepovers introduce too much of the unknown and in that way plays right into the fear that we will put our children at risk. Takeaway: Sleepovers have a way of exposing our fears, and we respond in many different ways.

5. Expectation

What I heard from many parents is that they do not appreciate the expectation that they ought to allow their children to sleep over. Aileen and I have experience with this, and have had parents outright mock us and call us overprotective for not allowing sleepovers (even though we barely know the parents or family!). I don’t think anyone can deny that both options—allowing and disallowing sleepovers—represent legitimate choices for parents. But those who do not allow sleepovers feel like they are facing unfair pressure to conform (while, undoubtedly, those who do allow sleepovers feel like others consider them reckless). As Christians we need to be careful to lovingly affirm those who make a choice different from our own and to refuse to pass judgment on them. Takeaway: Let’s not make sleepovers an expected part of a normal childhood.

6. Change

Different families have always had different rules about movies and bedtimes and other issues that arise during sleepovers. But a new and important issue where parents lead their families in different ways is access to the Internet. Many parents expressed concern about their children being in a home where the rules were far more relaxed than they would want. I read comment after comment from people concerned about the prevalence of pornography today. And, indeed, many people told of how their children were first exposed to porn while sleeping over at a friend’s home. Takeaway: For many parents the possibility of exposure to pornography represents the “bridge too far” that keeps them from allowing their kids to sleep over.

At the end of it all, I am glad that I wrote the article and even more glad that I was able to benefit from some excellent comments and articles in response. Let’s keep the conversation going until we are firm in our convictions and charitable toward others.

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