James Dobson believes that children should not participate in sleepovers. The world has changed, he says, and has become too dangerous to allow your children out of your sight for so long. In his book Bringing Up Girls, he says:
Sadly, the world has changed in the last few decades, and it is no longer a safe place for children. Pedophiles and child molesters are more pervasive than ever. That is why parents must be diligent to protect their kids every hour of the day and night. …
Until you have dealt with little victims as I have and seen the pain in their eyes, you might not fully appreciate the devastation inflicted by molestation. It casts a long shadow on everything that follows, including future marital relationships. Therefore, parents have to think the unthinkable in every situation. The threat can come from anywhere—including neighbors, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, music instructors, Scout leaders, and babysitters. Even public bathrooms can be dangerous today…
He believes the threat is so pervasive that parents should not allow their children to participate in sleepovers. I find myself both agreeing and disagreeing.
I agree with the nature of his concerns. Before my children were even old enough to ask, Aileen and I talked it through and decided we would not allow our kids to do sleepovers. Now let’s be clear: there is no biblical command that forbids them, so this was not a matter of clear right and wrong, but a matter of attempting to act with wisdom. We determined we would make it a family rule: Our children would not be allowed to spend the night at their friends’ homes. We believed they would face a particular kind of vulnerability if they found themselves alone and in bed outside our care, and we wanted to protect them from it. So they have stayed at their grandparents’ and have stayed with my sisters when we’ve visited the South, but they have not stayed at friend’s homes. (Note: My son is fourteen and we have now relaxed the rule with him, though permission is still dependent on circumstances.)
The reason we drew the rule so firmly was that it removes exceptions and explanations. We know ourselves well and realized that if we drew up a list of exceptions we would inevitably broaden that list over time. Not only that, but we did not want to have to explain to a family why we allowed our children to stay with others but not with them. So sleepovers were just taken right off the table without exceptions or individual explanations.
In this way I agree with Dobson that there is wisdom in avoiding sleepovers. But here’s where I disagree: that the risk is that much higher today than it was decades ago.
Aileen and I made our decision based largely on experience and observation of what happened around us when we were young. We made this decision because even in our youth—decades ago—we saw plenty of evidence of the dangers inherent in sleepovers.
When I was young I had some bad experiences with sleepovers. Nothing devastating happened to me, but I did learn that sleepovers bring a certain vulnerability and that children often behave foolishly in these circumstances. Before long my family came to know the local chief of police and he told us that if he had learned anything in his many years of law enforcement it was this: Don’t let your kids sleep over. As I got older I learned of several people I knew who had been taken advantage of during sleepovers, and it wasn’t a perverse father in most cases, but a predatory older brother or sister or cousin. Sometimes it was even the friend himself. The world was plenty dangerous back then and children were just as vulnerable, but somehow these things weren’t talked about as they are today.
As Aileen and I considered all of this and weighed it in our minds, we decided that the benefits of sleepovers did not outweigh the risks.
Denny Burk writes, “Parents must be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves when figuring out the best way to protect children from both. Moreover, parents will often have to pursue principles that might seem strange to the rest of the world but which are the only rational responses to very real and potential threats to children.” Burk believes we need to challenge the assumption of sleepover-as-norm, and I quite agree. Do not allow yourself to feel pressured into sleepovers simply because it is what parents have always done. Instead, consider the issues and come to a conclusion that is right for your family and your context.
I would be interested to know: Do you allow sleepovers? Why or why not?
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