I am often asked by parents about how to handle child sleepovers in their family. To even broach this subject can sometimes feel uncomfortable because it raises so many interwoven issues such as:
At what age are they safe?
At what homes?
With what rules?
So I sometimes hear people practice speeches such as...
"Now if you are at someone's house and anyone touches you in a private spot or shows you pictures of naked people, I want you to call me right away."
I can appreciate the training intended by those speeches, and I have said similar things myself. But let's think logically for a moment.
Statistics show that it is very unlikely that a child will actually call for help, even after being told to do so by his/her parents. But even if the child did call, the abuse would already have occurred!
That is why I am going to make a deep proposal.
No sleepovers. None.
I know that might sound extreme, but I am not the only voice proposing such a thing.
"I think the day for sleepovers is over,” says James Dobson.” Child abuse is so rampant today and so pervasive that you just can't afford to run the risk…”
So here are my reasons:
1. I cannot always tell which houses would be safe.
2. I don't want the job of declaring some houses off-limits and some on.
3. I remember my own sleepover experiences. Nothing abusive....but definitely major peer pressure in the middle of the night.
4. I do not know if other kids or visitors will suddenly come into the party scene.
5. Normal child curiosity in these days is no longer safe. One wrong click and a whole group of children is exposed. And one child acting out a scene from even an R rated movie.....well....
6. Night breeds secrecy.
7. Children who have suffered abuse sometimes like to tell other kids their secrets. Sleepovers encourage secret telling. My child is not the one who can help another child.
8. In their struggle to deal with their problems, children who have been abused may act out sexually. This will often manifest behind a closed bedroom door.
9. Obviously, older siblings as well as the adults in a household could be dangerous.
10. I don't want my kids having to police this or figure this out. It is too complex and too hard for a child or even teen!
11. Abuse may not happen, but grooming behaviors and relational boundaries are more accessible in overnight situations in a household. Abuse can follow later.
12. Kids cannot easily report to anyone suspicious grooming behaviors. That defies the definition of grooming!
13. The issue in question might not be sexual. It may be substance abuse or wrong media standards. Leaving that control to another adult (or child or teen) is a highly risky delegation of responsibility.
14. Experimentation of same sex attraction is a new teen trend. Wow, we need to be aware!
Hey, I figure that whatever wholesome, above board activities kids have planned can be accomplished at a good, well-supervised party. So, I am the parent who is more than willing to make the late night trip to get the kids. It may be inconvenient, or uncomfortable, but our children’s safety trumps those feelings.
Maybe you are not ready to make this bold of a move. But ....if you are not, then I encourage you to think through all the issues and find what risks you can take.
Please consider getting a copy of our book Unmask the Predators, to help you sort through what you need to know.
Image #1: Bunches and Bits (Karina) “IMG_9999" via Flickr Creative Commons
License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Image #2: Polly Hutchinson “Sleepover at the Bressons” via Flickr Creative Commons
License: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)