What To Do About Sleepovers

Lisa Cherry —  June 22, 2014 — 33 Comments

Sleepover 2 girls 5381754175_ec120a9503

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! 

Sleepover 4 girls133915067_e826b723f7

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.

Lisa Cherry

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)

Gratefully linked to:
Fellowship Fridays
Heart-Filled Fridays
Modest Mondays
Making your Home Sing Monday
Babies &  Beyond
Titus 2 Tuesday

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  • stasia08

    Wow! Sleepovers were such a part of my childhood, but you bring up some really good points! My husband and I will have to discuss this!

    • http://www.frontlinefamilies.org/ Lisa Cherry

      Stasia, Yes, it is a matter for parents to sort out. Thanks for your comment.

  • Kelli

    Thank you for your thoughtful points. I was wondering if you could help extrapolate this to summer camps, mission trips, and retreats? Is it a "no" to all overnights?

    • http://www.frontlinefamilies.org/ Lisa Cherry

      You are asking a tough question....I would love to
      hear responses from our readers. We don't do those events with our
      pre-teens. In order for those special events to be safe with our teens,
      we are still very cautious. Doug and I find we, or our adult kids need
      to be the adults involved if we are to be comfortable. Room assignments
      are a big issue. Wow, this stuff is hard, isn't it!

      • Susan S.

        I think caution is important, but why are you letting your fears drive your decision-making process?

  • http://www.kathrynshirey.com Kathryn Shirey

    Great food for thought! I loved sleepovers as a child, but have been hesitant to start them for my daughter (age 6). Probably only with parents I'm close with...Scary world today.

    • http://www.frontlinefamilies.org/ Lisa Cherry

      Hello Kathryn,
      It's great to hear from you. Yes, it is a scary world. Most abusers are known to the victim. We really need God's wisdom about this.

      • Stefatropolis

        You're all astoundingly naive. The woman who wrote this article is afraid of a lesbian encounter, not child molestation. I assume you share her dislike for homosexuality, but seriously, what parent is going to send their small child to a house in which they know NOTHING about the people there. You send your kids to the homes of people you know and trust, you don't decide to NEVER allow a sleep-over.
        This is about a fear of homosexuality, not child molesters.

  • Anne Banks

    These are some of the same feelings I have had, and while my oldest is still too young for sleepovers, we are discussing options so the answer is clear when he is old enough.

    • http://www.frontlinefamilies.org/ Lisa Cherry

      Anne, it is wise of you to get your answer ready now before your children get any older. Thanks for you comment.

  • Pingback: What to Do about Sleepovers, Part 2: Guns in the House? | Front Line Moms & Dads

  • CynthiaGee

    Honestly???
    There are some things that are much worse for a child than seeing a dirty picture or the minute chance of being approached by a pedophile, chief among them
    growing up encased in bubble wrap.
    MOST kids who are molested are approached by members of their own extended family, so what's next, eliminating family reunions and visits to Grandma's house, and sending older siblings to boarding school so as to rule out the possibility that
    they or their friends might say or do something to corrupt their younger brothers and sisters?
    IF YOU TAKE THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW YOUR CHILD'S FRIEND'S PARENTS, you can make a pretty accurate assessment of whether their home is a safe place for your child to visit.... or, you can take the lazy way out and raise a bubble-wrap kid.
    Sheesh!

    • Stefatropolis

      She's concerned that her daughter will become a lesbian because she'll sexually explore during a slumber party. This has NOTHING to do with child molesters. Read between the lines.

  • CynthiaGee

    I would add to my earlier comment that I don't mean to
    say that as a parent you should allow your children to sleep over at
    just ANYONE'S house, what I'm saying is that you should get to know
    their friend's parents, and if those parents share your values, then
    it's time to let go and let your kids go to sleepovers there. You can't
    control everything in your child's life, you can't shield your child
    from every possibility of "contamination", and mothers who attempt to do
    so drive themselves crazy and drive their children away from them in
    the end, or worse, turn out fearful neurotics who will pass down their
    mothers craziness to the next generation.

  • Shari

    Am I to take from this that I cannot trust my own child to make wise decisions like I have raised them to do on their own? As a victim of child abuse, and bullying by peers, I can tell you that a sleepover situation is not nearly as unsafe as you make it to be. My abuse occurred in the hands of babysitters and worship team members, and that is far more common than a slumber party pat-down. Jokes get made, movies like 16 Candles or Peggy Sue Got Married get watched, Disney musicals get sung, and someone gets shaving cream smashed in their face. And that's at homes where the family is more liberal. If you make all of the decisions for your child, they are far more likely to be abused! Teach them wisdom outside of fear, be an example of that wisdom in your marriage and work and social interactions, and don't worry so much! Telling children they can't do something because there is a slim chance it will go wrong is just fear, not wisdom.

  • John Fiebke

    Your duty is to prepare your kids for real life. Instead you are hiding them from any semblance of experience and learning. They are going to grow up to be sheltered, shocked adults completely incapable with dealing with even the slightest thing not going the way they want it to. I am so happy that you were not my mother. Use just an ounce of common sense and 99% of the monsters in your closet will disappear.

    • Bek

      The difference is that children are not capable of making rational decisions at such a young age. They are not fully mature. Have you read about the sexual abuse rates?

    • mommyhlk

      I was abused at a sleepover! I was in 3rd grade so about 8 years old. I didn't know what to do. I might be "TOO" protective, but I do not want my girls to go through what I did. My girls can experience real life without sleeping over someone's house. Because when was the last time you as an adult had a sleepover???

  • RavenousOyster

    You're right about one thing in this article: your child isn't the one to help another child. But your child might be the one person who is easily approachable & can tell you or another adult who actually can help. This just seems selfish, like you don't want your child tarnished by someone else's problem.

    While I understand the reasons behind what is written here, this is basically a list of all the ways to make a child resent its parents & their beliefs.

  • Elisabeth M

    "I don't want my kids having to... figure this out. It is too complex and too hard for a child or even teen!"

    I have a very different view of my role as a parent. I agree that a parent is by definition a protector, among other things - but I don't see protection as my main objective. My main job - my most important job - is to prepare them to navigate these situations for themselves. My ultimate goal is to raise an adult.

    When you say you don't want your kids having to figure this out, I have pause. Especially for an older kid (a teen), I feel it goes best when we, as parents, adopt the role of consultant, actively supporting them as they figure stuff out for themselves. This stuff included. Because as other people have mentioned on this thread, there is danger out there. I want THEM to be able to handle that. I want my kids, as they grow into adulthood, to be developing the skills to deal with an adult world. So that, when I'm not around, I have reason to hope they'll do okay.

    That said, I acknowledge there are a ton of judgement calls we all make, all the time, as parents, and that's our prerogative. I don't take issue with your being hesitant about sleepovers, about weighing the risks and making the choice you feel is best for your family. That's yours.

    But I do think it's more dangerous, not less, to try to protect your kids from having to figure out the real dangers that exist in their lives, and from acquiring any experience in navigating potentially dangerous situations. Their job as kids is to figure things out: everything they'll need to know as adults. Life doesn't start later, at age 18. Hard choices don't wait till you grow up.

    I want to make it clear, I would never knowingly leave my child alone with a predator, and I don't let my kid go into a friend's house if I don't have a solid relationship with the family, because I understand that predators can be anywhere and they don't always look like predators.

    But when faced with moderate risks? I think kids are capable of dealing with this stuff really well. I think they do need a foundation of parental guidance and love in order to do it safely. I don't believe they need us to insulate them from danger. I believe they need us to teach them how to navigate it.

  • http://www.frontlinefamilies.org/ Lisa Cherry

    Wow! Looks like this post has generated a lot of comments.....I hope those of you criticizing my concern will recognize a couple of things. First, your ideas that children can "fend off" sexual abusive behaviors from another via their own intellect or
    power is naive. Please take the time to study this issue on your own. Don't
    take my word. Go to reputable sources such as Darkness to Light: End Child
    Sexual Abuse (d21.org)

    Second, I never said in any stretch this solves the issues!!! That is ridiculous. It is all about minimizing risks and find the risk level you as a parent are willing to incur. For instance, I have sons begging for motorcycles right now. And I am willing to listen to
    their pleas that "they will be careful and safe." But as their parent, I am not going to assume that risk. They are not seeing the whole picture of life yet....and they have never stood at the emergency room with a friend whose husband said the same thing before a deer hit him on his motorcycle while he was going 55.

    I have never stood in a hallway after one of my talks about preventing abuse and heard a teen or parent say..."My life was permanently messed up because my parents didn't let me do sleepovers." But I have had MANY come to me to say one of two things...."My parents never knew what was happening at my friends/cousin's
    house. That is where my abuse occurred and to this day I still won't tell them." or...."I cannot believe I could not see the problem! I let them go over to that house for years! Why didn't they tell me?"

    Over 50% of victims do not tell for several years.

    The older I get and the more kids I launch out, the more they are coming back to say to me, "thanks mom!"

    So each one of us is free to make our own choices. I suggest we all respect each other's right to handle difficult issues in the way they choose.

  • http://kidsinministry.org/ Becky Fischer

    You are so right on! Finally someone speaks out!

  • LorellR

    A big key to keeping kids safe at sleepovers is knowing the parents of those who your children want to stay with. I allow my kids to stay with families that I know well and trust. If that isn't the case, then they don't stay. No disrespect to you, but a couple of your reasons for not letting kids stay over don't seem plausible. You said that you don't want to say which houses are on or off-limits...well, I think as parents, we should teach our kids that...whether it refers to sleepovers or not. It can be difficult, but kids need to know which families we trust them to visit with and those we don't. It's not mean, it's just part of life. I've talked to my daughter about why she can stay over at some houses, and others, she can't, and we have a discussion. Even though it's hard for her, she understands why. I think it helps her make wiser decisions about friends and related situations by talking through it with her.

    Also, the "night breeds secrecy" argument isn't necessarily true. Abuse can happen just as much during the day as it can at night.

    Just something you want to consider. I respect your wanting to keep your kids safe...it makes you a great mom!

  • Adriane F

    Thank you for this article. I heard the same advice a few years ago and believe it is truly sound for our day and age. I had been letting my oldest daughter do sleepovers, and had a few experiences that were unpleasant - and one that could have turned out terribly wrong (but thankfully didn't). The first was at a group birthday sleepover; I was very comfortable with the parents but didn't know the other young girls attending. One of the girls (under 10 years old) kept getting out her internet-connected phone and looking up youtube videos - making another girl cry because one of the videos was "scary" (my child didn't see it). Thankfully the parent eventually caught her and took the phone away, but what could have been seen prior to the confiscation? The other experience was when I let my child sleep at another house where the husband was deployed - what could go wrong, right? Well turns out the mom's "boyfriend" also spent the night! And so did some neighbor friends - including an older teen boy! I had no idea until my child told me the next day. Sleepovers are just not a safe place for our kids, and the parents who are so adamant that they're totally fine are the ones being naive.

  • Adriane F

    OH - I forgot to add; I can attest that - as a rebellious teen once myself - sleepovers are a ripe place for mischief. Some of my worst teen behaviors were at "harmless" sleepovers. Or frankly, when I told my parents I was going to a sleepover and then just went somewhere else.... If you are a parent who thinks they are "totally fine", ask yourself: is the other parent going to know if my teen sneaks out at 2 am?? I can vouch that they probably won't.

  • mommyhlk

    My parents did KNOW the parents!

  • Allison

    Thank you so much for this article. You have just voice so many of my own thoughts and concerns. I often times make different decisions with my children than my parents ever did with me and this is one of them. You never really know the situation that your child could be in. I want to protect my children and this is obviously not a popular decision. I don't quite understand why someone would come on your blog to criticize your personal decisions. Everyone is entitled to make their own decisions and what they feel is best for their family.

  • Scott

    I see a number of posts calling Lisa overprotective, not
    wanting to let kids grow up and be able to make responsible decisions, naive...
    Some are from parents who disagree philosophically, others from some who are
    clearly here not to constructively participate, but to disrupt and discredit,
    also using intellectually bankrupt "straw man" arguments.

    None of you have had the opportunity to watch the Cherry children grow up. They
    are unusually mature for their age, unusually responsible and considerate,
    unusually able to engage in critical thinking, start college while they are
    still high school age (OK, OK, they don't do well in parroting the politically
    correct foolishness routinely dispensed in public schools).

    But to those wondering what's wrong with the sleepover, let me relate a tragic
    experience that shown the risk. A man associated with a social intercession group I helped lead was well respected, regular part of a large respected church, ran for public office as a fiscal and social conservative. They had two daughters, and their family hosted a sleepover. During the night, the man coerced one of the young girls, she may have been 7, into performing oral sex.

    Those who follow abuse know that most abusers were themselves abused when they were young. If this was true in his life, how could any of the other parents who trusted them have possible known?

    Think of the lifelong harm he did that night. And obviously the child was not able to say no, get away, get help. I don’t think anyone associated with this sleepover ever allowed any of their children to attend another.

  • Scott

    I see a number of posts calling Lisa overprotective, not
    wanting to let kids grow up and be able to make responsible decisions, naive...
    Some are from parents who disagree philosophically, others from some who are
    clearly here not to constructively participate, but to disrupt and discredit,
    also using intellectually bankrupt "straw man" arguments.

    None of you have had the opportunity to watch the Cherry children grow up. They
    are unusually mature for their age, unusually responsible and considerate,
    unusually able to engage in critical thinking, start college while they are
    still high school age (OK, OK, they don't do well in parroting the politically
    correct foolishness routinely dispensed in public schools).

    But to those wondering what's wrong with the sleepover, let me relate a tragic
    experience that shown the risk. A well-regarded man I knew was a regular participant in a large respected church, ran for public office as a fiscal and social
    conservative. They had two daughters, and their family hosted a sleepover.

    During the night, the man coerced one of the young girls; she may have been 7, into performing oral sex. And those who follow abuse know that most abusers were themselves abused when they were young. If this was true in his life, how could any of the other parents who trusted them have possible known his past?

    Think of the lifelong harm he did that night. And obviously the child was not able to say no, get away, or get help. I don’t think anyone associated with this sleepover ever allowed any of their children to attend another.

  • http://momstheword--livingforhim.blogspot.com/ Nan

    We did not allow sleepovers either and our kids managed to grow to adulthood without letting it ruin their lives, lol!

    I was called overprotective by some parents and a mean mom by some kids. I just said "thank you!" ;) If loving my kids and seeking to protect them from some things is considered mean, then I am a "mean" mom and happy to be one. :) Thanks for linking up to "Making Your Home Sing Monday!"

  • Pingback: Sleepovers: Helpful or Hurtful? | Taking Back the Bible

  • Lucas

    Ummm is the fact that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are victims of sexual abuse by age 18 not enough? https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/child-sexual-abuse.aspx

  • Tara N David

    And then you have stories about the man who drugged & sexually assaulted a 10 year old girl at his daughter's sleepover. Just confirmation in my mind. And though I was abused, nothing good ever came out of sleepovers I went to.

    - http://www.kare11.com/story/news/crime/2014/09/09/man-charged-with-molesting-10-year-old-at-sleepover/15334391/