I vividly remember the day I heard about the Challenger explosion. I remember exactly when and where the tragic news of Princess Diana's death stunned me. And I can recall, just as clearly, the moment my 8-year-old son excitedly announced he'd been invited to his first sleepover birthday party.
Deep inside, I cringed. Outwardly, I made a wimpy attempt at a smile and said with feigned enthusiasm, "Great!" Inside, however, I was thinking, But I don't know these people.
I wondered if there was a way to get to know this family by the weekend: "Hi, I'm Matt's mother. While we consider your invitation could you please fill out a family tree? Note your ancestors—at least four generations back—and if it's not too much trouble, could you sign these forms granting me permission to run a background check?"
The Sleepover. It's not an activity I'm quick to push my kids into. When they sleep (or should I say, don't sleep) away from home, a thousand nagging worries—some small, some not-so-small—plague me: What are they watching on TV? Is the supervision adequate? Do all sleepovers include Ouji boards and seances? Is someone introducing my child to pornography, homosexuality, or drugs?
Even when my child spends the night with a family I know and trust, I prefer to veto sleepovers, if only to avoid dealing with a tired and grouchy child the next day. I don't, however, because my kids love them and my husband, who's always had different ideas than me on how to cut the proverbial apron strings, thinks sleepovers are a great part of growing up.
I know he's right and that sleepovers can be a positive experience for my kids. Connie Schultz, Family Outreach Specialist for the State College schools in Pennsylvania, points out one plus, saying, "Sleepovers give children a chance to see how another family lives." Still, she adds, "I do advise parents to allow their children to sleep over only where they've visited comfortably before and where the rules are similar to home."
Chances are your child will be invited to a sleepover by the time she's 7 or 8. According to American Demographics magazine, sleepovers are becoming more common at a younger age. And although your child may be close friends with the child hosting the party, the busy lives we parents lead may mean that you don't know the parents as well as you'd like. The best way to handle your concerns is to develop some family guidelines before the invitations start pouring in. Just as the right age to try a night away from home varies from child to child, effective family sleepover policies also will vary. If you're stuck for where to start, consider how these families handle the issue: