Is this tricky for you?
Sleepovers. Such a milestone! I have nostalgic memories of sleeping over at my best friend’s house. We got to eat Kraft mac n’ cheese for dinner! At my house, processed foods were frowned upon. We got to go to Blockbuster and choose a movie – she always wanted Sleeping Beauty, and I always wanted Robin Hood. At my house, TV time was limited and we never rented movies. Sleepovers at her house were Awesome!!
We certainly got into trouble! Sleepovers basically guarantee unsupervised time. With that friend, I remember exploring our vulvas. I remember drawing on our faces with Crayola markers and desperately trying to wash it off before morning. With a different friend, we giggled hysterically as we drew naughty pictures and wrote swear words…then had no idea how to get rid of the evidence. We were caught, of course.
My best friend later came out as lesbian. Would my parents have allowed the sleepovers to continue if she’d come out in middle school? I don’t know.
I’m often asked about the rules for a sleepover. Do you limit it to one sex…or one gender? What about the trans kid? What about two girls who have moved past being best friends and started dating? Do the sleepovers end?
Old rules vs. New rules
Our traditional rules of all-girl or all-boy sleep overs were meant to keep the event non-sexual. It was assumed that children aren’t sexual (wrong), that everyone is heterosexual (wrong again), and that everyone falls neatly into the category of “girl” or “boy” (wrong once more).
Now that we see the errors of our parents’ assumptions, we can’t simply repeat their rules. So what do you do?
Tell me if this is too simplistic. I advise parents to be honest and vulnerable. To simply say what they’re worried about and talk about it with the kids.
You might say, “The rules for a sleepover at our house include everyone staying in the house all night, all electronic devices turned over to me by 10 pm, and absolutely nothing sexual.”
Questions about any of those rules? Explain that mooning counts as sexual. Kissing counts as sexual. Masturbating counts. No mooning the neighbors! I don’t care who suggested that dare.
Nitty gritty details
You’ll have to decide about the nuances: what about changing clothes in front of each other? What about bathing…errr…naked hot tubbing? If two young people are dating, what about cuddling?
This is a new frontier. It might be hard to answer those questions. You’ve got no examples to follow, so you’ll just have to feel into your boundaries. Are you comfortable with that idea? No? Then say so!
Here’s another nuance: are you comfortable with word getting out? Maybe you’re totally ok with naked hot tubbing…but what about your community? Do each of the teens’ parents have to consent? What will the kids’ principal think? Will your ex use this against you in a custody battle?
If any of that concerns you, it’s ok to go with a more conservative rule. No naked hot tubbing. I don’t want to deal with the fallout.
When the rule gets broken (because all rules do), make sure there’s a warm celebration for fessing up, as well as the consequence for the transgression.
Maybe no sleepover this month because someone got sexual or because they didn’t turn over an iPad…instead, we can stay up late and watch your favorite movie because I so appreciate your honesty.
Rewarding honesty is wayyyy more important than punishing the transgression, and we often forget to do it.
There are so many variations to this question…what about the camping trip where there’s the adults’ tent and the kids’ tent? What about my teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend coming along? Same thinking here – get vulnerable and say what you really mean. If you don’t want anything sexual happening, make that the rule!
Hope this helps.
In support of you,
P.S. Looking for more? There’s tons of insight and advice available for you in the Childhood Sexuality video series. Those videos and more are available in the video library membership, plus all the membership perks! Check ’em out!