Parents shouldn’t lose sleep over sleepovers

John Rosemond
John Rosemond

Q: My husband and I have decided that we do not want our children to participate in sleepovers. We recently moved to a new community and are making new friends and meeting new families. All of these parents, it seems, love sleepovers. We, however, are sticking by our guns. As a result, our kids feel left out. What should I say to these parents who think we’re crazy, and to their children who are making mine feel bad?

A: You never said why you are opposed to sleepovers. That suggests — but maybe I’m just playing psychologist here — that you think your objections are self-evident. If that’s the case, they are not self-evident to yours truly.

I have heard of problems that arose during sleepovers, but I fail to see the basis for a sweeping indictment. Pillow fights? That was a joke, of course. But seriously, I’m suffering from a “possibilities block” here.

In my (naive?) estimation, the issue is not sleepovers but how well a sleepover is managed by the supervising parents. Before letting a child attend a sleepover, a finite set of givens should exist: First, you are familiar with the host parents and know them to be conscientious, responsible people; second, that they know how to quickly get in touch with you should that become necessary; third, that the sleepover will be attended by only one gender; fourth, that siblings, especially if they are older, will be kept at a distance (ideally, farmed out for the evening).

Your concern hints at a tendency to want to control everything that happens in your children’s lives. That’s called micromanagement, and parental micromanagement always creates huge problems in the long run. The problem is that micromanaging parents always justify their anxiety-driven over-control. They also tend to think apocalyptically, as in, “If I let my child attend a sleepover, some other child who comes from a family that does not share our beliefs may permanently corrupt my child’s values.”

In short, the fears that lie behind micromanagement are rarely realistic. Plus, the parents in question fail to accept that they are not omnipotent, that try as hard as they might, they cannot control everything that happens in their kids’ lives.

When my wife and I were in our active parenting years, we would allow our children to get entangled in problematic situations that we could have prevented. In other words, we managed risk for the purpose of helping our children learn, by trial and error, how to keep themselves out of trouble. The result was win-win: The kids enjoyed a good amount of freedom and we enjoyed the peace of mind of knowing that they were coming to grips with the relationship between freedom and responsibility. Some lessons cannot be talked into a person.

Concerning this sleepover issue, I’d take a deep breath and give it a go. Sounds like your kids need a break from your oversight. It also sounds like you and your husband could do with some parenting freedom as well.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website,

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