Slumber parties. Remember them? I sure do. They started when I was 8 or so, second grade. My mother said I was too young to stay overnight, so I spent all of second and third grade going to the party until about 10 or 11p and then getting picked up by my mother. But then, fourth grade, the magic year. I turned ten and my mother said that for my birthday I could have my very own slumber party. And then, in my retrospective opinion, all hell broke loose. I'm guessing that between the ages of 10 and 12, I went to a slumber party, on the average, once a month. They did nothing for my health. I returned home sleep-deprived and jacked up on sugar, junk food and caffeine. I'm sure my mother loved every moment of it.
My oldest daughter, Grace, had a slumber party for her 9th birthday. It was her last birthday in Michigan before we moved south to Maryland for four years. I wanted her to have one last hurrah with her friends before leaving. It was a disaster. By midnight she was crying. By 12:30a, her best friend just kept talking and talking, the other two girls laughing with her. By 1a, my daughter climbed in bed with me upstairs and fell asleep.
She had gone to group sleepovers before, mostly with Girl Scouts. In first grade, she went to an all-night sleepover with the whole scouting "cluster" at her elementary school. We got a call about 11p that we needed to come pick her up because she had teased a kindergartner in the girls' restroom. By the end of first grade, she went to the troop overnight at a local science center; in order to make sure all went well, I volunteered to chaperone. I got little more than a pain in my back from sleeping in a sleeping bag on a hard floor. I could go on and on. Here's the quick summary: I hate sleepovers.
They seem to be part of every kid's experience in the United States. A rite of passage, so to speak. It makes it possible for kids to bond with one another and be independent. When they're older, it makes it possible for them to spend longer hours with their friends without having to drive home late at night. It's just part of being a kid/tween/teen.
Wait. Hold it right there. Did I include "teen" in that generalization? Let's take a few steps backward and reconsider.
Is it really necessary for teens to have sleepovers? I say no. I haven't denied one yet, but I don't think there are going to be any more teenage sleepovers at my house.
First of all, anything that teenagers are doing after midnight is no good. If we assume they aren't doing anything illegal, the best they are doing after midnight is becoming sleep-deprived and acting stupider and stupider as the night drags on. They're drinking sugar-laden, caffeinated drinks, watching whatever comes on tv after midnight, and eating candy or junk food.
And then there's sex. Oh yeah, I said it. When I was a teenager, way back in the 80s, my parents had the strict gender-based rule: no members of the opposite sex in your bedroom, no members of the opposite sex at sleepovers. Problem solved, right? Wrong. For better or worse (I think for the better), all of my daughter's friends are quite open about their sexuality. They have been since eighth grade. And a number of them are queer. That's fine, except it makes things a bit more complicated. When planning a halloween sleepover this year, my daughter asked if one of her gay guy-friends could spend the night because, well, he's gay. I said no, thinking the gender-based standard made sense (?) Then she correctly countered with saying that one of her lesbian girlfriends was sleeping over, so why couldn't a gay guy sleep over too? Hm. I suddenly realized that there was no easy solution. I couldn't say she could only have gay male friends and straight girlfriends stay over. And what about friends who are bi? I could go straight to the opposite side of the field from the gender-based rule and say that co-ed sleepovers are ok regardless of orientation, but frankly I could never understand how parents convinced themselves that no hanky-panky was going on in these situations anyway.
Lastly, LASTLY (and oh, this is really my favorite vice about sleepovers), there's "the morning after." Oh, how I LOVE to interact with sleep-deprived youngsters after they've indulged in an entire evening of malnourishment and adolescent banter. They truly are gems in that condition, I tell you. Gracious, grateful, polite, kind, you know? I mean, if I love interacting with my own teenage daughter alone when she is in such a state, imagine how much more joy could be mine by multiplying that by 4 or 6? (cough, cough, hack, excuse me while I go clear my throat of all this sarcasm...)
So here's the new lay of the land as I see it. Sleepovers start at about age 8. One friend spends the night, that's it. Lights out and voices quiet at midnight. DO YOU HEAR ME? LIGHTS OUT AND VOICES QUIET AT MIDNIGHT!!!!!! My kids can spend the night away, but they have to be home by noon the next day. And once my kids hit high school, sleepovers are a thing of childhood, something you put to the side in lieu of more exciting, mature teenage activities. You can stay out with your friends until late at night. Be home by curfew. But sleep at home in your bed, under our roof where I know you are safe and rested.