Saturday, December 7, 2013

Notes on Being Mormon: The Sleepover

First off, let me just say that I'M NOT TELLING YOU WHAT TO DO. So don't get your feathers in a flutter. I just feel like I want to share this, so that if anyone else thinks they're alone in their choice not to allow sleepovers, they will know that they're NOT alone.

Many years ago, shortly after my oldest started school, the subject of sleepovers came up. A few sleepovers with friends happened, and I was completely uncomfortable every time. I didn't sleep well, the next day was always cranky-town for my son, and it just didn't sit right with me.

My sister mentioned that her kids did not have sleepovers. The kids could have "late-nights", but in the wee small hours of the night, they were home and safe in their beds. This felt like a very good idea to me. The more I thought it over and prayed about what was best for my family, the more convinced I became that I should not let them have sleepovers. 

I came to understand that a lot of young boys' first exposure to pornography happens at sleepovers, as well as sometimes older brothers/cousins/relatives of the household occasionally molesting girls or boys at sleepovers. I felt a strong impression as I prayed that it was my job to do EVERYTHING in my power to protect my children from these things, and if that means no sleepovers, so be it.

Of course, I can't say where these dangers would come from. It's highly possible that they would never have a negative experience at a sleepover and that I'm over-protective. But when I feel the Spirit speak to me, I've learned that I need to listen, especially when it pertains to my children. And I would rather err on the side of caution. 

Then, years later, Elder Lawrence of the Seventy (a leader in my church) gave a talk in the Oct. 2010 General Conference, titled "Courageous Parenting", and he addressed this very issue. He said:
“May I express my personal warning about a practice that is common in many cultures. I am referring to sleepovers, or spending the night at the home of a friend. As a bishop I discovered that too many youth violated the Word of Wisdom or the law of chastity for the first time as part of a sleepover. Too often their first exposure to pornography and even their first encounter with the police occurred when they were spending the night away from home.

Peer pressure becomes more powerful when our children are away from our influence and when their defenses are weakened late at night. If you have ever felt uneasy about an overnight activity, don’t be afraid to respond to that warning voice inside. Always be prayerful when it comes to protecting your precious children.”

I'm so grateful to have a church leader's words to help solidify my position and help me not feel alone. Especially since my daughter is just arriving at prime slumber party age. She's 11, and many of her friends are 12. Most of her friends are allowed to have sleepovers. She feels like she's the only one in her group that can't, and that makes her feel left out. She said to me today, "it's like there's this really fun thing and I'll never know what it's like to do it."

I explained that it isn't that I don't trust the families of her friends. It's about setting a standard. And also, that you never really know what goes on in another house. Yes, we could have sleepovers here at our house, but even then, late into the night when the parents are asleep and kids' guard is down, who knows? The value doesn't outweigh the danger, in my mind. 

I also said that I know it sucks to feel like the only one with that rule. I understand completely. I recommended she pray about it. I believe I received inspiration to stop having sleepovers, and if she asks, God will comfort her and help her know that this is the best thing for our family.

I also pointed out that she is able to avoid a few of the negatives of sleepovers. Like seeing the friend's dad in his pajamas, or getting up to use the bathroom in the night in an unfamiliar darkness. Or being grouchy the entire next day. I promised her that if there is a sleepover she's invited to, I will let her stay late and then the other girls can call when they get up in the morning and she could go join them for breakfast, even! But, I pointed out, you'll probably sleep later than them, because you'll be home and cozy in your own bed.

I grew up with slumber parties and overnights and sometimes they were fun, but most often, they were mostly uncomfortable. Along with the things I pointed out to my daughter, I also hated being the first one awake and laying there waiting for my friend to wake up so I could do... something. It was very awkward and I never really liked it. However, I know that many people grew up loving sleepovers, and like the Tooth Fairy and braces, feel like they are a rite of passage and that all kids should have that fun experience. 

Which brings me back to my first point. Don't think I'm judging you if you let your kids have sleepovers. I don't like people second-guessing my parenting decisions, so I try not to do that myself. We have had cousin sleepovers over the years, and all of my kids have been to at least one sleep-away camp, with more to come (scouts, sports and 4-H!), so it's not like they never get away from home. 

But, if you have the same rule, I want you to know you're not alone. And in the long run, I believe our kids will be better off. 

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