Let me start by saying that this isn't necessarily a black and white issue. There is a lot of discerning that we have to do as parents AND if you are a Christ-follower, I think that you have an even better tool for deciding whether or not you allow your kids to go down this path. The Holy Spirit can be an amazing tool for helping you to have Peace about whether or not you allow your child spend the night in someone else's home.
My parents were AWESOME about this. Let me first and foremost say that they did their due diligence to set expectations. I can remember as a 13 year old my parents calling the "would be" caregivers of the other home to find out what movies, if any, would be watched, were we going anywhere, and what music would be listened to. Of course, like you, I felt like my parents were "old-fashioned" legalistic, and over protective.
After all, what harm could come of playing in a strobe light to the then dance favorite "Another Bites the Dust" by Queen. (Yep, you can heard in in your head already...that iconic bass line.) There would probably be cards played, scary stories told, prank calls would be made...to ask the question:
"Is your refrigerator running?"
"yeah...I hope so..."
"Then you better go catch it..."
(Ah, the days before caller ID) You can see in your minds eye, that long 20 ft spiral cord stretching from your parents room, through the hallway, and on into parts unknown. But were those days as innocent as they seemed back then? I can recall at least half a dozen conversations in my over 2 decades of youth ministry in which a parent or youth worker talked about an encounter they had during a sleepover. It was sometimes only verbal, though over half were physically sexually abusive situations. It may have happened only once but for a few it was ongoing lasting often months or years at the hand of a family friend or relative. So, WERE these as innocent as they seemed? Ik now I have my OWN sleepover horror story that I talk about here in Ghosts from a Shameful Past.
Let me go back for a minute to when I was 9 years old. As a kid I never really thought about the pressure I put my parents under when I was asking over and over again if I could go over to a friend’s house after church. I mean, I didn’t care what reason my parents would tell me, all I cared about was feeling left out. And that might be it, isn’t it? Part of the reason that it is so difficult for US to make that same decision now that we are the ones in charge. I remember how it felt to feel left out in a crowd, and I didn’t want my kids to experience that same feeling when all their friends were getting together and having a sleepover–except them.
If you are familiar at al with Dr Dobson and his writing on raising children, he takes the stance that he strongly and boldly discourages them. In his book bringing up girls Dr Dobson says:
Sadly, the world has changed in the last few decades, and it is no longer a safe place for children. Pedophiles and child molesters are more pervasive than ever. That is why parents must be diligent to protect their kids every hour of the day and night. …
Until you have dealt with little victims as I have and seen the pain in their eyes, you might not fully appreciate the devastation inflicted by molestation. It casts a long shadow on everything that follows, including future marital relationships. Therefore, parents have to think the unthinkable in every situation. The threat can come from anywhere—including neighbors, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, music instructors, Scout leaders, and babysitters. Even public bathrooms can be dangerous today…
We don't just battle with in home issues of what movies, music, and conversations will take place out side of our earshot, but what in the world is being viewed online? What is this parent's view on social media usage? What's being posted online? However innocent, even innocent pictures of our teens/kids can be turned into a sexual misadventure by anyone online. (Check out this article about a 3 year old on TikTok being sexually exploited #wreneleanor ) Listen to this letter from a lady after reading an article about the dangers of the sleepover:
I was raped by my best friend’s father at age fourteen while at a sleepover. I agree with you on every point you make. Things like this happened just as often decades ago as they do now. I’m almost 50. Things like this alter the course of a person’s life, in ways no one can imagine. I know. I have never healed. I’m a follower of Christ and I know I should have, but I haven’t.1
As a child I (Pastor Mark) was not only sexually molested but another family exposed me to a horror film that would take YEARS to forget. I can remember sitting panicked in bed awaiting the horrors that flooded my mind after being exposed. I would well into my teen years before I would be able to walk into a dark room without being afraid.
Consider some takeaways from this article on Deeprootsathome.
1. Have a Biblical Worldview of what's "OK"
Don't just decide this as parents, talk to your kids/teens about what this means. What it means to have standards about what movies, music, content, comical media is okay. I realize that we can't shelter our kids completely from the dangers of this world, however, blindly allowing them to go beyond our umbrella of protection isn't wise either. We cannot control what happens outside of our home but we can know for sure what WE are allowing to influence our kids.
As Jacqueline from Deeprootsathome says it: I do know that sin comes in the dark. And when you have a bunch of children at night, unsupervised by an adult, the temptation for gossip, sharing about crushes, which could later then crush them out of embarrassment, or simply having no self-control over their tongues because they are tired can totally happen! And that simply put, is just not edifying to the friendship and defeats the entire purpose of getting together in the first place.
2. One Standard for All
Yes, there may be considerable peer pressure from other kids or even from the parents of kids in their class or even church, but that doesn't mean we need to give in. The tension comes because as was mentioned earlier, we don't want our kids to feel left out...and guess what? Neither do they. What if it's a family that we are close to? Here's the way Tim Charlie's puts it in his article:
“The reason we drew the rule so firmly was that it removes exceptions and explanations. We know ourselves well and realized that if we drew up a list of exceptions we would inevitably broaden that list over time. Not only that, but we did not want to have to explain to a family why we allowed our children to stay with others but not with them. So sleepovers were just taken right off the table without exceptions or individual explanations.”
3. We Are the Ones Held Accountable
This is it. The coup de grâce to all arguments. No other person on this planet is held accountable for what happens to your kids while they are under your care. We are. We do the best that we can, with the information that we have that's why it may be best to abstain from allowing sleepovers to happen...because we just DON'T have all the information. I am not saying that if my student is somehow harmed because of someone else's sin, that I would be held accountable. But we can potentially avoid the possibility if we choose to "play it safe."
To Sum It All Up
Parents who decide they are drawing a hard line with sleepovers need to validate their children's feelings. Those children may feel excluded, frustrated, or even may feel resentful, experts say.
"Validating doesn't mean that you agree that they should get their way," Fagell said. "It just means that you understand, and you empathize."
Parents can engage in conversations about alternative ways to meet their child's need, for instance a child may stay at a friend's late but eventually goes home to sleep, or even a family camping trip with a family they know. Not everybody views sleepovers the same way. That doesn't make that peer less than, it's an opportunity to really look for ways that you can include them, to keep them a part of the group, and to not have them feeling left out. There's not a world where there is 0% risk, so you minimize it. That, I think, is our job as parents.