Co-Ed Sleepovers for Teens: Yea or Nay?

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Last night I asked a friend with a daughter who is a junior in high school if she would talk to me about the co-ed sleepover phenomenon for the fishbowl. Here’s what I got in response:

So, prom is Saturday and my daughter has tried on her dress about 45 times–not sure the zipper is going to last!  “Plans” (we should really sit down and talk about what this word means) are still evolving for the post-post-prom, although we have said “no way in hell” to the co-ed sleepover.  I mean, really?  So, maybe “Zoe” is going to have a sleepover, but just girls.  (Again, really?  How dumb do I look?)  So hard to know the right thing to do here!  Many of those on the brave frontier who have gone before us have allowed their kids to attend/crash/hang at the post-post-prom co-ed sleepover.  Are we shriveled up dinosaurs who have forgotten how to have fun?  Or are we a few of the handful left who are willing to be unpopular with our kids??  We have actually sent an email, tonight, to the Maryland Department of Transportation to find out if a provisional license holder (such as most high school juniors and many seniors) can use the exception of “official school event” to get out of the driving curfew to come home after the post-post-prom party by him or herself at 4 in the morning… 

“Don’t you trust me?”  These words sting coming from my daughter’s sincere face.  “Of course we trust you.”  What else can we say?  We do.  And yet, there is something about the co-ed sleepover that just does not sit right.  When she pushes for an explanation, the best I can answer, in all sincerity, is that I think it is “inappropriate.”  Do I know that teenagers can have sex whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I know that teenagers can drink and get drunk whenever they want, if they want?  Yes, I know that.  Do I think these are the choices she is making?  No, I do not.  So what is different about the hours of 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. this Saturday night?  I don’t know.  But my instinct is that, at least for us, the answer is still no.  The best I can tell her is that parenting is just a chain of thousands of tiny decisions, all made with her best interest at heart, and this one is no exception. 

My husband says the co-ed sleepover is a playground for the devil, and that teenage boys and girls having a sleepover is an abdication of a basic parenting responsibility–to keep them safe, and protected.  If you are not going to say no to that what are you going to say no to?  Ignoring the obvious hyperbole, these comments and questions all resonate until I hear that my dear friend, so and so, whom I really like and respect, is HOSTING the co-ed sleepover!!  What??  Who is right and who is wrong?  Or like so many other things on this wild, fantastical journey, is there room for both of us to do it our own way, and be right?  That’s the space that feels comfortable for us, so that is where we land.  I don’t know what works for other families, but this year, this prom, my daughter will be coming home.

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  1. It feels as though it wasn’t long ago when I had similar arguments with my parents, but now, 7 or 8 years later, I have the ability to understand where my parents were coming from. In this instance, however, I find that parents’ fears outweigh the risk in reality. I went to several post-prom sleepovers; yes, some people behaved inappropriately, but overall it was a time for friends to enjoy each others’ company at the end of the school year and, in many cases, at the end of their high school experience. The kids whose parents forbade them from attending usually (spitefully) defied their parents, sneaking out, and finding the party anyway. I think, especially if you know the parents who are hosting the sleepover, chances are Zoe’s probably in good hands and will make good decisions. I was most considerate of my parents when they took a trusting risk on me because, ultimately, no one likes to disappoint their parents.

  2. Very thoughtful article. Ultimately, I like very much your statement that there is room for all of us to do it our own way and still be right. I am not in love with the co-ed sleepover idea but appreciate very much the host parents’ position and think they just really want to keep kids safe and want to be able to account for all children that have come to their house, male or female. The end result is the co-ed sleepover, usually heavily chaperoned. In trying to make the decision for my child, I am reminded of something that happened when my children were small. They had sibling friends over whose parents never had snacks in the house. No chips, no chocolate chip cookies, no Air Heads. We have the famous Snack Drawer, stuffed with snacks. Half the time this drawer was ignored by my children. I tossed out candy that had gotten old and chips that had gotten stale. But the “deprived-of-snacks-children” that showed up that day, and subsequent days, could hardly play with my kids for wanting to check out the snack drawer! That which is withheld is so much more interesting. Obviously this isn’t the answer entirely either. We can’t just leave all the “snacks” out all of the time. But occasionally for the kid that tows the line, has never given me a reason not to trust her, and who will soon be leaving my house to make ALL of the decisions herself I’m going to continue to trust her to behave responsibly when the snack drawer is open.

  3. My first thought when reading this was: I cannot believe there is such a thing as a co-ed sleepover! I am certainly not naive, or over the age of seventy and I am astounded! I am completely in the camp of your husband that the co-ed sleepover is the opening up a huge door of opportunity that is not necessary to be opened.
    I am having trouble understanding how a pre-prom party, the prom itself, a post-prom party and a post-post prom party is not enough time to hang out with friends. I also do not think you have deprived your daughter of any experiences (quite the opposite) that would cause her to rebel or overindulge in the snack drawer. You can trust your child, respect your child and fully believe they would make wise decisions and still say no situations or environments that implicitly condone (or at least facilitate) certain behaviors.
    As far as the argument regarding safety, I find it hard to believe there wouldn’t be parents willing to pick their kids and friends up from various spots.
    You have to sleep at night (especially the night of the prom) with what you allowed for you daughter. For some people, that night’s sleep would be just fine (or fine enough) while their kids were at the co-ed sleepover. For you, knowing that it was an unpopular decision was easier to sleep on than allowing her to attend. Popular or not.

  4. Our poor first child. We have to do all our angst-ing with her. She did not attend the co-ed sleepover, because we had delivered a firm “no”, although she stayed at a girlfriend’s house. It was fine, all fine. They got dressed up, and looked beautiful. They pinned on boutonnieres, donned wrist corsages, and drove off for their right of passage – PROM. I have to wonder, with the benefit of hind-sight, who was more ramped up about Prom, the kids or the parents (us)? They spent weeks talking about plans, created a Facebook page so the girls could coordinate dresses to avoid the dreaded duplicate (“OMG! My dress looks so much better on HER!”), talked about post-prom, who was staying who was leaving for the parties, and ultimately, they just went and had a good time. Even without the co-ed sleepover.

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