The problem is that, when your kids are at someone else's home, they're in a particularly vulnerable situation. Why is that? If they've gone to someone's home for a slumber party or a sleepover, you've given your permission which, in your kid's mind, means that you're convinced they'll be OK. They know you would never put them in harm's way. Does that mean, in their little kid's mind, that whatever happens, you approve of? Possibly and probably.
The problem is that we're more aware of how people behave, how predators hunt and the staggering amount of mentally ill and criminally inclined people we have in our society. We have also doubled our population since 1953. We have 323,580,000 million people in our country as of last month (April, 2017). That means that the chances of you or your child being exposed to a criminal of some kind is significant.
There's another factor. We're not as close to one another as we once were. We don't know our neighbors and we don't participate with them in community events. Block parties and neighborhood activities seem to be a thing of the past.
The problem is that, the bad guys don't wear a sign. It'd be great if they wore a sign. You've seen the news. Most of the folks committing horrific crimes look just like us. If they were obvious, we wouldn't have needed Megan's Law and the multiple websites telling us where the known (operative word) predators are living. If Ted Bundy looked like a unibrow ogre that he would have been able to get the attention of so many girls? And, he was a law student!
A couple of points here:
- As parents, we live to control the controllable and protect our kids.
- If your child goes to someone's home for any reason, you don't have control.
- Most sexual abuse happens to kids between 7 and 15.
- Most sexually abused kids are female.
- For boys, the rate is 1 in 20 and for girls, it's 1 in 5.
- Most kids are abused by people known, frankly very well known, to the family, so that whole "stranger danger concept" does not apply.
- Predators get away with it because of threats or other intimidation along with the trauma.
And, to have a traumatic experience, it doesn't need to go that far.
- What if the kids go out and commit vandalism?
- What if they drink alcohol, snatch pills from the parents' medicine cabinet, smoke weed?
- What if they hatch a vicious bullying plot because one of the girls "has it in" for someone else who's not at the party?
- What if one of the girls has "advanced", but erroneous knowledge about having periods and sex and babies and scares the daylights out of your 8-year old daughter?
- What if they watch "slasher movies"?
- What if they watch porn? The first exposure to pornography happens between ages 11 and 12. Technology has brought the world right into our homes and it didn't even knock on the door.
- What if one of the child/teen guests is a victim of abuse and sees an opportunity to act out his/her own abuse?
- What is someone has a sadistic streak and enjoys terrorizing others?
You don't know. You can't know. But, your job is to keep your child safe. Your job is not to make your child happy with every decision you make.
Here are some points I want you to consider before you let your child go to a sleepover or a slumber party:
- Do you know and 100% trust everyone who is going to come in contact with your child? What about the birthday girl's uncle, cousin, friend of an older brother? The neighbor who just "stops by"? The family friend who drops in to see how the party is going?
- Do you know every guest at the party well enough to vouch for their behavior when they're not under adult supervision?
- Do you know exactly what is going to go on there?
- Do you know the intimate practices of the family?
- How will you handle it if, when you pick up your child, their behavior is sullen, angry, fearful?
- How will you handle it when a child has accused someone in your family of being inappropriate after they've stayed at your home?
- Does your child have a firm grasp on both inappropriate and appropriate behavior?
- Can you live with the consequences?
If the answer is, "No, I can't live with the consequences", then you know what to do.
You may have to hide behind the blanket, "Well, the Smith family does not have sleepovers and we don't go to sleepovers".
Offer to let her go, but be picked up. If s/he takes flack for leaving early, do something fun at your house. You'll find other parents who will be picking their kids up early, too. Don't buckle under the pressure of other parents. Your kid is not their kid. They need to stay in their own lane.
- A "half-over" or a "late-night" or a "sleep under". This means that kids come in their jammies, bring junk food and games or videos or whatever and they leave at midnight.
- Have a "breakfast bash" where they arrive in their jammies and have a big, fun breakfast followed by activities.
- Have a tear-jerker/rom-com/goofy movie marathon.
- Have a "theme" night...Frozen, Star Wars? Whatever is popular.
- Have an action movie or suspense (not horror show) marathon.
- Have game night.
- Have a spa night.
- Have a fashion night.
There's no evidence to suggest that sleepovers do not strengthen relationships. Healthy, fun, non-threatening activities do. So, make it happen.
That whole idea of "Can you live with the consequences?" is a theme I've heard more times than I can count from parents who instinctually knew that it wasn't a good idea and talked themselves into it.
Throughout raising our son, we asked ourselves this question a zillion times. We listened to our gut. Yes, sometimes we took chances. Calculated risks.
Just 2 years after the terrorist attacks, he had the chance to go to Europe with his AP European History class. We jumped at the chance. Our family, however, wasn't so thrilled. We got a lost of pressure to keep him home.
"He'll be a terror statistic." Our thoughts? "If he is, he is. We're not going to be afraid." He's traveled the world ever since both for business and personal interests. And, he went to Europe the following year on another school-sponsored trip. So far, so good.
The painful truth is that these decisions are on a case-by-case basis and your crystal ball can see only so far. We can do only so much.
Make sure you have an "escape plan". If she texts you at 11:00 and says she has a tummy ache, that's code for "Get me outta here". Don't ask any questions on the way home. Wait until she's ready.
They won't learn a thing. They won't develop judgment if they don't get out into the world and see how it operates. My goal is to make certain that the education is not a wounding experience. They need to develop boundary skills, refusal skills and to live consistently with their values and beliefs. May as well start early.
Just do the best you can. TTFN, Claudia
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