'It's time to calm down and let your kids go on sleepovers'

It’s just one night. They’ll be okay.

A mum friend recently told me that her daughter is allowed to go to a certain girl’s house for sleepovers on a regular basis, but that girl isn’t allowed to come to her house.

“The mum has openly told me that she worries that her daughter could be sexually assaulted,” my friend said, her eyebrow rising at the implication.

She says she knows that although she knows the other mum isn’t targeting her home in particular as a den of vice and crime - she says she bans sleepovers completely - it still didn't feel particularly nice.

I should add that these girls are 14, not four.

Then there was the dad made an online video last month explaining why his children would never be allowed sleepovers.

“For many people, their first experience of pornography was at a sleepover, their first experience of sexuality or even drunkenness was at a sleepover,” he said in his video. “We didn’t want our children to experience any of those things.”

People, please. We all need to calm our collective farm about sleepovers.

Sleepovers are an important part of growing up

Yes, your kids might stay up too late, eat terrible food, watch a movie that’s a little too grown up for their age. If you’re doing the right things to teach them good values and self-confidence at home, they’ll survive.

Dad explains why he doesn't allow sleepovers

80896

Dad explains why he doesn't allow sleepovers

Yes there’s the potential for something worse to happen

Remember: Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy and turn a mistake into a teachable moment. But some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying, or posting self-harm images, may be a red flag that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children's behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.

But there’s potential for sexual assault to happen anywhere. School sports. At a relative’s house. Even in your house.

Of course letting your child sleep away from home can be nerve-wracking.

But if you know the family well, it’s extremely unlikely that anything of a truly dangerous nature is going to happen.

The worst outcome is probably that your child will find it unnerving to be subjected to a different routine or environment and become anxious or frightened and you’ll get a 10pm call asking you to come and pick them up.

Which is exactly the reason they should be having sleepovers

Helping your kids fly the coop and get used to unusual environments is a big part of your job.

“Parents’ fears about sleepovers are somewhat warranted at times but I don’t think it’s a father or other adult male who they necessarily have to worry about,” says child psychologist Judith Locke, author of The Bonsai Child. “Things like lack of supervision, access to social media are more the sorts of things that should be taken into consideration.

“You don’t know what access, what internet controls the family have,” Locke says. “What kids will do with mobile phones together at night, that’s the stuff to be concerned about.”

Who knows what they're looking at. Image: iStock.

Who knows what they're looking at. Image: iStock.

You can’t shield them from that stuff forever

Be alert, yes, but not alarmed.

I’m not suggesting that no child has ever been harmed on a sleepover. Or even molested on a sleepover. Of course these things have happened, and if your parental instinct tells you that a family doesn’t feel ‘right’ to you, then sleepovers should be off the table.

And of course most parents would feel that sleepovers aren’t right for very young children.

But if you notice that your child is at the age where other parents are allowing regular sleepovers and you’re not, then chances are you’re going a bit full-on with the over-protection.

Allow me a spot of ‘back in my day’-ism

Back in my day, parents didn’t think anything sleepovers.

Weekends would be spent tearing round the neighbourhood with whatever kids lived nearby, and as it got dark you’d race home to your mum and pant, “Can I stay over at Sophie’s house? Please? Her mum says it’s OK.”

found online is correct, accurate or relevant. Show your child how to check information they find by comparing it to alternative sources on the same topic. Show them trusted sites they can use to compare information.

And your mum would say yes and that’d be that.

'Back in my day.' Image: iStock.

'Back in my day.' Image: iStock.

Did things go wrong? Yes

Did they go wrong more than now? No, about the same. The numbers are difficult to pin down but the rates of sexual assault against kids have stayed roughly the same or even fallen over the years.

“Parents can’t protect their child at all times,” Locke says. “They should be developing their resilience skills and their ability to stand firm in the face of peer pressure and things like that.”

So talk to them about the menace of big brothers, the mobile phones, have the ‘what to do if you feel uncomfortable around an adult’ talk and then let them spread their wings a bit.

Let them live a little

Let them be kids.

After all, it won’t be long until they start wanting adult-style sleepovers with their boyfriends or girlfriends. If kid sleepovers are already freaking you out, then good luck with those!

It's those 'teenager' sleepovers you've really got to worry about. Image: iStock.

It's those 'teenager' sleepovers you've really got to worry about. Image: iStock.

Bravehearts has some excellent tips about how you can teach your kids about the dangers of sexual assault - how to protect their own personal safety and how to disclose it to you or another trusted adult if something happens that hurts them or makes them uncomfortable. If your kids understand these things as they move into the wider world, this is the best protection you can give them:

Teach Them Early About Personal Safety

It’s never too early to sow the seeds of personal safety. As parents, we need to teach our children five basic principles:

  1. To trust their feelings and to distinguish between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ feelings
  2. To say ‘no’ to adults if they feel unsafe and unsure
  3. That they own their own bodies
  4. That nothing is so yucky that they can’t tell someone about it
  5. That if they feel unsafe or unsure to run and tell someone they trust.
Have an open and honest conversation with your children first. Image: iStock.

Have an open and honest conversation with your children first. Image: iStock.

Talk to your kids

Encourage your children to feel comfortable telling you anything, especially if it involves another adult. Encourage your children to identify other trusted adults they can talk to in confidence.

Be aware

Learn about the people with whom your child is spending time. Take notice if someone shows one or all of your children a great deal of attention or begins giving them gifts. Take time to talk to your children, find out why the person is acting in this way.

Serve a food again and again. If your child rejects a new dish, don't give up hope. You may have to offer it another six, eight, or even 10 times before he eats it and decides he likes it.

Empower your kids

Knowledge is power. Teach your children about their bodies. Teach them the correct language to use when describing their private parts. Emphasise that those parts are private. This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable. Additionally, if a child uses a word like ‘garage’ or ‘golf stick’ to describe their private parts, a disclosure might be missed.