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Mixed sleepovers: What are parents thinking?

I’m not sure whether it’s just the end of the year and I’m starting to get tired but I seem to be doing a fair bit of ‘parent-bashing’ at the moment … I hope that regular readers of my blogs know that I think most of you guys are amazing! It’s not easy being a parent – there are lots of challenges and, as I always say, there is no ‘rule book’ and so there’s lots of ‘trial and error’ involved with the whole process. That said, over the past couple of months I have heard about some examples of parental behaviour, particularly around parties and gatherings, that just makes things so much more difficult for all you guys who are trying to do the right thing  … case in point – mixed sleepovers!

In the past month I have been approached by parents at two different schools who have recently struggled with their teens over this issue and have no idea how to progress with the problem. Interestingly, both parents asked me to be extremely careful how I raised the topic as they were fearful that if I provided too much detail about their particular incident then they would be able to be identified and their children could suffer as a result. So with that in mind, I’m going to be fairly vague about details. In both cases, however, their teen was 15 years-old – one male and the other a Year 10 girl. The situations were very similar, both parents have fairly strict rules and boundaries around alcohol and almost always make sure they call the house where the party, gathering or whatever is being held and find out a little bit more about what will be happening. Recently their child had been asked to a ‘gathering’, with their teens making it very clear it was not a party – just a small group of close friends getting together on a Saturday night. They assured their parents there was to be no alcohol and, by the way, they also wanted to sleepover … Although none of them felt really comfortable about the whole ‘sleepover’ thing, they agreed to it as long as they got some answers from the parents hosting the event to make sure that alcohol wasn’t going to be part of the night. They called the hosts and asked the usual questions around supervision, alcohol, drop-off and pick-up time the next day and the like – received satisfactory answers and, as a result, agreed to let their children go …

Both found out later (and in very different ways) that, in fact, this wasn’t your typical 15 year-old sleepover. Yes, it was only a (comparatively) small group of teens attending but it was a mixed group – around 10-15 young men and young women in each of the cases – and in both there was little to no adult supervision, even though the parents had been assured that there would be when they had called and asked a specific question. Alcohol was snuck into one of the parties by some of those attending and the other had a range of alcoholic drinks provided by the hosts, completely contradicting what they had told parents over the phone when they had made enquiries. Boys and girls shared beds in some cases and were completely left to their own devices. What in heavens were the host parents thinking?

With hormones racing during this stage of adolescence, combined with alcohol and no supervision, it is a miracle that something terrible didn’t happen (and most frighteningly it could have and we simply don’t know about it) … and all while their parents were at home believing that they were in a safe and secure environment!

With so many of these kind of issues, I always come back to what would have happened if schools and teachers acted in the same way? Can you imagine the outcry if a group of Year 10s went off to a school camp and the teachers just let a co-ed group of students go and sleep wherever they wanted? The number of hoops that teachers have to go through to organise a school camp or retreat is ridiculous, but rightly so – you want your kids to be safe. Ensuring the right numbers of male and female staff are present, that there is adequate supervision provided at all times and the facilities are safe and secure – the list goes on and on – and there’s no alcohol added to the mix there! How a parent in their right mind could possibly think that holding a mixed sleepover for a group of 15 year-olds in their home is appropriate is beyond me! How do you control it and most importantly, why would you ever do it?

The thing that has made this so much more difficult for both of the families that I met is that they simply have no idea how to respond as far raising their concerns with the host parents. Both found out well after the sleepover was held (as I said in very different circumstances) and feel as though they would have had no problems confronting them immediately after the event but now too much time has gone past, i.e., “Nothing happened – what’s your problem?” They’re also extremely worried how their response will impact upon how their teen is viewed in their friendship group. If it all comes out and gets nasty, will their child be isolated or bullied for ‘telling all’? One of the Mums also admitted that she was concerned about the effect this could have on her place in the parent group at the school. Apparently, the host mother of her daughter’s party is extremely influential and powerful – although she wanted to be the ‘whistle-blower’, would it really be worth it in the long-term? Would it actually change anything?

What is the most frightening about this is that it now adds another layer to parental concern around teenage parties and gatherings. If a parent wants to make sure they do their ‘due diligence’ when it comes to checking up about what will be happening at the parties their child hopes to attend on a Saturday night, there are already so many questions that need to be asked. I think it’s truly bizarre that if your 14-15 year-old child wants to stay over at a friend’s house you now need to ask whether the host parents are planning a mixed sleepover or not! Unbelievable!

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