Are sleepovers safe and OK for kids?

Are sleepovers a good idea? From meeting the parents to checking their social media, here are expert-approved tips for keeping kids safe. (Photo: Getty Creative)

Are sleepovers a good idea? From meeting the parents to checking their social media, here are expert-approved tips for keeping kids safe. (Photo: Getty Creative)

For some children, a sleepover at a friend’s house is viewed as a right of passage: Not only are they away from their parents for the night, but they’re also in a different environment, giggling with friends and staying up past bedtime. But while some kids love sleepovers, others prefer to sleep in their own bed, feeling nervous at the thought of leaving their home for a night.

And parents aren’t without their own love-hate relationships with this childhood activity. Aside from worries about being woken by a phone call from a kid who wants to come home in the middle of the night and dealing with exhausted grumpy children the following day, daily news headlines can make moms and dads apprehensive about their kids’ safety when they’re sleeping behind someone else’s door.

Are sleepovers safe for kids? Experts say it’s normal for parents to have mixed feelings about slumber parties, and point out a few important things they should consider next time they’re prompted with the question: Can I have a sleepover?

Should kids go to sleepovers?

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether or not kids should be allowed to have sleepovers. It’s a matter of whether or not a parent deems the sleepover destination safe, and also depends on the preparation and comfort level of both the child and parents.

Vanessa Miceli, mother of an 11-year-old girl, says she allows sleepovers at her house and gives her daughter permission to sleepover at her friends houses — if she’s comfortable with the parents. “I allow my daughter to sleep over at three of her friends’ houses,” says Miceli. “I am friends with the mothers and I have been to their houses multiple times.”

“We also host sleepovers,” she adds, “but one girl at a time, because my house is small.”

Miceli says her daughter and her friends have a fun time at sleepovers eating ice cream, making TikToks, and giving each other manicures, so she doesn’t see the harm.

Christina Mann Karaba, whose kids are 12 and 14, says she has no issue with letting her children attend sleepovers, but after the first one, they didn’t seem keen on doing it again. “I need to know the parents and the kids to let my kids go to a sleepover,” she says, “but if they ask and I’m comfortable with the kid and the family, I say yes.”

Why some parents are saying “no sleepovers”

But there are parents who refuse to allow their children to go to sleepovers — especially if they’ve been exposed to the potential dangers that may accompany them. “I’ve witnessed too many circumstances when a child was harmed by someone who We never thought would do something like this or Was a trusted friend or family member, so my answer is no,” says Bethany Cook, a parent of two and licensed clinical psychologist.

Cook adds that the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up for her, as a lifetime of “working through a traumatic event” can result from even just a few moments with the wrong person.

If you’re worried about your child feeling left out, Cook says to suggest other fun alternatives for them to participate in with friends, like day trips, art lessons or music classes. You could also allow your child to throw an epic “daytime party” for their friends as a sleepover-free alternative.

And it’s not just about safety: Some parents are weary about letting their child attend sleepovers because of medical issues. “My son is almost 7 years old and he has cystic fibrosis and a feeding tube so he takes in a lot more liquid than other kids,” says Shana Bull, “which means that he still pees the bed.”

Bull says she doesn’t see medical needs as a reason to not allow a child to have sleepovers, but considers them a factor that needs to be taken into consideration and planned for well in advance. Plus, if a child is still having issues wetting the bed, a sleepover might bring more embarrassment than joy.

Are sleepovers safe?

Thoughts on sleepovers can vary based on personal experience and circumstance. Every parent wants their children to be safe and sometimes sleepovers can create anxiety when their kids are out of their sight for the night. Dr. Harvey Karp, a pediatrician and founder and chief executive officer of Happiest Baby, compares the situation to whether it’s safe for a child to cross the street or go to the community pool: “These can all be super-safe … or not,” he says. “It depends on the circumstances and your preparation.”

How to make sure kids are safe at a sleepover

If you do decide to allow your children to sleep over at a friend’s home, there are some important safety (and comfort) measures to work through beforehand. Review these ideas with your child prior to making a decision regarding sleepovers.

1. Search the home (and the family’s social media accounts) beforehand

Prior to making the decision about allowing your child to have a sleepover, you’ll want to make sure the environment is safe. “Visit the home. Ask to see where the kids will be sleeping. I would ask about access to guns, porn, alcohol and drugs,” says Cook. Additionally, Cook says you can tell a lot about a family — and the people who frequent a home — from social media profiles, so it’s not a bad idea to do a quick social scan as well.

2. Talk to your child about what to expect at a sleepover

Most anxiety around sleepovers, for both parents and children, comes from fear of the unknown. Karp suggests talking to your child in advance about what the sleepover will look like.

“You’ll want to inform the child about what time bedtime is at their friend’s house, where they’ll be sleeping and what the house rules are,” says Karp. “Knowing what’s to come can help make your kiddo feel smart and confident.”

3. Allow your child to bring a comfort item

It can be scary for kids to sleep not only away from their parents, but also in a different environment.

“Allowing your child to bring a comfort item — like a special stuffed animal or pillow — to the sleepover can help create a soothing sense of security at bedtime in an unfamiliar place,” says Karp.

4. Have ongoing discussions with your child about personal safety, body autonomy and how to deal with potentially dangerous situations

Although it’s scary to think about, Karp says you’ll want to check the National Sex Offender Registry to verify the folks your child may encounter during their sleepover are not sex offenders.

You’ll also want to teach your child about personal safety prior to a sleepover, having frank discussions about things like how to handle an inappropriate touch from someone at the sleepover (an adult or their friend), what to do if they come across any firearms in the home and how to handle feelings of peer pressure when they do not want to engage in an activity they know is wrong.

“Kids really need the how part,” says Karp. “To help, practice a few easily remembered responses, like: No! I don’t like that! and I’m calling my mom.

5. Offer your child an easy out if they want — or need — to come home

Let your child know they are allowed to come home at any time, even if it’s just because they’re getting homesick. “Tell your kiddo they can call or text you at any time if they need you to come pick them up,” says Karp, “and that you will not be upset … even if it’s 2 a.m.”

Karp suggests creating a code word so your child can have a discreet way to share with you that they need to leave ASAP. With that, you’ll want to make sure your child knows your phone number, if they don’t have a cell phone of their own where it’s saved. To be sure, write your number down on a piece of paper and put it in their sleeping bag.

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