I’m a relatively new parent in the grand scheme of things. My girls are 8 and 5. By now, I’ve traveled the road of dirty diapers and child safety locks. But I have not yet walked the path of algebra test failures, tearful boy drama, or teenage sleepovers.
I know those kinds of things are not too far in my future, though, so please take a moment and pray for me right now.
Done? Good. Thanks.
I’m fully aware the next ten years are going to bring a lot of parenting changes as my kids grow up. So my wife and I have been intentional now about asking some of the bigger questions we know will take time to process.
Life can easily be a long series of reactions to issues that hit, but if we take the time to think about and pray through those oncoming issues now instead of just reacting to them in the future, we’ll be more ready when they arrive. Here are a few examples of what we’re currently asking:
When will we allow our girls to have their own phones?
When will they be allowed to date?
What time will their curfew be when they’re old enough to drive?
Will we allow them to sleep over at a friend’s house?
Now, you might read those questions and laugh because they feel like non-issues to you. But allow me to say that the way some of these questions are answered by a parent can shape a child’s future in profound ways—positive or negative.
Let’s take the sleepover question. If your kids are anywhere close to mine in age, they’re going to start making friends who want to have sleepovers. Perhaps they’ll even want their friends to come over to your house and spend the night.
It seems like a relatively normal part of our culture—almost a “right of passage”—for a kid who is growing up and getting older. I certainly remember having sleepovers with my friends when I was a kid.
However, should my wife and I go with the flow and allow our children to sleep over at another person’s house? Just because that’s what everyone else does and what we did as kids doesn’t seem like a good enough answer. Should we allow kids to come over and sleep in our home?
As a parent who absolutely wants to protect my children, it’s important to think and pray through these questions seriously but not over-shelter them at the same time. Yes, I want them to see and have a practical knowledge of real life in a broken world. I also value their safety.
My wife and I have decided that unless it’s specifically with our family, we are not going to allow sleepovers.
There are multiple reasons for this decision. I’m in no way insinuating a different decision is less godly or inherently sinful. I also know sad and hard things can happen with family members too.
Still, we’ve decided the potential negative consequences of sleepovers far outweigh the positive ones. True, there is no biblical instruction on the subject of sleepovers. However, I don’t really see it as a matter of right and wrong. To us, it’s more a a matter of what is wise and unwise.
So what are the pros and cons when it comes to sleepovers? Let’s start with the positive. It can be fun for your kids to build deeper and more meaningful relationships with their friends. Time spent in someone else’s home can foster an environment of great friendship building.
Being in someone else’s home can also help kids learn a different family culture or environment. This helps to make your kids more well-rounded, knowledgeable, and empathetic.
The pros, however, kind of end there. And honestly, the positives mentioned don’t only happen in the context of a sleepover. Those benefits can happen in different environments that don’t require the vulnerability of staying overnight.
Now let’s look at the cons. The list here is much longer and potentially more concerning.
We’ll start with something minor. Your kids are probably going to stay up late and eat a bunch of junk food. Which will maybe them sick to their stomach and guarantees they’ll be grouchy the next day. Other more likely outcomes are the mischievous actions, words, and attitudes kids tend to shift toward when unsupervised for long periods.
They could watch something on TV you may not approve of. They could be exposed to pornography, alcohol, foul language, or even unsafe circumstances. None of which they are unequipped to handle because of their immaturity as children.
Even worse, they could be abused in some form or harmed in a way that could effect them for years to come.
I could go on and on with the possible negatives. But my goal here is not to scare you. I just want to shine a light on a seemingly benign cultural norm that has the potential to do a lot of damage to your kids.
Will those negative things come to pass if your child sleeps over at someone else’s house? Not necessarily. Obviously, this would not be the case with everyone.
But again, a topic like this is really less about right and wrong, and more about what is wise and unwise. As Christian parents, we are called to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). So choosing wisdom by saying “no” makes sense in light of the myriad of possibilities.
On top of that, we are parents because our children need parenting. More often than not, kids don’t know how to make good decisions for themselves. So we must parent appropriately and make the tough choices for them … even when they and all of culture disagree with our decisions.
Christian author and blogger Tim Challies has a great article he wrote about sleepovers. He and his wife decided early on not to allow sleepovers for their kids. The consistency with that blanket rule made things easier. He says,
We believed they would face a particular kind of vulnerability if they found themselves alone and in bed outside our care, and we wanted to protect them from it. The reason we drew the rule so firmly was that it removes exceptions and explanations. We know ourselves well and realized that if we drew up a list of exceptions we would inevitably broaden that list over time. Not only that, but we did not want to have to explain to a family why we allowed our children to stay with others but not with them. So sleepovers were just taken right off the table without exceptions or individual explanations.
This is a smart principle worth emulating. Better to give a general rule that says “no,” rather than pick and choose when to say “yes.” Challies believes we should not allow ourselves to feel pressured into sleepovers simply because it is what parents have always done. Instead, we should consider the issues and come to a conclusion that is right for our family and our context.
This idea might bring about some confused parents of other kids and heated arguments between you and your children. Maybe even between you and your spouse! But remember God has placed on you the mantle of parent and leader over your little ones. They may not understand now, but they probably will down the road. They might even thank you for it.
Copyright © 2019 Shelby Abbott. All rights reserved.
Shelby Abbott is an author, campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with the ministry of Cru. His passion for university students has led him to speak at college campuses all over the United States and author the books Jacked, I Am A Tool (To Help With Your Dating Life), and Pressure Points: A Guide to Navigating Student Stress (New Growth Press). He and his wife Rachael have two daughters and reside in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Instagram/Twitter: @shelbyabbott, Web: shelbyabbott.com