Christianity,  Culture

Should you allow your children to go to sleepovers?

I came across a provocative passage today in Jim Dobson’s book Bringing Up Girls in which he discusses the issue of children’s sleepovers. In short, Dobson argues that the day of sleepovers has passed. There are simply too many risks involved. Parents, therefore, should be wary of allowing their children to participate in what for many of us was a very common part of our growing-up years.

A big part of this is simply understanding that times have changed. Our hypersexualized culture requires parents to exercise special vigilance over their children—not only because of the pervasive availability of pornography, but also because of predators who are more than willing to harm children. Parents must be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves when figuring out the best way to protect children from both. Moreover, parents will often have to pursue principles that might seem strange to the rest of the world but which are the only rational responses to very real and potential threats to children.

For this reason, I tend to agree with Dobson on this one. By and large, the age of the sleepover has passed. I am not offering this up as a new law. Nor do I wish to condemn parents who permit it under certain, well-supervised circumstances. I’m simply suggesting that wise parenting requires us to rethink old assumptions. And I believe that the sleepover-as-norm is an assumption that needs to be challenged.

Dobson focuses on the potential for abuse, but of course there are other dangers as well. Below is the relevant excerpt from pages 141-42 of Bringing Up Girls.

Question: My daughter has a friend who has a single dad. They want to have a sleepover at her house. My daughter is eleven years old. I would like to know if it would be appropriate to let her go to the sleepover. I am more than willing to let them have a sleepover at my house anytime.

Answer: Except on occasions when you are sure that your child will be safe, I would not suggest that you allow your daughter—or your son—to spend the night in a home where there is not a mother you trust. The father in that situation may be a fine man, but he is not the only reason for caution. Remember that kids sometimes molest younger kids, as do older brothers and their friends. This is why I believe that the day for sleepovers has passed. There is just too much at stake to put children at risk in this way.

Sadly, the world has changed in the last few decades, and it is no longer a safe place for children. Pedophiles and child molesters are more pervasive than ever. That is why parents must be diligent to protect their kids every hour of the day and night. Some little tykes have actually been abducted from their bedrooms while their parents were in the house. The name of Polly Klaas comes to mind, the twelve-year-old girl who was assaulted and murdered after being taken from her home during a slumber party in 1993.

Until you have dealt with little victims as I have and seen the pain in their eyes, you might not fully appreciate the devastation inflicted by molestation. It casts a long shadow on everything that follows, including future marital relationships. Therefore, parents have to think the unthinkable in every situation. The threat can come from anywhere—including neighbors, uncles, stepfathers, grandfathers, Sunday school teachers, coaches, music instructors, Scout leaders, and babysitters. Even public bathrooms can be dangerous today…

Now here is the ultimate challenge. You as a parent have to figure out how to shield your kids from danger without overprotecting them or making them fearful. That is called being between a rock and a hard place. You can begin by teaching your kids the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch,” urging them to never talk to strangers, and telling them to scream when approached, etc. At the same time, however, you must be careful not to make them feel that you are fearful or that their loved ones and teachers are trying to hurt them. Shepherding them between these two harmful alternatives requires great skill and wisdom.

You should know that pedophiles are usually adept at drawing children into their clutches. They tend to gravitate toward malls, pizza restaurants, amusement parks, and even chat rooms where unsupervised boys and girls hang out. They can spot a kid who is lonely in a matter of minutes, and they offer them the “love” and attention they crave. Once these creeps have established a relationship with them, the abuse is easy and lasts an average of seven years. Amazingly, the children usually don’t tell anyone about the abuse out of fear and intimidation. Some pedophiles become so masterful at this technique that they abuse, on average, 280 children in a lifetime.

Don’t let your boy or girl be one of them! Protect them, and meet the needs that make them vulnerable!


  • Chris Ryan

    “Sadly the world has changed in the last few decades…”

    What is he talking abt? When has the world ever been safe? Parents have always had to watch out for kids. If anything b/cs of our increased laws & awareness kids are safer now than in the past when molestation was swept under the rug. My father–whose in his ’80s–still tells of the time when a preacher who was staying over the house (my grandparents often hosted visiting clergy) propositioned him. Of course my grandfather promptly threw the bum out. That was way back in the ’40s. Its not that times have changed its that we’re more aware now. I had a girlfriend whose grandfather not only molested her but also every single kid in both her generation & her mother’s generation. It happened to her and her cousins in the ’70s, and her mother and her aunts/uncle in the ’50s. As it says in Ecclesiastes there is nothing new under the sun.

    • Denny Burk

      Chris, you are correct that abuse is not new and that sleepovers have always been risky. What I’m concerned about is the new pervasiveness of perversion, largely due to internet pornography. It’s had a devastating effect on our communities. Thirty years ago, your neighbor likely wasn’t hooked on child pornography. Today, you would be unwise to preclude such a possibility. The ubiquity of hardcore, moving porn has ensnared a generation of men. That addiction is more pervasive than ever, and you don’t know the depths to which a person may have sunk in the privacy of their own home. It’s unwise to put your children under the supervision of someone who has been cultivating a preference for perversion through internet porn.

      • Ian Shaw

        I can’t disagree with you Denny. It causes more issues than a lot of men and churches as a whole will even admit too and it’s influences on how we think. Amen brother.

  • Jason Kates

    I would agree with commenter Chris Ryan that I don’t think the danger from the world has changed all that much. Now, I wasn’t alive 40 or 50 years ago, so I would put it as Chris did, “When has the world ever been safe?” Sleepovers have always contained a risk, even in Dobson’s era. Even if the world really has gotten so much worse, it wasn’t great back in the day.

    It would seem that Dobson is saying that parents decades ago did not need to do any due diligence on sleepovers, but now they must. Shouldn’t parents of ANY generation research sleepover scenarios and decide wisely?

    I applaud a call to protection of our children, of course, but I don’t know agree that the responsibility of the parent has changed just because the world might have.

  • Ian Shaw

    I guess I would have to agree with Chris (weird, right?). My daughter or son is not yet of age for sleepovers, but we have close friends at church that we do trust and at this point I would not think about it in this light.

    It seems more prevelant now, but to be honest, this stuff was probably going on just as much in prior decades but it really hasn’t been brought to light as it has today.

    I know Dr. Dobson has good intentions with this, but should we not send out children to school for risk of molestation there as well? Both public and private school? Should all children be homeschooled?

    I think a fair amount of thought/discussion and prayer need to go into each parents consideration for whether they let their children either sons or daughters stay the night at a friends house. But we can’t allow ourselves to become frozen by statistics (as horrible and saddening as they may be). If we went by this across the board, I dont’ think anyone would ever step foot out their door!

  • Nathan Mayfield

    As someone who was alive 40 and even 50 years ago, it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of our culture, Denny, that most of your readers can’t even begin to imagine there was a time when sleepovers were not an issue.

    No activity is ever without some level of danger (driving a car, for example), but it is unfortunate that the sheer freedom I was given as a child (bicycling, going to the park to play ball, hours spent up and down the creek and in woods behind our house), all without supervision, are no longer available to children.

    My own children weren’t allowed the freedom I was given, and I believed I was right to withhold it. Still, I wish they could have had it.

  • Heidi Miller

    We have allowed only a couple of sleepovers in 30 yrs of parenting 9 kids, and that was under very strict review and supervision. Parents should also consider the “milder” evils which result from children left to themselves with hours of unsupervised conversation and activities which occur during sleepovers. As homeschooling parents, we firmly believe “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” Prov 13:20 and that ” … a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” Prov 29:15.

  • timbertolet

    I largely agree with this. I have one concern about Dobson’s statement.

    I find it troubling when he states: “Except on occasions when you are sure that your child will be safe, I would not suggest that you allow your daughter—or your son—to spend the night in a home where there is not a mother you trust. The father in that situation may be a fine man, but he is not the only reason for caution. ”

    Despite his qualification about the father, this is unfair to fathers. Not so much for what he says but for what he leaves out. I agree that an eleven year old girl should not be sleeping over in the given situation. But let’s be careful not to assume that just because it is a mother in the home the situation is safe–say like an 11 year old boy with a single mom.

    In the day and age with live in I don’t think we should just be careful about a ‘father unless their is a mother you trust’.

    There are plenty of stories in the news of older women taken advantage of young boys (sadly there are common examples even amongst public school teacher), or even women who acts complicit or enablers of the men who do the abusing.

    Sadly, the problem is broader than just men being perverts towards young girls.

  • Mary Ann Shamburger

    It happened years ago, too! It just wasn’t talked about as much, kids were afraid or felt guilty about speaking out, thinking it was their fault or they would be in trouble. I know, because I was a victim. When I was made to stay with my dad’s parents, mygrandfather abused me sexually. My mother’s cousin sexually abused me, & others including his own daughter, every chance he got, too! I knew of others that were victims, as well. We were told that we didn’t “air our dirty laundry in public.” So, we remained silent.
    I believe things are just more open now, and people have learned to speak up and speak out.

    • Mary Ann Shamburger

      By the way, this happened in the 50’s and 60’s! My grandfather continued to “try” to take advantage of me even after I married in the 70’s!!! He offered to “take care of my needs” while my husband was away at Air Force boot camp! I hung up the phone on him after a few choice unpleasant words!!! I am now 63 years old.

  • lindsaywilliams

    Denny, what do advise regarding youth group trips through churches? It seems like the same concerns listed here would arise. Should we reconsider those too?

  • Paul Reed

    I can just hear the liberal’s response to this: We’ve been turned into Chicken Little’s by right wing religious news and blogs by their constant fear-mongering in an attempt to boost their ratings. Next at 8: Is your next door neighbor an addict trying to kill your toddler?. Stay tuned for more details.

    • Paul Reed

      Unfortantely, there is evidence that we may be living in the later days, and that we must take precautions. As a home schooled child myself, I was never allowed to go on a sleep over, and my sisters weren’t even allowed in other people’s houses without parental supervision. People will claim that they were too strict, but with all that is in the news about child prededators, and with all we’re hearing about the expansion of porgraphy, the dissolution of marriage and the basic foundations of society, who can blame my parents for protecting us?

  • Cindy Chang

    We have a ‘No sleep over’ rule. Simple as that. Made on the advice of a friend who is a child psychologist who has seen too many broken kids. Going to play @ someone else’s house pretty much took an interview, a sweep of the house, plus I needed to know EXACTLY who else would be present during said time. Anyone who thought I was nuts to do all this was a fail & could bring their kid to my place for social interaction. Never was all that keen on the whole playdate deal anyways. I’m responsible for my son before God & you can bet I’ll do my best. He’s old enough (13) now to take care of himself & to speak out if anybody tried anything, but we’ve done our best to give him the confidence he needs to do that. But even now. No sleepovers!

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.