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!