At my oldest daughter's most recent birthday party where she turned 8, the whole class was invited (so as not to exclude anyone). I was chatting casually with some of the other school mums about how the kids were getting older and would probably start to want to have sleepovers and smaller gatherings soon.
I was surprised when several of them said they didn't let their kids sleep over at other people's houses. I assumed it was just because our kids are all still young. But as we went further into our conversation I realised most of them were completely uncomfortable with their children sleeping away from home.
One mum said it was a blanket rule for all her kids (boys and girls) and none of them were allowed to have sleepovers.
Another mum said her kids were only allowed to invite other kids to sleep over at their house, where she would be.
A third mum said she would consider it when her daughter was older but even then it would depend on how well she knew the family. No one specifically said why, but the undertone was one of fear. They obviously didn't trust most people to be alone with their children.
I understand that as parents these days we are much more cautious about our children's whereabouts (and for good reason). Many of the traumatic things that can happen to kids are based on there being an opportunity for something to happen. The days where we could wander into the street to play with the neighbours without supervision are definitely over. Still, the idea that almost no one can ever be trusted to watch our children is incredibly sad.
As a child in the nineties, I had lots of sleepovers with friends starting at 8 years old. We watched movies, read magazines, played games like Truth or Dare, ate junk food, painted our nails and did each other's make up, and stayed up late talking. They were fun and innocent, and helped me fill my time during my tween years when I wasn't old enough to go out alone with my friends.
Had we been at home, we would all just have been doing the same things in our rooms, or talking on the phone, but being together helped us bond with each other, and we got to know each others families. By the time we were teenagers, sleepovers were more of a thing we did after a night out at the movies or parties, but they were a great way to unwind.
In the current times, with devices and online predators and social media, parents don't have the same amount of control over what happens at another person's home. That's where trust comes in. No matter what decade, the feeling that you are leaving your child to be properly looked after and supervised (so that they can't do things they don't do at home) is paramount to trusting other parents. However that seems to be where most parents start to feel uncomfortable.
How long do we have to know our children's friends and their parents to feel comfortable letting them stay in their home? I've known the parents of my daughter's school friends for over three years now and I instinctively feel that they are caring, trustworthy people. I've seen them at birthday parties, school events and activities that some of them do together after school. If my daughter was invited to a sleepover at the house of one of these families and she felt comfortable going, the only reason I would have to say no is to silence that little paranoid voice inside me that says I should not take a risk just in case. Is that a good enough reason to tell my daughter she can't spend time with her friends?
I understand that some people may feel uncomfortable saying yes to sleepovers due to past trauma in their lives that makes them extremely cautious. That's completely different to a parent who thinks they'd rather be safe than sorry and says no to a sleepover just in case something might happen. This "trust no one" culture of parenting we've been drawn into, feels like an over-correction of the lax parenting of previous generations but that doesn't make either one of them right.
If sleepovers are on the way out, what else might not be okay in the future? The overnight school excursion that many kids take in Years 5 or 6? Should we not be dropping our kids off at parties or play dates and returning in a few hours, but instead staying with them the whole time? Should we never accept carpools or lifts from other parents in case they get into a car accident?
Are sleepovers the only situation where something might happen to our kids when we leave them with another adult? They're not, but for some reason, many parents can't get comfortable with the idea of them.
I hate when other parents tell me how or what I should be doing with my own children so I won't try and give any advice. I do think though, if we spent more time focusing on getting to know one another in our little communities, teaching kids the importance of body safety and what is appropriate behaviour, and trying harder to see the best in people, we might feel less worried about what will happen when our kids can't be with us. Because the truth is they can't be with us all the time. Sleepovers are one of the best parts of childhood and I would be sad to see them die out.