As our society becomes more conscious and respectful of the gender spectrum, parents are seeking ways to create inclusive environments for their children and their diverse group of friends. This article serves as a parents’ guide to sleepovers in the age of gender diversification, offering advice on how to ensure every child feels welcome and comfortable in social settings.
Parents and children, as well as parents and the parents of their child’s friends, can disagree on how to handle sleepovers. Kids covet staying up late to watch movies or play video games with their best friends; laughter, junk food, and excitement are readily available. Parents lament the noise and chaos, lack of sleep, and turmoil that can occur when several friendship dynamics collide.
As children age, a new dimension is added: friendships can develop into crushes as fascinating emotions whirl in the bodies of preteens and adolescents. Sometimes, hormones cause platonic friendships to develop into passionate relationships. This is when parents begin to consider where their children wish to spend the night and who they will bed with. The outdated sleepover rule of separating genders to minimize handsy contact as children grow older was always wrong and does not reflect today’s more open and enlightened youth.
It’s time for a thoughtful reform of the rules. How to discuss gender-diverse sleepovers with children (and other parents).
Why Gendered Rules Are Ineffective
First, we must acknowledge that separating the sexes is not a guarantee of maintaining platonic relationships. I’ll let the parents in on a little secret: there are gay preteens and adolescents. As a queer adult, I can attest that when I identified as a female adolescent, an all-girl sleepover induced both sweaty palms and excitement at getting near a girl giving off closeted lesbian kid signals. Parents attempt to incorporate their children’s diverse network of friends as our society becomes more conscious and respectful of the gender spectrum.
If your kid has friends, one of them is probably non-binary or non-cisgender (dividing people into male and female based on their sex organs). It’s great that today’s young trans and nonbinary people are finding the inner strength and social acceptance to come out younger than previous generations. They have your youngster as an ally, hopefully.
Whether or not you agree with any or all of the points I’ve just made, let’s all agree that keeping our children safe is the top priority. Parents and guardians can do this through open and nonjudgmental dialogue when it comes to older children’s sleepovers. Inclusion is required in these discussions: By avoiding gendered terminology, you set the tone for everyone to feel valued and noticed and be held accountable for house rules.
Starting the Discussion
When talking to your preteens and teenagers about sleepovers or even longer play or study dates, it’s crucial to remember that they have close friendships with friends of both sexes. This should allow their time together. However, it is essential to establish expectations that all parties understand.
Kim Cavill, a sex educator and creator of the kid-friendly podcast Six Minute Sex Ed, recommends engaging in talks with open-ended inquiries around family conduct and value expectations. Parents may inquire, “What sort of privacy do you believe you’re entitled to when you have guests over to sleep?” This is an effective method for engaging preteens and adolescents in discussions about rules, raising the chance of cooperation and lessening their defensiveness.
Cavill suggests that negotiations about precise regulations might take place once everyone has shared their expectations.
The language used in these conversations should refer to the “person” or “friend” with whom your child is spending time rather than the boy or girl whom you may perceive as a prospective love interest. It is in our best interest to be inclusive since doing so allows our children to be candid with us without shame or fear of being judged. Additionally, inclusive language alleviates pressure on children who have not yet come out. Clarify what is acceptable and unacceptable in your home, regardless of gender.
Keeping Sleepovers Enjoyable And Secure
YWCA Vermont Camp Hochelaga is directed by Hannah Parke. It is a summer sleepaway camp for girls, but the program also enthusiastically embraces transgender and nonbinary participants. At camp, the emphasis is always on camaraderie. Parke concurs with Cavill.
“By making regulations or family practices general, we can avoid the perception that they are tied to identity or orientation,” explains Parke. It keeps kids focused on safety and the purpose of the overnight, which is to establish friendships and have fun.
Parke says that she and other staff members frequently discuss with campers the need to maintain platonic relationships while promoting respect for one another’s space and bodies. Consent is also a basic principle. Parke is aware that the behavior exhibited at camp often overflows into home life, so parents can employ the same restrictions Parke establishes at Camp Hochelaga while having a sleepover.
“All age groups of campers and staff conduct a conversation with campers about consent in the context of friendship and daily life. We invite campers to consider and discuss why they believe it is vital to ask permission before hugging, sitting on, or borrowing someone’s property. At camp, we discuss each individual’s entitlement to their own body and space.”
When the Mood Turns Romantic
But what happens when a friendship develops into something more—whether you are aware of it or not? Despite the importance of setting boundaries at all times, particularly during sleepovers, it is equally crucial to have open and inclusive conversations about safe sex, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. These dialogues must occur early and frequently.
Include the parents of your child’s love interest if you are fine with your child and his or her significant other having “date evenings” or sleeping over as part of a group sleepover. It is up to you to determine your family’s beliefs and expectations, but an open line of communication will keep everyone on the same page and, ultimately, safer. Kim Cavill advises parents to be aware of their state’s legislation regarding the age of consent.
“If your child is a minor and they are having consenting sex with a partner who is also a minor, and their partner’s parents aren’t okay with that, the sex is a high risk, especially if the age of consent in your state does not allow for a close in age exception.” Cavill suggests examining the risk level; the relationship may need to end to prevent legal ramifications for children.
Perhaps your current guideline for your child’s age is no touching, regardless of gender or motive. That’s fine as well. But if you do stumble into a non-friendly encounter, do not add embarrassment to the situation. Remind your child and their guest that being drawn to others is normal, but acting on that attraction is not permitted.
Hannah Parke also reminds her camp staff, parents, and guardians of this fact. “Depending on age, romantic attraction in other people is quite normal! But at camp, we are here to develop incredibly strong connections, to feel confident and secure in ourselves, and to have a great time.”
I don’t have much advice regarding the mess that will be made by a room full of preteens or teenagers, but I know that a sleepover with friends of different genders and sexual orientations is a lovely, if sleep-deprived, scenario.
Meaningful Related articles you might like: How To Help Your Tween Make And Maintain Friendship, 8 Summer Birthday Party Ideas For Your Children, 4 Important Emotions That You Should Discuss with Children