The Parents’ Guide to Sleepovers in an Age of Gender Diversity

Some parents hold a deep affection for sleepovers, while others harbor a distaste for the tensions that can arise between their children and their friends’ families. It’s no secret that children yearn for the chance to gather with a group of friends, whether it’s to enjoy a movie or engage in late-night video game sessions. However, when different friendship dynamics merge, it can lead to noise, mess, sleep deprivation, and even drama, much to the dismay of parents. In an age of increasing gender diversity, it becomes essential for parents to have a comprehensive understanding of sleepovers. Thus, we present “The Parents’ Guide to Sleepovers in an Age of Gender Diversity,” offering valuable insights and guidance to navigate this social terrain while fostering inclusivity and ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for all.

Friendships in preteens and teenagers can develop into romantic interests as their developing emotions take them on a roller coaster ride. Hormones play a role, and sometimes friends develop love feelings for one another. Now is the time when parents start to give serious consideration to their children’s desires on where and with whom they will spend the night. Given what we know about today’s more tolerant and progressive children, the antiquated sleepover rule of separating genders to minimize handsy contact as kids become older was always incorrect.

It’s time for a serious revision of the regulations. Here’s how to broach the subject of gender-neutral sleepovers with your offspring and their friends’ parents.

Why Gender-Based Limits Fail to Deliver

We must first acknowledge that physical distance between sexes is no guarantee that interactions will remain amicable. I’ll let you in on a little secret, parents: there are such things as gay preteens and teens. Speaking as a queer adult who once identified as a female teen, I can tell you that the prospect of spending the night with another girl who was also putting off closeted gay kid signals always made my hands sweat. And as our culture becomes more accepting of all gender identities, parents are exploring methods to welcome their kids’ varied social circles.

Your youngster probably has at least one buddy who does not conform to the gender binary (identifying as either male or female solely based on their sex organs). Although transgender and nonbinary youth have always existed, it is encouraging to see that today’s youth have the confidence and community support to come out earlier than previous generations. Hopefully, your kid can be an ally for them.

Let’s all agree that keeping our kids safe is the top priority, regardless of whether you agree with my points. When it comes to sleepovers for teenagers, this can be achieved through frank and nonjudgmental dialogues between parents and their children. These discussions must be welcoming to all perspectives: You may create an environment where everyone feels safe, respected, and held to the same standards by avoiding gendered language.

The First Step in a Discussion

Recognizing that youngsters have close-knit circles of friends who are of different genders and not restricting their time together because of that is an important consideration when talking to your tweens and adolescents about sleepovers or even prolonged play or study dates. However, setting clear guidelines that everyone follows is crucial.

Sexuality educator and host of the kid-friendly podcast Six Minute Sex Ed Kim Cavill recommends talking to your children and asking them open-ended questions to help them better understand the norms and values you expect from them. A parent may “ask, ‘What kinds of privacy do you think you’re entitled to when you have people sleep over?'” What Cavill hints at. The authors say, “This is a good way to get kids and teens to talk about rules, which makes them more likely to work with you and less likely to be defensive.”

Cavill says that when everyone has had a chance to voice their expectations, negotiations about specific regulations can take place.

The “person” or “friend” with whom your child is hanging out should be the focus of these chats rather than the guy or girl you may regard as a prospective romantic interest for your child. It’s best for everyone if we accept it, because it will teach our kids that they can talk about how they really feel without worrying about what will happen. Children who haven’t yet come out feel less pressure when inclusive language is used. Regardless of the gender of your household members, it is important to establish ground rules.

How to Maintain a Happy and Safe Sleepover

Camp Hochelaga in Vermont is run by YWCA and directed by Hannah Parke. Although the camp is geared toward young women, transgender and nonbinary participants are warmly welcomed. Friendship is constantly emphasized at camp. And Parke concurs with Cavill.

“Having the same rules or standards for everyone helps avoid the feeling that these rules are based on identity or orientation,” explains Parke. “It helps them remember that having fun and making friends is the main point of a sleepover,” the author says.

Parke says that she and the other staff members have frequent conversations with the campers on the importance of maintaining platonic relationships and keeping the focus on encouraging respect for one another’s personal space and bodies as the friendships develop. Consent is also a fundamental principle. Parke is aware that camp norms can seep into the rest of a child’s life, so he encourages parents to implement the same guidelines he uses at Camp Hochelaga while hosting a sleepover.

Campers and staff of all ages engage in open discussion with campers of all ages about what it means to give and receive consent in social and everyday situations. We encourage campers to consider and discuss the importance of asking someone’s permission before hugging, sitting on their bed, or borrowing their possessions. At camp, we discuss the importance of respecting one another’s personal space and bodily autonomy.

When the Romance Starts

But what happens when an acquaintanceship develops into more than just that? It’s crucial to have open and inclusive conversations about safe sex, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, but setting boundaries is essential at all times, especially during sleepovers. It’s important to have these talks early on and frequently.

If you’re okay with your child and their love interest having “date nights” at your house or sleeping over as part of a group party, talk to the parents of your child’s love interest. It is up to you to set the standards and norms for your family, but keeping the lines of communication open will help everyone feel more secure. Learn your state’s minimum age of consent.

If your child is underage and having consensual sex with another youngster whose parents disapprove, the sex is risky, especially if there is no close-in-age exemption in your state’s age of consent law. Consider the risks involved; ending the relationship may be necessary to protect the children involved from legal trouble.

Maybe you have decided that no touching, regardless of gender or motive, is acceptable for your child at this age. That works, too. Don’t contribute to the embarrassment if you happen to stumble upon a less-than-amicable encounter. It’s okay for your kid and their guest to be drawn to one another, but breaking the rules set forth by everyone involved is not.

Hannah Parke also serves as a reminder to the camp’s employees, parents, and guardians. At any age, it’s natural to have romantic feelings for other individuals. But our primary goals at camp are to strengthen our bonds with one another, to grow in self-assurance and sense of self-identity, and to have a fantastic time.


A sleepover with friends of varying sex identities and gender identities is a wonderful, though sleep-deprived, scene, but I can’t provide any guidance on how to deal with the inevitable chaos that will ensue when a group of preteens or teenagers get together.

Meaningful articles you might like: Preparing Your Kid For Their First Overnight, How To Help Your Tween Make And Maintain Friendship, 8 Summer Birthday Party Ideas For Your Children