These days, when your teenage daughter requests a sleepover, don’t assume she means the old kind, with a dozen girls doing makeovers on each other, making smores, watching videos, and drinking hot chocolate well into the evening. She may mean a coed sleepover. Yes, girls and boys! Teenagers often want to “hang out” overnight after a party or other social event, either by staying awake all night or by sacking out during the wee hours. In some cases, boys and girls are segregated into separate areas of the home for sleep. More often, they want to sleep in adjacent sleeping bags together in the basement or family room.
Influenced by an increasingly unisex society and sexually saturated media, this get-together is appealing to ever-younger girls who are eager to socialize, experience excitement, and feel grown up. In some communities, parents believe coed sleepovers are threatening to become routine weekend social events. When your daughter proposes hosting or attending a coed sleepover, how will you manage? Will you think, “What’s the big deal? Girls can do whatever they want outside the home”? Or, do you believe that daughters get the wrong message when boy-girl socializing is associated with sleeping?
If and when this topic arises, encourage conversation to explore your daughter’s motivations and review family values. Try, “That must seem like fun. Let’s discuss why you think it’s a good idea.” At every age, weigh the benefits against the possible risks and challenges of particular circumstances. Rarely, if ever, will such a plan be appropriate for your middle schooler. Yet, once high school students drive, coed sleepovers may provide a secure, contained environment after special events such as proms, camp reunions, or celebrations.
First, assess whether it makes sense to have a coed sleepover and if your daughter’s emotional maturity and social skills enable her to handle its unique pressures. Anticipate together potentially confusing or threatening predicaments; are you comfortable with her decisions? If so, these guidelines might be helpful for planning. If your daughter wants to host a coed sleepover, include a manageable number of pre-approved guests after obtaining permission directly from their parents. Determine firm beginning and ending times, as well as if, when, and where teenagers will sleep. Prohibit any alcohol, drugs, sexual activities, and guests leaving and returning; being sure to specify in advance the consequence of infractions. Offer music, group games, videos, and plenty of favorite snacks.
Safety depends on chaperones! If there is a bedtime, separate boys and girls in different rooms; leave doors open. Be prepared to stay awake and monitor periodically to insure rules are followed. Afterward, discuss your perceptions of how things went. This may be a chance to share your visions of your daughter’s readiness for more autonomy and expectations about her evolving social life.