My 10th grade son has a nice group of kids he hangs with—they’re boys and girls, and still pretty innocent. I like them all and know their parents. He wants to have a sleepover with them and swears nothing will happen. I think at this age, this is true, but I’m concerned this becomes a slippery slope and that if I say yes this time, it makes it harder to say no in the future when they’re older and not so innocent. It also opens the door to sleepovers at others’ houses, where parents may not be vigilant. Though at a certain point short of staying awake all night watching them, there’s not much any parent can do. Am I putting the cart before the horse by projecting so much into the future? How should I handle this request?
A few questions come to mind: First, I’m wondering exactly what you mean by “innocent.” Do you mean that they haven’t had sexual intercourse yet? That they haven’t been involved in any kind of sexual activity yet? That they’re not thinking in those terms yet? Although I obviously don’t know the answers to those questions, I do think I know what you mean. There are kids in 10th grade who are “hooking up” at parties every weekend and there are kids who are hanging out with their friends, going to Chipotle, and coming back to the house to play cards or Play Station or Scene It. I’m assuming your son and his coed group of friends are in the latter group.
The next question is about the exact nature of your concern. Are you worried that there will be a group orgy or that one of the guys and one of the girls will end up having sex—or at least, as we used to say, fooling around? If so, I guess I’m not sure that a sleepover among friends is the place that would most likely happen. Is it any more likely than if they all came to your house after school while you were at work? Or any more likely than when the two of them could find time alone somewhere?
Also, is your concern specifically about your son or about the other kids—or both? If it’s about your son, I’d say that if he’s determined to have sex, then he’s going to find a way. So talk to him about why you believe very strongly that he should wait and then make sure he has condoms. If it’s the other kids and how their parents would react, I would tell your son that the only way his friends will be allowed to sleep over is if you have a conversation with each kid’s parent so they all know the group will be coed. Tell him that the parents have to call you so you can be sure that they are aware of the circumstances.
Finally, consider a same-sex sleepover. You have no way of knowing if sexual activity might occur at one of those. Would that make you equally uncomfortable?
As for saying yes now and no later, we all know of times when we wish we could turn the clock back and say no to some freedom we gave our child because we hadn’t thought through how hard it would be to take it away down the road. However, I also think it’s reasonable to explain that what we were comfortable with at one point we are not comfortable with at a later time. And then we can explain why.
All that being said, if you’re uncomfortable with a group of boys and girls on a sleepover under your roof, just say no. This question is not that different from that of parents I know who struggle with whether to let their college-age (or even older) son or daughter sleep in the same room with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Reasonable parents have very different feelings on this subject—and they set rules based on those feelings. You should do the same.