Interpreter of maladies
Q. Youngsters are very much into 'slumber parties.' Even we had them in our teen days but that was more than one and a half decade ago. How should parents handle the demand for night outs by girls and boys? Is it necessary, does it have good aspects to it, or is it all bad?
- A confused father
Dear Confused Father,
Slumber parties are popular among adolescent and teenagers in many western societies. Having sleepovers at a friend's place is part of growing up and individuation process. Healthy psychosocial growth of children requires gradual and safe transition from immediate family environment to a larger scale of social environment.
The adolescent brain needs social experiences in order to map the world environment appropriately and develop healthy strategies to cope. Overprotection can deter that process just as well as risky overexposure can lead to faulty development.
Spending a night at a friend's place with a group of close friends can be considered as a step towards independence. However independence has to come with a sense of responsibility and risk assessment capacity.
Maintenance of that independence depends on ability to make good choices, acting according to core values and beliefs that preserve the sense of self and facilitate positive growth.
Parents usually feel comfortable if they know the family quite well where their child wishes to have a sleepover. People tend to become friends when they share common values, attitudes and beliefs. Children growing up in chaotic or invalidating environment may not be able to assert themselves under peer pressure. If children prematurely start socialising under high risk situations (e.g. substance abuse or unhealthy sexual exposures etc.), their ability to judge a situation right or wrong, good or bad is likely to betray them.
Consequent negative experience might leave a long term footprint on their neuronal circuits in the frontal lobe of the brain responsible for proper social and emotional development.
Whether or not to allow your child to a co-ed slumber party or to slumber parties at an unknown or poorly known place will also depend on parents' attitude, communication and lifestyle. If parents' lifestyle is disciplined, communication style is effective; children easily pick it up from them.
Children growing up in caring homes with authoritative parents are able to set limits, say 'no' to undue social pressure and keep their parents well informed about their circle of friends.
In a nutshell, whether slumber parties are good or bad will depend on the participants, safety of the environment and common interests. Family environment (not just financial status but the parenting styles, core values, etc.) will also provide important clues to what needs will be served or what goals will be achieved by these parties.