SHORT of hearing your child say they want to grow up to be the next Katie Price or a professional drug-runner there can be fewer dread statements than: “Can I go on a sleepover?”
As a parent of two teenagers I’ve been through this experience of being asked to stay over. It needn’t be a nightmare but you do need to be clear about where they are staying, who they are staying with and what are the rules around booze, films and parental supervision.
Here is my advice in The Daily Express
“Along with other transatlantic exports such as High School Musical, trick or treating and prom parties, the sleepover is a social phenomenon that has got lost in translation.
Images of a giggling sorority of gleeful tweens and teens, all bunny slippers, face packs and pillow fights pale into the clear light of day as sleep-deprived, ratty–mooded horrors cast a pall over your family weekend.
Not so much the popcorn and gingham cheer of Doris Day in The Pajama Game but more Night Of The Living Dead with the cast of Twilight. Am I the only parent who wishes the whole sleepover thing would just go away?
Not only are they becoming an almost weekly request that waves goodbye to precious sleep, family plans and homework but they’ve become a hot bed of social insecurity that your child dare not miss for fear of exclusion. Do I want to be the only parent saying no and risk alienating my child from her peer group? The fallout of refusal is equally as painful as the dread of saying yes. When children are at primary school you at least stand a chance of knowing the parents well enough to trust your offspring are in safe hands.
But come secondary school it is as much as you can do to stop yourself doing a reccy of the home, running a CRB check on the father and uncles and asking around about the psychotic elder brothers in the loft conversion.
If I sound like yet another neurotic middle-class mum then so be it. I speak from experience. My daughter once went on a sleepover where the mother decided to “leave them to it” at 9pm, post-bottle of wine, and went to bed abandoning.
One girl had her finger broken, another girl cried all night with homesickness, a fight broke out, the cat’s tail needed a splint for a month and all this was played out to the DVD backdrop of the 18-certificate film Nightmare On Elm Street. “They didn’t get a wink,” smiled the mother as I collected my traumatised and ravenous offspring at 9am.
Just how do you trust what seems to be a perfectly pleasant parent at the school gate to protect the wellbeing of your child overnight? Broadcaster Sue Atkins says: “It’s all about different values. Wherever possible you should try to meet the parents or phone beforehand to feel comfortable with your precious offspring being put in the charge of someone who doesn’t have the same values as you.
Some parents think it is acceptable to serve 14-year-olds alcopops at barbecues, which doesn’t sit well with me. So explain to the parent what your values are – no adult films, a time limit to staying up etc. If need be pull the party if you feel unsure, decide you will collect your child at 11.30pm or simply say it’s your policy not to have sleepovers. Your primary concern is your child’s safety. Parenting is not a popularity contest.”
Trawling the internet I discovered many transatlantic sites which promise sleepovers can be a dream if well organised. In the States sleepovers can take as much preparation as the Oscars with themed events ranging from the wild to the ridiculous. Hawaiian, Hollywood and Harry Potter are just some of the suggested varieties which demand invitations, decorations, beauty products, goodie bags, catering plastic champagne flutes for pop and manicurists on standby. No doubt the supermarkets will be quick to see the retail potential of this as yet untapped consumer market.
But one mother who has no issues about saying “no” when faced with the tide of protestations from her sons aged nine and 12 is Lucy Turner, of Fife, Scotland. A theatre designer and director of Stuff Your Doodle, Lucy explains: “I got tired of sleepovers taking over our weekend. Every time my son went on one he got no sleep at all and was vile the whole of the next day.”
I live in dread of the headlines reporting some dreadful sleepover disaster. The last party sleepover my teenage daughter went to was gate-crashed by teenage boys, the father was roughed up and it ended in police intervention and the terrified girls being rescued by parents at midnight.
So your offspring go off for pizza, hilarity and insomnia while you suffer a long dark night of the soul. Sleep, in short, over.”