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Boy-Girl Sleepovers for Kids Aged 5 Through 12 Years

Boy-girl sleepovers are a controversial topic among parents and parenting experts.  Some hold the position that boy-girl sleepovers should never occur as they create a precedent that is hard to reverse when the children reach adolescence.  Others hold that boy-girl sleepovers are acceptable until specific stages of child development.  Still others hold that boy-girl sleepovers are always acceptable as long as sufficient controls (i.e., parental supervision throughout the night and separate bedrooms for the genders) are in place.   What is the best approach?

In this author’s opinion, boy-girl sleepovers are only acceptable among young children.  Young children typically do not identify themselves as sexual beings, so boy-girl friendships do not have the sexual component among these children.  However, as children approach puberty, they become aware of their sexuality, and boy-girl sleepovers become more complex and risky social interactions. 

In this author’s experience, there is no precise age at which all children should stop having boy-girl sleepovers.  Parents need to be aware enough of their children and their friends to ascertain when the children are beginning to become aware of their sexuality.  This will occur at different ages for different kids.  As soon as this day of dawning occurs, boy-girl sleepovers should cease.  (Note: while the age at which kids become sexually aware varies, it typically occurs between ages 7 and 10.)

To address the concern about the precedent set, parents should have open, honest communication with their children.  The conversation may go like this:

Child:  “I’d like to have a boy-girl sleepover this Friday.”

Parent:  “I know you’ve had boy-girl sleepovers since you were little.  However, you’re getting old enough now that it is no longer age appropriate.  When you had your boy-girl sleepover last year, we told you it would likely be your last as you were getting to be about too old then.  We don’t want to put you and your friends in temptation . .  .   hormones can be particularly persuasive when they are new to you and you haven’t yet learned to reign them in.  Further, we are looking out for your reputation.  If people in school think you have boy-girl sleepovers at this age, assumptions may get made about what happens at these sleepovers . . . and those assumptions could damage your reputation.  We’ve talked about how important it is that your behaviors foster a reputation of integrity, honesty, kindness, level-headedness, goal- orientation, and big-picture thinking.  The big picture here is that boy-girl sleepovers at your age come with too great a risk.”

Child:     “But what if you had boys in one bedroom and girls in another?  You could check on us throughout the night, if you want, to make sure that nobody is sneaking to the other gender’s room.”

Parent:  “I appreciate your problem-solving skills.  In this case, however, I’m not sure these solutions are workable.  First, it doesn’t address the reputation concern that I’ve expressed.  Second, unlike you kids, I can’t go a whole night without sleeping.  If I was responsible for checking on you kids throughout the whole night, I would need to be awake to execute that responsibility, and I just can’t survive a night without sleep.  If you want your friends to come over for the evening, that’s fine, but they need to go home for the night.”

By allowing boy-girl sleepovers until the age of sexual awareness and communicating openly and honestly with your kids, you can navigate this controversial topic in as safe a manner as is possible.

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