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Boy/Girl sleepovers? What’s the big deal?


Hipster Tween is home from her father’s for a few days (she lives with me during the school year) and she’s been trying to set up a sleepover with one of her friends. C, who is a girl, is currently “5 hours north of Madison”. Hipster Tween, not to be deterred, texted her friend, M, who is a boy. M just sent a screenshot of his text discussion with his mother that said (verbatim): “Boys and girls your age do not do sleepovers. That’s that.”

Hipster Tween is 11. M is either 11 or 12. What on earth does M’s mother imagine they are going to do on a sleepover? Does she have something against watching YouTube video game playthroughs?

Besides that, M is Hipster Tween’s friend. Even if she were 16, friend = friend. I’m not being deliberately naive here, but I respect Hipster Tween’s definitions of her relationships. I trust her. And besides, SHE IS 11.

On the one hand, I’m really peeved at M’s mother for sexualizing Hipster Tween’s relationship with M. I’m disgusted that somebody would presume to choose to whom Hipster Tween would (eventually) be attracted. I’m aware that I’m hypersensitive to the sexualization of children, but I personally think this is crap. When I texted to Hipster Tween that I thought M’s mother’s reaction to the sleepover was stupid, she replied, “it’s like ?? boys are gross no”.

On the other hand, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when M’s mother tries to explain what she meant by the above statement. Is she going to tell M that he can’t have a sleepover with his friend (who happens to be a girl, at least today) because they might have Teh Sex?

I feel that attitudes like M’s mother’s are partly responsible for the demonization of healthy friendships between the sexes. Hipster Tween can’t have a sleepover with her guy friend, who hasn’t even reached puberty, because his mother thinks shenanigans might ensue. If that’s the case, then how does she explain that to her son, for whom that might not even be a concept? She is the one who is sexualizing their relationship, not him. And perhaps now M won’t be able to be the same sort of friend to Hipster Tween because of his mother’s attitude towards a mixed-gender friendship. It’s the Romeo and Juliet Syndrome, and it makes Hipster Tween and M’s friendship seem like something they should be furtive or worried about.

Furthermore, all this could be avoided with some supervision. Sure, have the sleepover, only make sure the door is left open a crack, or a wedge, or check on them every 15 minutes if that’s what you need to do. I live in a 4-room apartment, so leaving the door open even a crack is enough for me to know what’s going on.

But don’t put your presumption on the kids. It makes them guilty while they’re still innocents.


Image: can we have a sleepover? by derekrowley is licensed under the Creative Commons – Attribution license.

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  1. I’m not honestly sure how I feel about this, just given what I observe of my 11 year old and his peers. Purely based on what I see and hear from him, there is definitely a small subset of kids who are starting to move away from the immediate “eew” reaction to the thought of dating, so I would personally make an accessment of the kids actually involved. If my son had a good friend who wanted to have a sleepover and he wanted to go and we felt comfortable with the family, I don’t think I would care one way or another what the outward gender of the child was.

    A slightly related anecdote: At one point, years ago, my son had a good friend in preschool. They hugged whenever they saw each other and wanted to sit next to each other all the time and played together really well. All I saw was “aw, kiddo has a pal”. But her parents flipped out and insisted on sexualizing it. At her 4th birthday party her dad started getting all tough-guy-with-a-(metaphorical) shotgun on my 4 year old. People can be so weird about kids.

    • I agree that it can be taken on a case-by-case basis, but that raises other upsetting questions: does M’s mother just not trust him? or does M’s mother not trust my daughter? and how does she explain that to M?

      And on another slightly related note, do I seem like a negligent parent to M’s mother because I have no problem with HT and M having a sleepover?

      One of my friends also pointed out that there is also a strong heteronormative slant to this particular argument that assumes that nothing untoward goes on in same-sex sleepovers. I wonder if it would’ve helped M’s mother if I’d said, “well, sometimes HT is a boy, so maybe we can figure it out on the day of the sleepover.”

      That’s sad about your son, little kids can be so affectionate and sweet to one another and I love seeing that. My attitude would’ve been the same as yours. With an added extra dash of “WTF, man?” for the little girl’s parents.

      • I suspect that M’s mother has never given a second thought to the idea that a) children who identify as boys and girls can in fact be “just” friends and b) that there is any possibility that her son might be anything other than cis-het. You probably would break her brain if you suggested anything different from that.

    • I would also take it on a case by case basis, but perhaps this parent feels differently about that age based on her own past experiences or something she’s observed. Maybe she’d rather err on the side of caution. Or maybe she just feels that a sleepover would be inappropriate at that age because that’s how she was raised. She definitely could have handled it better — maybe she didn’t consider that your kid would text you what she said verbatim!

      • oh, I’m reasonably sure that is the case, unless she actually does think my daughter is an inappropriate person for her son to be hanging out with. and she should be more worried, because it was M that texted HT with the verbatim from his mother!

        it’s a tough judgement call, and I get that, but not all friendships are alike, and to put a blanket prohibition on it without explaining why just seems unfair to both the kids. my daughter has a hard enough time seeing her friends over the summer because she’s living with her father. I think a denial with an offer of an alternative might’ve softened the disappointment on this end.

        • Offering an alternative is such a great way to go about navigating different parental comfort levels. So she won’t allow a sleepover, but maybe she would feel more comfortable hosting a movie night (or as the parenting mags tell me, a “sleep under”) . Just shooting things down with no alternatives puts everyone in a bad spot.

          • I think it would’ve also been nice if she’d said “I’m not comfortable with this idea” and own that, instead of the “boys and girls your age…” argument. And I would’ve been okay with that, because I prefer to respect people’s boundaries, but when someone trots out the “but everybody doesn’t/does it this way” it brings out my inner punk.

  2. I was definitely that kid with the freaking-out parents. And I was aware enough at the preteen ages to know what they were implying was going to happen. Which wasn’t what we kids were thinking at all– mostly all we wanted was movies, snacks and ghost stories. And I was pissed, because not only did my parents clearly not know me, or know my friends, but they thought the most irresponsible and worst of us. This was also the age I began to be aware that telling my parents ANYTHING that might be construed as sexual was a giant no-no. And as such, my parents never heard about my male friends, my crushes, my boyfriends, my friend’s boyfriends, nothing. Ever. I navigated all that myself, through middle school, high school, even college, to the degree that they didn’t meet my husband until AFTER we were already married.

    Mine might be an extreme example, but parents should be aware the degree of distrust and insult the child might interpret from repeated assumptions and implied comments like “boys and girls your age don’t ____”.

  3. Well there is a small minority of children who start sexual activities at that age, definitely 12. I guess the parent of a 12-year-old will considering setting up the rules *before* it becomes an actual issue.

    I don’t think a sleepover should be an issue, although I’m not really buying the “friend isn’t boyfriend” angle – plenty of people have early sexual encounters with someone they previously considered just a friend.

    My daughter’s 9 right now, so I’ll be dealing with that stuff soon enough myself – either way I don’t consider sleepovers (or any general situation where children are sleeping in the same spaces) problematic with a little parental oversight.

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