The Dark Side of Teen Sleepovers


As spring turns to summer, high school prom season is in full swing and there are inevitably more parents hosting slumber parties and sending their own kids to sleepovers. Last week, I was at a book event for The Myth of the Perfect Girl, and one parent asked me what I thought about sleepovers. A lively discussion ensued.

The topic of sleepovers (and slumber parties) seems to be one of those issues in parenting where most have an opinion. A few years ago, Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens wrote a Sleepover Survival Guide, and physician Perri Klass wrote a New York Times article entitled  “Ensuring Domestic Tranquility at Sleepovers”noting, “The sleepover, along with its cousin the slumber party, has apparently become an essential part of childhood, for boys as well as for girls.”

One mom suggested her family’s solution of the late-over to describe the scenario where her child goes to her friend’s house until it is just before they are about to fall asleep, and is picked up right in time to go home and roll into her own bed. The late-over (can we coin this term?) is simple and genius in so many ways. While I do realize having a late-over means parents have to pick up your child at 10:30 or 11 pm or later depending on your child’s age, I find that on the whole, everyone’s next few days might be better because of it.

If you are thinking about the sleepover versus late-over versus other social event situations, I encourage you to consider:

The term sleepover is such a misnomer – even with the best of intentions, very little quality sleep happens. One of the moms I know calls them awake-overs. I can generally tell when children (especially teenagers) have been to a sleepover because they are generally irritable, grumpy, and sleep-deprived. One teen girl explained that while she likes sleepovers, she feels they are better in the summer because she generally feels cranky the next day. Even when hosting parents insist kids actually get to sleep, very few have a baby monitor on the situation. The key, too, is quality sleep. The combination of sleeping somewhere new coupled with young people who distract one another typically means the morning and day after can become an emotional disaster.

Terrible ideas come to many children in the middle of the night. I have more than a few stories of children who decided to do something relatively dumb in the middle of the night. In most cases, they they probably wouldn’t have considered their “poor decision” with the same enthusiasm in broad daylight. Groupthink coupled with exhaustion (and maybe sugar-ladden giddiness) can cause some to make really impulsive and potentially dangerous decisions. The story that comes to mind is that of the three girls who decided to sneak out and try to get to a male classmate’s home, even though getting there involved walking along the highway. Fortunately, highway patrol officers found them walking barefoot along the side of the road around 2 am and called their parents. It’s 2 am, do you know where your kids are? Walking barefoot along the highway to some eighth grade boy’s house they deemed to be “super cute.”

Social media + Sleepover = Recipe for disaster. If I have one major sleepover rule, it’s that there should be no social media whatsoever. If kids are coming together to hang out, they should focus on interacting with those in attendance rather than trying to tweet, text, post pictures of themselves on Instagram, send Snapchats, watch YouTube videos or start Rumrs. When social media gets involved, I often find that some type of meanness – either intentional or unintentional – erupts. For instance, kids can post all about the sleepover while it is going on can make others who are not there feel excluded. Worse, kids – and yes, it’s mostly girls we are talking about here – can turn on one of the sleepover guests and isolate them at the event with maneuvering that would make the Mean Girls blush. So exclusion at the exclusive event. The list is endless.



The morning after is generally not pretty. Kids can be exhausted from sleeping in a strange place (or not sleeping at all), and some comment or interaction can leave them upset. If you are planning to send your child to a sleepover, make sure they have ample time the next day to rest and recover – perhaps take a nap, have an easy afternoon, etc.

Post-prom co-ed sleepovers can set up big expectations that can potentially backfire. I can only imagine the look on my father’s face if I had asked to go to a post-prom, co-ed sleepover. Today, more and more parents look at post-prom, co-ed sleepovers as an attempts to thwart late night driving and other potential issues around drinking. But the flurry around prom, which in this day of group dates and online communication is some teens’ first formal date, can set up some overwhelming wedding-day type expectations. Those expectations require a social skill level that is often not yet present. Encouraging prom to become an overnight affair can only heighten expectations for all involved.

I understand the fun that can happen at sleepovers and slumber parties, and I support more positive in-person social opportunities in our tech filled world. Sometimes, sleepovers with friends can be fun for young people, and can offer a break for parents. And while I am sure there are plenty of kids who get are able to get a restful 8 hours of sleep at a friend’s house, I have yet to meet them. I seem to meet the kids who are cranky, irritable, and annoyed because they are sleep deprived and/or something happened either during or after the sleepover that made things weird.

So, to borrow the term from a cool mom I met last week, I prefer late-overs to sleepovers. Regardless of your preference, hosting parents should have all electronics and social media devices turned off and stowed away for the duration. House rules around social media use should be expressed early and often. And, surprising kids with fresh baked cookies or another treat as an excuse to check-in is never a bad idea.

What do you think? Sleepovers, lateovers or none at all?








2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Teen Sleepovers”

  1. I agree with your well expressed concerns re sleep overs. And late-overs! Excellent idea.

    The combo of little or no sleep, high carb snacks, and group think, yes, is a mess waiting to happen.

  2. Well written and great though filled observations.

    Never been a fan of slumber parties, even as a kid. A sleepover with one good friend, I didn’t mind from time to time but preferred the comforts of my own home and bedroom.

    My youngest is currently being systematically excluded from sleepovers, hosted by a classmate and softball team mate, which is fine with me, for many of the reasons and mention here. While it is concerning that her being excluded is rather blatant, it is apparent that nothing good would come of if she were invited, and went, to this weekly slumber party.

    The tone has been set that sensitivity in this area (blatantly excluding one person of the team) is EXTREMELY lacking with this child and her family. So I would NOT want my child in an environment where it is okay to be that insensitive. God only knows what would happen next…isolation…humiliation…accusation…the list goes on.

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