When your teen asks to have friends to sleep over – maybe after a party – or asks to sleep over at a friend’s with a group of other teens, your first response may be a downright NO. Visions of out-of-control drinking, drug taking or unprotected sex probably flash through your mind.
But the fact is, at some point you are going to have to take a risk and leave your teenager on their own with others. Says Paula Hall, Relate counsellor, psychotherapist and mum of two teenage daughters: “If you feel you always need to be there to supervise, you need to ask yourself: what is it you are worried about that might go on – and what really are the chances of that happening?
“If we don’t give teenagers responsibility then they won’t ever take it. Unfortunately, at times, you are going to get it wrong – but you are going to have to get them to take responsibility for things at some point.”
Paula adds that if you’re going to allow teens to be home with friends alone, set boundaries beforehand such as: no deliberate damage to property; no smoking in the house; no taking your things; don’t touch the alcohol; don’t help themselves to food without checking with you first.
If you’ve said yes to a party or sleepover
- decide on numbers – and stick to it
- agree your house rules with your teen in advance
- insist on separate rooms for different sexes
- put away your alcohol
Decide what your rules are. What will you absolutely not accept? Tell your child what they are and stick to them. Speak to other parents about what they feel is appropriate for a sleepover and make it clear what your rules are, whether it’s no alcohol, no music after a certain time and so on.
Impose a consequence if any of these rules are broken. You have to make sure it’s something that your child will be really anxious to avoid and you must be prepared to carry it out. Says Paula: “I once put a nine-week ban on my daughter having friends round, which was very effective as she adores having friends to stay.”
Decide beforehand where you’re going to be when the sleepover takes place. Don’t leave parties completely unsupervised – stay out of the way by all means, but be there for any unforeseen emergencies or gatecrashers.
Remember, it’s your child’s home too – and this is better than them being out on the streets till all hours. They’ve got to socialise somewhere – so why not at home? Make sure you’ve spoken to your child about responsible attitudes and appropriate behaviour.
Don’t give in to pestering: “So and so’s mum lets her have sleepovers/everyone else goes to them,” etc. Kids only nag and pester when they are rewarded by winning.
It’s perfectly ok to say no if you aren’t comfortable and don’t feel you have to justify it. Don’t leave the idea there is a ‘maybe’ possible if you really aren’t happy. Say something like: “Yes, I’m sure it does seem unreasonable to you, and I’m really sorry I can’t give you an explanation you’re happy with, but the answer is still no.”
If your child is under 16, then you have a legal responsibility for other people’s kids if they are under your roof. You can even blame the law and tell your child that you’re not willing to risk breaking it if under-age children might end up sleeping together under your roof. When under 16’s are involved, morality doesn’t even come into it – it’s the law. Understand what your objective is and stick to it.
Talk to other parents. It’s more than likely they are not totally comfortable with mixed sleepovers, despite what your child may say. Insist you speak to the other parents first to discuss the sleepover. Do this and you’ll be amazed at how few children are then available for the sleepover your child wants!
When your teen is a guest
Check with the host’s parents who will be supervising. Ask if alcohol is going to be allowed and tell them your feelings on this. (Remember, government advice is that young people under 15 should not drink at all.)
Always have a number for the home they are staying in.Tell your teen if he/she is worried or uncomfortable about anything, he or she can phone you and come home.
Although you may find this period stressful, remember it doesn’t last forever. Says Paula: “Having to plan the occasional evening watching TV in your bedroom while the kids have their sleepover party downstairs isn’t really such a high price to pay. If you’re having trouble accepting it, remember all the times you had friends around in the evening and sent your child upstairs while you socialised. Well, now it’s their turn.”
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
This page was updated on October 2021