Coed sleepovers and sexual safety | Amy Johnson

Whether it’s a youth group lock-in or a friend’s birthday party, the growing trend of coed teen sleepovers has many parents wondering what to do. Whether you allow your teen to participate deserves careful thought.

For some parents, this type of activity is simply out of the question. For others, it’s a sign of the times. Dr. Linda Sonna, author of "The Everything Parenting a Teenager Book," warns that coed slumber parties often include a lot of unplanned sexual activity. Parents who consider allowing a coed sleepover need to remember that, even with a high level of trust in a parent-child relationship, circumstances, opportunity, hormones and impulsivity often combine to ignite sexual activity where none was intended.

Here are some tips to help you decide if an activity of this sort is an unnecessary risk:

• Talk to your teen when they say they are invited to sleep over at a friend’s house or at a church or community gathering. Inquire who is staying and find out not only if adults will be present, but also how the parents or adults will be present.

• Talk to the adults involved to make sure that frequent monitoring is taking place. “Giving kids space” too liberally is risky in this scenario. Unless parents are frequently and unexpectedly checking in, the stakes are high for risk-taking behavior to occur. In addition, it’s a good idea to verify that no alcohol is being served.

• Clarify whether this is an event where the youth will be sleeping or staying up all night. What are the adults’ plans for monitoring if there is sleeping time involved? If the youth stay up all night?

• Opinions differ about whether to separate boys and girls for sleeping. A seasoned youth director informed me that separating the groups can lead to pre-arranged rendezvous scenarios in the middle of the night (i.e., “I’m just going to the bathroom” from one in each camp). Depending on the size of the group and the location (youth group or home), a buddy system or chaperone situation might be in order. In either case, an adult should be present in the sleeping area and be situated where they will be aware if someone leaves the room for any reason.

• Do not allow guests to leave the party/event and come back. This measure discourages leaving to drink or use drugs before returning to the party.

• Consider having the youth sign a code of conduct. In our youth group, we call it a covenant. If it is violated, everyone knows up front that parents will be called, and youth are asked to leave, no matter what time it is.

• Think carefully about allowing a sleepover at your home, or allowing your child to spend a coed night at a friend’s. The risks are high and the benefits less clear. Sure, they may pressure you to allow them to have extended uninterrupted time with friends, or claim you don’t trust them. But it’s your job as a parent to model holding firm on boundaries. After all, you want them to be able to stand up firmly when they need to, too.

• Consider the option of picking up your child at a predetermined time, so he/she can enjoy the party/event, but not participate in the sleepover. Many times, parents are surprised that their child is actually relieved when this limit is enforced.

• Remember, you are in charge of the boundaries you set and enforce. Taking precautions — whether it’s a church lock-in, school event or friend’s party — can help you make a better decision and keep your child safe.

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