The question of whether or not to allow your child to sleep over at a friend’s house is one lots of parents wrestle with. There are risks that can come along with your child spending hours or the whole night away from your supervision, like exposure to harmful content online. There are also plenty of benefits to letting kids have this kind of time away from home, like fostering their independence and social skills.
If your child is invited to a playdate or sleepover at a friend’s house, it’s important to have a conversation first with the adult who will be in charge. At this point, you’re likely already planning to ask a couple questions. Should your child bring anything? Do they need outdoor gear, a swimsuit, a snack? Does the adult know about your child’s allergies?
They might not be part of your routine yet, but the following three questions should be at the top of your list to ask the supervising adult before the day of the event —
“What will the screen time rules be?”
It’s important to talk to your kids’ friends’ parents about screens at playdates and sleepovers because many kids are exposed to harmful content or strangers on social media at a friend’s house. One recent study found that over half of kids are exposed to pornography before they turn 13 — so even if your child’s devices are locked down, their friend’s might not be.
Here’s how to ask about screen time rules before a playdate or sleepover —
“Will there be screen time, and if so, what kind? For example, will it be watching TV in a communal space? Or using a tablet alone in a bedroom? Will it be movies, games, or social media? I know every family has their own rules, so I just wanted to check in.”
It’s also important to express your child’s own rules and boundaries around screen time to make sure everyone’s on the same page. For example, you can say —
“We have a no Fortnite rule, but I’m fine with them playing Roblox or Minecraft for an hour or so if the chat isn’t on. And any G or PG movies or shows are OK with us, but I’m not comfortable with my kid watching YouTube unsupervised.”
No two families are exactly alike, so you might encounter a situation where you’re still a little uneasy, but not so much that you want to cancel the sleepover or playdate. In that case, be sure to prepare your child ahead of time. Make sure they understand your concerns, and that they know they can ask to turn off the screen and tell you if anything uncomfortable happens.
“Are there any guns in the home?”
Every parent wants their child to be safe, but many feel uncomfortable bringing up the subject of firearms when their kids go on playdates and sleepovers. However, a survey of 3,000 gun owners revealed that 40 percent do not lock their guns, even when they have children in the home. Knowing about any firearms in the household and how they’re stored is crucial for keeping your child safe at a sleepover.
Sometimes the best way to address a difficult subject is to acknowledge the awkwardness head on — and to remind yourself that the vast majority of parents will be completely fine with you asking. The next time your child goes to a friend’s house, try one of these conversation starters suggested by the Brady Campaign —
- “At our last doctor’s appointment, my pediatrician asked me about gun storage. And I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.”
- “I feel really weird asking this, and maybe you’ll think I’m totally neurotic, but…”
- “I want you to know that I’ve spoken to my kids about not playing with guns. Is this an issue that you’ve thought about?”
- “All of us in the PTA (or in our church group or some such) have committed to making sure our children are safe. So I’ve gotten in the habit of asking everyone…”
- “My child is so curious and gets into everything. I worry what would happen if he came across a gun.”
- “Did you see that news article about the boy who found his father’s hidden gun?”
- “I had no idea until recently that about 35 percent of households with children have a gun. So I’ve started asking other parents before Henry plays at their home.”
Having regular, age-appropriate conversations with your child about gun safety, especially the importance of staying away from firearms if they ever come across one, can also help to greatly reduce the risk of injury.
“Will there be any adults or older kids there I’ve never met before?”
One risk that comes along with sleepovers is potential exposure to other adults or older kids who may have unhealthy boundaries or harmful intentions. Knowing about everyone who will be in the home during the sleepover can help minimize the risk to your child.
In addition to asking the adult in charge this important question, you should also talk to your child about how they can recognize and protect themselves from inappropriate or abusive behavior.