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Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2000 / 4 Kislev, 5761

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Giving 'sleepovers' a new meaning -- WHEN I WAS A TEEN, I loved sleepovers. A group of us girls would gather at one of our homes, get out the snacks, turn on the TV, and talk well into the night about - of course - boys. Well today the sleepover tradition continues, but apparently there has been one small change: now the boys are in the room with their sleeping bags too.

Co-ed sleepovers for teenagers are all the rage and have been for a few years, at least in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, according to a recent article on the phenomenon in the Washington Post.

One 17-year-old would-be suburban party-hoster put it this way to his parents: "It's better than us lying about where we are and renting some sleazy motel room." Such logic was just too much for the boy's father to overcome, and he has now o.k.'d not one but two such mixed-sleeping events. Explained another insightful mom to the Post: "It's their generation's spin on the sleepover, and they are very big now." Her 17-year-old daughter has been attending such overnights since she was 15.

Ah, but these ever-watchful parents have developed "techniques" for keeping those teenagers in line. "You keep the serving bowls for snacks small. That way you have the pretext to go down there and refill," said one smart mom. The wisdom of another patent was summed up when he said of the mixed sleepovers: "It's their custom now. . .sometimes you can take the moral high ground and say 'no.' But at some point, you have to have some level of trust."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but these parents are absolutely nuts. Let me elaborate. They are not only nuts but they are spineless too - and they are totally letting down their children.

Is it possible that mixing a group of hormones-in-overdrive youngsters for an all night unsupervised "sleepover" won't encourage or at least allow some sexual activity? I suppose. But there is no question that even if nothing else happens but pillow-talk well into the night, that this alone creates a level of intimacy with the opposite sex which is wholly inappropriate for these teens. A level of intimacy and emotional vulnerability, in an inevitably sexually charged atmosphere, that they are in no way mature enough - in fact that they shouldn't be mature enough - to handle.

That's where the protective arms of the parents are supposed to come in. But the parents who allow their kids to take part in such parties think they are doing their "job" because they are letting a bunch of adolescent boys and girls put their jammies on and pile into their basements for the night instead of piling into local sleazy hotels together. And they are checking the snack supply every so often. But has it ever occurred to such non-parental parents that their kids shouldn't be regulars at the flea-bag down the street, either? That they shouldn't need a pretext to go down into their own basements?

This Washington Post story is all the more distressing given an article the same newspaper ran a little over a year ago. Then, it was reported, seventh-graders in one of the same affluent Washington suburbs now host to the teen sleepovers were regularly attending parties where oral-sex was a typical "party favor." And these weren't even all-night get togethers with sleeping bags. But such parties went on for over a year before the practice was discovered. Does one actually have to point out that the kind of 13 and 14-year olds attending such parties a few years ago are the 15 and 16-year-olds attending the co-ed sleepovers today?

A key element of every parent's job is to protect his children. To show discernment and wisdom in making good decisions for a child that the child is not yet emotionally or otherwise equipped to make for himself, like whether or not to enter the sexually charged and intimate atmosphere of a co-ed sleepover at age 15, 16 or 17. The double benefit of such proper parental practice is that the child is kept safe while he watches the process of good decisions being made on his behalf, and thus he becomes better equipped to make wise decisions for himself when he finally is mature.

The parents who allow their children to host or attend these sleepovers are leaving their children terribly vulnerable today. But as their children will likely learn volumes from such foolish decision-making on the part of their parents, the worst damage to them may only show itself tomorrow.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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