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K-State family expert discusses mixed-gender sleepovers

By Jessica Clark


A typical sleepover used to be a group of teenage girls wrapped in their sleeping bags, watching movies and talking about the boys they like.

But according to reports from the Ladies Home Journal, sleepovers where girls are talking to the boys they like and not just about them are becoming increasingly common.

When a sleepover includes both boys and girls, a Kansas State University professor of family studies and human services says a parent's decision on whether it is acceptable or not becomes highly complicated.

Tony Jurich, a former president of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, says parents must first decide if allowing a coed sleepover is morally acceptable to them.Tony Jurich

"Parents first have to decide if this type of party is something that fits with their idea of morality. If they decide it's something they don't agree with, they shouldn't allow it. If they decide it is acceptable, they should take all aspects into consideration and set firm ground rules," he said.

One problem a coed sleepover presents is the potential for misunderstanding.

"For a girl having the sleepover, she may see having a coed sleepover as a status symbol and feel she is held in high regards among her peers," Jurich said. "A boy, on the other hand, may see the sleepover as an opportunity for physical contact, creating misunderstanding and confusion."

Other teenagers' parents may have objections. Parents holding the sleepover should make sure the other parents are aware of the sleepover's intention and are in agreement, Jurich said.

"The idea of a coed sleepover may carry a negative connotation and there is a lot of room for misinterpretation," he said. "Making sure everyone involved knows what the party entails can help clear up any confusion."

Parents should also decide if their adolescent is able to make sound decisions in a coed sleepover situation.

"Adolescents see the world in a completely different way than adults do," Jurich said. "They often see themselves as immortal. They may not acknowledge potential problems and think someone will get them out of any jam they get into. This is a typical reaction, but not very realistic.

"No teenager is likely to say that a coed sleepover is too much to handle, but parents are the ones who have to show more sense," Jurich added. "Teenagers sometimes make wise decisions and sometimes make foolish decisions. Parents must understand this and know they may be allowing their teenager to make decisions he or she may not be ready to make."

Coed sleepovers may also put extra pressures on a teenager.

"A lot of kids are pushed to grow up too fast and lose the childhood they are entitled to," Jurich said. "Adolescents have enough pressures and worries. It's up to the parents to decide if they want to introduce more pressures about dating and sex.

"Some parents want their teenager to have positive social experiences and may feel a coed sleepover would be a good way for them to do that, but they should make their decision based on what the teenager is ready for and try not to force them to grow up too fast."

Jurich said once parents have considered all aspects of a coed sleepover and feel comfortable with allowing the sleepover, rules need to be set and followed. Parents may want to set rules about physical contact, periodic monitoring and any other guidelines that will need to be followed.

"Parents must communicate openly with their teenager about what behavior will be accepted and what rules they will have to follow. These rules must be enforced by the parents and teenagers must understand that, if the rules are broken, the party is over," Jurich said. "This may change the teenager's perception of what the sleepover will be like. They may not want to have a party where their parents are periodically checking up on them and potentially embarrassing them if the rules are broken.

"Deciding on whether or not to have a co-ed sleepover comes down to parents' trusting their own ideas of morality and deciding what is best for the healthy social and emotional development of their teenager," Jurich said.

Summer 2003