This only happened to other people. People who didn’t provide clear guidelines to the kids as they grew and who didn’t pay attention to what was going on. People whose kids obviously didn’t know what they would say on a particular question. And yet, it happened to me and it was stunning. Within a two week span, each of the older kids asked if they could attend a co-ed sleepover.
For the record, most of the comments in the above paragraph are snark although the requests did have me asking them do you honestly think that I would even consider saying yes to this? The reality is that no matter what you do in raising the kids, no matter how clear the expectations and how insistent you are upon those pesky, stupid values thingies, the kids will frequently want to go do something that is contrary to what you believe is right, let alone proper. Coed sleepovers are just one more instance of the ongoing conflict between the family’s values and society’s values.
The separate questions led to a reasoned conversation with one child and a more testy exchange with another who didn’t like the exasperatedly blunt no that came in response to the question. And I admit that I could have handled the question better in the moment. Regardless, why would I say no to such a request, especially since the parents are going to be there?
- Parents are older and at some point, are probably going to sleep and when that happens? Well, gasoline, meet match. Teens in groups are frequently combustible with a noxiously potent stew of testosterone, estrogen and poor judgment and putting a bunch of them in the room together for a prolonged period without supervision is asking for major trouble. It doesn’t mean that there will be issues or problems, but it ranks up there with – as PJ O’Rourke once wrote – giving whiskey and car keys to a bunch of teenage boys. Remember, the teen battle cry is What Could Go Wrong?
- Are the parents even going to be there? Teens are exquisitely sensitive to perceptions of parental overinvolvement and any infringement upon their growing independence and will actively discourage any contact between parents, whether because they’re actually plotting or just hate the concept of checking up. There is an active divide and conquer strategy among some teens and it can become unpleasant for parents who override their wishes. That said, I’ve never had a poor exchange with another parent and have actively defended parents who have come to our front door for pickup or dropoff. Four minutes of facetime doesn’t mean that Frank can tell whether I’m an axe murderer, but it does give a decent insight into what’s going on in the household.
- There’s also the question of propriety, the increasingly antiquated noun which the root of (in)appropriate. What does it matter what a bunch of people think of what I do? These are the same people that might be called upon to hire you for a part-time job, write a job or college recommendation or even wonder whether they want you to date their own child in two years. Honestly, it also bears upon my own reputation and I have no intention of placing my reputation in the hands of a tribe of teenagers.
- Everyone does it and besides, almost all of the kids there are either lesbian or gay. Really? And are you lumped into that category by the other kids trying to finagle their folks into agreeing to this?
- Finally, it simply isn’t right. When the kids are adults and on their own, then their actions are their own responsibility and they live with the consequences. But as a parent, I do have a say in what’s considered to be acceptable behavior and letting legally minor children cohabitate, even for one night, isn’t right.
The question hasn’t been raised again but I suspect that it might and once again, it will probably be a tense exchange as the kids test the boundaries and limits.