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The Newsroom: Articles

Slumber or Strife


The Press Democrat
Santa Rosa, California
July 18, 2000
by Darryl E Owens, Knight Ridder Newspapers

If you survey the English language, you will unearth a handful of phrases that reduce parents to quivering jelly.

Phrases like "assembly required". Or, "college tuition." Or "Dad we've got insurance, right?"

Two words that inspire similar loss of equilibrium are "slumber party."

Slumber parties become popular around age 7 or 8. They stoke autonomy and provide youngsters a chance to audition social skills, experts say. Endorsing a slumber party demonstrates trust in the child, allows him or her to forge friendships and instills confidence to explore the world beyond his or her parents.

For girls, slumber parties are as essential as Sweet 16 parties. A 1998 survey, conducted by All About You magazine, found that 96 percent of girls younger than 18 had dodged a pillow or two at a slumber party.

Although the All About You survey reported that 70 percent of slumber parties rage during the summer, the gatherings happen year-round. Most involve a birthday, most transpire on Fridays or Saturdays, and most conclude with the host parents in search of quiet comfort in a padded room.

"It is a struggle," says Wendy Moyle, president of Shindigz, an online party-planning site, of retaining one's sanity after hosting a sleepover. "If you can hold on to a little bit in the morning, you've succeeded."

Although called slumber parties, no parent - even at risk of his or her sanity - wants his or her child's party to be a snoozer. Luckily, these basic strategies can ensure that a child's slumber party is roaring not snoring, while saving Mom and Dad from his and her straightjackets.

Devise a party plan. Once you have agreed to let your house double as a one-night nuclear testing ground, the first thing to do is "limit the number of guests first of all, and provide the structure of what they're going to do, "says Sarah Sprinkel, a program specialist for early childhood education for Orange County, Fla., Public Schools.

According to the All About You survey, 84 percent of girls invite four or more friends to every slumber party. It helps to limit the invitations to good friends who rarely quarrel and scout out sleeping space to guarantee guests will enjoy elbowroom once they do decide the time has come to slumber.

Hammer out next how long the party will last. A well-planned party begins and ends at a specific time, says Penny Warner, author of The Best Party Book: 1001 Creative Ideas for Fun Parties (Meadowbrook Press, $9), and doesn't run too long or short.

Develop a hip party theme. Themes provide the hook on which to hang everything from activities to decorations, Ms. Warner says. Popular TV shows or movies can serve as themes. "Or create a unique theme like Disneyland or Hawaii." Ms Warner says, "or even a favorite event such as a birthday, Halloween, or School's Out!"

Asking guests to sport clothes to match the slumber party theme helps jump-start the party. Or just ask guests to don their best pajamas.

Plan scores of activities. A perfect slumber party offers fun, active games and activities that neutralize your revelers' adrenaline rush. Games such as musical chairs or scavenger hunts kindle the party fire for young children. When it is time to cool down, send them to a neutral corner with some arts and crafts. Prizes go with party games. Winners and losers should all come away with some trinket.

With older guests, try interactive activities such as Twister, charades or Pictionary. Buy a Karaoke compact disc and let them wail the blues into a soup ladle.

Stock up on goodies. More than engaging activities, the thing that makes or breaks a slumber party is the food. Not only must you have for each guest three times their weight in grub, your spread should be rich in variety: pizza, chips, ice cream, cake, soda, carrot or celery sticks, raisins and apple slices.

Set ground rules. Once the guests arrive - and before they shift into party mode - outline your expectations. Tell your guests what is off-limits. Tell them what you will not tolerate. If you have set a bedtime, advise your guests. If you do not want guests on the telephone, tell them so. Set consequences for infractions.

Remember the secret to slumber party success is simple: "Have too much food, too many games and not too many kids," Ms. Moyle says. Just dig in and hold on - the cavalry comes in the morning.


PROS AND CONS OF A COED GATHERING

It was the usual gab swapped between sisters. Mary Camden, something heavy on her mind, hastily corralled her sister Lucy. Mary was invited the following evening to a sleepover after the high school basketball game. She was excited to go. But, she told Lucy, there was a problem.

Not all the guests were girls.

Mary and Lucy Camden, of course, are characters on the WB network's popular "7th Heaven." In one episode, the family drama drew attention to coed slumber parties. Experts say these boy-girl get-togethers have become increasingly prevalent and guests have grown increasingly younger.

As one might expect, there exists a great difference of opinion regarding the wisdom of hosting coed sleepovers.

Some parents call it harmless fun. Some sanction the parties as a way to impose benign Orwelliam supervision on the social lives of their kids - to keep them safe, not running the streets. Others say that in an age when sexual messages bombard children and increasingly younger kids are experimenting with sex, coed sleepovers are an invitation to sex.

Whether coed sleepovers are prudent, "depends on the individuals involved - parents and the kids - and on the situation," says Evelyn Peterson, a child development expert and syndicated columnist. "I would not suggest that it be done (with kids) above the sixth grade - and then only with lots of "It's taken care of." Coed sleepovers often grow out of school events such as proms or sporting events as on "7th Heaven". Some experts warn that when the fire of hormones is placed so near the fuse of opportunity, there is potential for explosive consequences.

"Kids say they can have sex anywhere but why would you put them together on the floor of your house," says Teresa A Langston, author of "Parenting Without Pressure." (NavPress Publishing Group, $14)

"It's easy for even the best of kids to make poor choices." For years, Petersen hosted a coed sleepover on her daughter's birthday. She would consult each child's parents not only to elicit their approval and outline her plans but also to examine their values.

She tool care to ensure the children were long-time friends who were well-behaved, that she would be able to supervise the children the entire evening, that activities were planned and that separate same-sex sleeping areas were designated.

"We loved it and it worked," says Petersen, who addresses family issues at her Web Site (askevelyn.com). "but I have a felling we were sort of a rare group". Outside of such rarified company, Langston says coed sleepovers seem a legitimate option only after a prom or other special event."

Parents might wish to restrict children to the home turf rather than allowing your hearts to run free on such a sexually charged night.

Should you assume that stance, Langsten suggests strict guidelines: -Limit the number of children -require each guest to bring a sleeping bag -Keep the lights on all night -restrict guests from leaving once inside to ensure no one leaves and returns with alcohol Most important, she says, parents must stay vigilant.

"What you don't want to do is seclude kids in the back bedroom and say 'goodnight'," Langston says.

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