TikTok is the new home for an old debate: are sleepovers ok?

  • Staying at a friend’s house can teach children independence, help them have new experiences and let them socialise with their friends
  • Parents resist the idea for a few different reasons, including cultural differences and fears of abuse
Tribune News Service |

Latest Articles

Hot Topics: Siamese crocodile a wake-up call on Hong Kong’s illegal wildlife trade

Kongkee visual artist adds local colour to sci-fi representation of Hong Kong

Do you have sleepovers with your friends? What do you do?

The age-old sleepover debate has found a new home on TikTok, where parents are duelling over whether sleepovers are healthy or harmful.

TikTok user @toriyav posted a video saying, “My children will NOT be allowed to have sleepovers”, and in another video on the topic wrote, “You really never know what goes on behind closed doors.”

Some commenters agreed, saying, “I completely understand and back your choice.” Another said, “u can’t control everything”, and one wrote, “Sleepovers were some of my [favourite] childhood memories.”

How to ask your parents to extend your curfew

Parents resist sleepovers for a variety of reasons, including cultural differences and fears of abuse. But child development experts say sleepovers can be an important developmental step for children, helping them navigate independence, practise flexibility and gain exposure to different family cultures. Sleepovers may test the limits of some parents’ discomfort, but they are one useful way children can exercise separation from caregivers.

Experts say parents who feel sleepovers aren’t right for their family should consider alternative opportunities for their children to practise self-efficacy and adaptability.

Help! My mum wants us to move in with her boyfriend

“There’s a fine line between raising kids who understand things like good touch, bad touch, when to heed their spidey sense that something isn’t safe, how to call home for help, when to extricate themselves from a bad situation and ... raising kids who are afraid to go out in the world,” said Phyllis Fagell, a school counsellor and author of Middle School Matters: The 10 Key Skills Kids Need to Thrive in Middle School and Beyond — and How Parents Can Help.

If a parent is resistant or hesitant to sleepovers, especially at the home of someone the host knows and trusts, it’s important parents examine their motivations.

Sleepovers can be a great bonding experience for friends.

Fagell said some parents come from cultures where sleepovers are not customary, so they feel unfamiliar and unnecessary. Others worry their kids may be abused or exposed to abuse while sleeping at someone else’s home, a fear especially potent among parents who are survivors themselves. Parents of teens may worry their children will make unhealthy or unsafe decisions.

Parents need to confront a number of different anxieties when weighing whether to allow their child to sleep somewhere else. While some parental concerns are legitimate, experts say others may be a form of catastrophising. Giving in to these anxieties is not a healthy way to cope, and can trickle down to children in ways that may stunt their ability to tolerate discomfort themselves.

My best friend spilled all my secrets - how do I let her go?

‘A rite of passage’

Mary Alvord, a psychologist and author of the Resilience Builder Program for Children and Adolescents, views sleepovers as a “rite of passage.”

“Sleepovers are helping kids work toward independence,” she said. “Developmentally, that is crucial.”

Alvord said children who aren’t given opportunities to practise independence can develop separation anxiety, fears and even phobias when leaving their caregivers and entering new spaces.

It also helps them have new experiences, no matter how small: a child who has cereal every morning may find their friend has pancakes every day.

What to do if your parents have a favourite child

Teach safety, minimise risk

It’s neither possible nor healthy for parents to try and eliminate all risks when it comes to safety.

“There’s not a world where there is 0 per cent risk,” Alvord said. “So you minimise it. That, I think, is the job as parents.”

When approaching sleepovers, parents and children can start small - staying with a trusted grandparent and working their way up to a friend. Parents should know the family whose home their child is sleeping in, but children and their parents must also be able to tolerate some degree of uncertainty.

Allowing kids to sleep over at a friend's house can be an important step towards teaching them to be independent.
“Social risks are one type of risk,” Fagell said. “You want to make sure kids are alert, aware of their environment, that they’re heeding the signs inside their body, that they’re able to make good, safe, healthy decisions for themselves, but that they’re not afraid to put themselves out there to meet new people, to take risks, to try new things.”

Loneliness is on the rise as people are too busy for friends

A lesson in empathy and acceptance

Experts say parents who decide they are drawing a hard line with sleepovers need to validate their children’s feelings. Those children may feel excluded, frustrated or resentful.

“Validating doesn’t mean that you agree that they should get their way,” Fagell said. “It just means that you understand, and you empathise.”

Parents can engage in conversations about alternative ways to meet their child’s needs, which can include things like a “sleepunder,” where a child stays at a friend’s late but eventually goes home to sleep.

Signs of a narcissistic parent and how to protect yourself

Meanwhile, children whose friends are not allowed to participate in sleepovers should be encouraged to practise acceptance and empathy.

“One way that parents can teach their kids to embrace differences and to be a good friend is to help their child understand that not everyone has the same cultural experience. Not everybody views sleepovers the same way.” she said. “It’s an opportunity to really look for ways that you can include them, to keep them a part of the group, to not have them feeling left out.”

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy