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How young is too young for a sleepover?

Sleepovers were a regular event in my house growing up, so I was surprised to learn that some parents don’t agree with the practice.

In fact, it had never occurred to me that a parent would ban his or her child from a sleepover until I read an excerpt from Amy Chua’s 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the book, Chua explains that she forbade her children from all frivolous activities, including childhood sleepovers. Her take on sleepovers both surprised and confused me. Aren’t kids supposed to play truth or dare at sleepovers? Aren’t they supposed to stay up all night, do makeovers and gossip with one another?

Some parents don’t think so — and for different reasons.

“With reports of childhood sexual abuse all over the place, I just don’t feel comfortable letting my daughter spend the night at a friend’s house,” said mother Stephanie C. “Sleepovers will be off the table for her indefinitely.”

“I feel worried that my daughters would wake up afraid and not know how to get help or contact me in the middle of the night,” said mother Renee A.

I understand these mothers’ concerns. The fear of my child feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to reach me is the kind of worry that keeps me up at night. But some of my fondest childhood memories include giggling with my best friends at 2 a.m. while talking about boys and makeup and periods — so I’m still not totally sure what I’ll choose to do when my daughter is invited to her first sleepover.

According to counseling psychologist Dr. Stacy Haynes of Little Hands Family Services, parents don’t need to approach the sleepover question with an established game plan in mind. “Sleepovers really depend on the maturity of the child,” she explained. Some 7-year-olds, for instance, are plenty mature to handle the normal concerns that arise during a sleepover, but others may call their parents crying in the middle of the night. “A good gauge is to start with family sleepovers — maybe to an aunt’s house — and then work your way up to friend sleepovers.” She also said that kids who cry, struggle with anxiety or seem nervous may not be ready. Sleepovers may not end well, either, if a child struggles with night accidents.

If you feel that your child is mature enough to handle a sleepover at a trusted family’s house, Haynes says that you can prep your kid by having him or her sleep in other areas of the home. “Parents should also review safety and stranger danger concepts with children,” she said. “You should make sure your children know their phone number and address in case of an emergency.”

This makes sense to me. I want to equip my child with the tools she needs to feel empowered to safely enjoy her relationships — even if a sleepover is nothing more than childhood frivolity.

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