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Many parents are saying no to sleepovers. Here’s why

What you need to know:

  • Besides ruining a child’s character, children can also be exposed to mockery and teasing that hurts their self-esteem.
  • My relatives are kind of independent and they will demand you to be there with your children

A few decades ago, school holidays meant one thing: endless sleepovers with extended family. There was always that uncle who was a super-host and all the children would crash there for a week or two bonding as cousins. These visits were fun and quintessential part of growing up.

Times have changed and the culture of sleepovers is dying. When, if ever, was the last time you let your child sleep under someone else’s roof? What was your experience like? Did you grapple with a barrage of what-ifs?

Today, sleepovers are more than a fun way to take a break from the children. That carefree spirit of our parents is now marred with safety concerns posed by the hazards of modern society. Moral values are no longer common sense and as a parent, you can't help but wonder if your host will jeopardise your child's belief system and character. At best, you cross your fingers and trust that the values you've instilled in your child will guide them, even when they're under someone else's roof — be it a friend or a relative.

Oscar Musonye

Oscar Musonye, a father of five girls had a bad experience that took him four months to undo.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Oscar Musonye, a father of five girls, took a gamble and decided to allow the girls to spend the night at a friend’s but quickly regretted that decision after the girls returned home.

"Back in late 2019, our children visited a family where vulgar language and cursing was normal. I also think they were exposed to explicit movies. Their daughter had an iPad that was connected to the internet allowing her to watch whatever she wanted. But you see, I'm the type of parent who monitors my children’s phones and regularly checks their search history."

Oscar learnt, the hard way, that not all parents have a hands-on approach to raising children. Some were absent due to career demands or otherwise and left the children in the care of nannies whose job description doesn’t include instilling moral values in their employer’s children.

A parental dilemma: Sleepovers or not?

"There are channels on my TV which can’t be accessed by the children. We have modified Wi-Fi permissions in our house, filtering out explicit content. These are measures I have taken but I have little to no control when they are in someone else's house."

Oscar would have remained oblivious to how the sleepover went but one of his daughters, upon returning home, let a curse word slip from her mouth.

"It took almost four months to restructure them. It is difficult to explain to children why they can’t hang out with so and so without tainting the other person’s image. But we ended sleepovers at this particular family despite the girls being fond of them.”

When Covid-19 struck a few months later, it became normal for families to stick to their homes and so Oscar’s no-sleepover rule took effect quite naturally.

“The mistake we made as parents was to assume everyone else raised their children the same way we did. You cannot afford to make such assumptions especially as you allow your child to interact with others.”

A report by Darkness to Light, 'Child Sexual Abuse' (CSA) statistics show that children are most vulnerable between the ages of 7 and 13, which are also prime years for sleepovers. Additionally, 90% of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know, love or trust.

Teresa Watetu,

Teresa, a  programme officer at Kenya AIDS NGOs Consortium often comes across children who have been exposed to abuse. 

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

a mother of three and programme officer at Kenya Aids NGOs Consortium, does not allow her children to go for sleepovers.

"My children had gone to visit my parents' home and once back I realised the sibling rivalry was too much. Apparently, my mother dotted on my firstborn child as he is the only boy and this made him develop some sense of entitlement.”

Since then, Teresa decided to stop sleepovers and spend more time moulding her children’s characters.

"Again, I am a working mom and only have weekends and evenings to spend time with them. So, if I allow them to go, when will we bond? I will lose the friendship and the time to build them. I purposed that on weekends I will not go anywhere and if I must, I have to go with them."

Like Oscar, Teresa appreciated that children can be quite inquisitive and want to understand why certain rules are being enforced. She had an open conversation about her fears and helped them understand why she was banning sleep overs.

"There is young girl who had gone for a sleepover at a cousin's place. She was abused by an uncle, who was a far relative and had also visited. When she came back home, she could not talk to her parents about it. The mother noticed something was off. The girl went to school and her grades dropped. The teachers told the mother that her daughter needed counselling. When she came, she opened up and told me that the uncle threatened her to not telling anyone."

Besides ruining a child’s character, children can also be exposed to mockery and teasing that hurts their self-esteem.

"Another child went to a relative's and could not even last a week because they were being abused emotionally. This child was not being fed enough and would be called a pig for wanting more."

Such tales from her line of work reinforced Teresa’s hesitation to let her children sleep away from home.

"I rarely visit people's homes as well. When we were being raised, we used to live in a plot in Eastleigh and I happened to go to a neighbour's house and ate pancakes. Two weeks later, my mom met with the neighbour and she informed her that I had visited. I was beaten thoroughly. To date I never like pancakes. You see, the rule in our house back then was you should never go to people's houses, and that is what I have grown up knowing."

However, Teresa’s doors are open to friends and family who wish to come for a sleepover as long as they abide by the rules.

"The rules are simple. We won't use phones throughout. You must participate in duties that are being done in the house. If we have to go to church, you will not be an exemption. When we agree this is what we are eating, there is no special meals anyone."

This does not mean that she has not had visitors who refused to leave their children because of her 'rules.' Some feel like she is strict and too firm.

While Oscar and Teresa have tested the waters of sleepovers, Gracejoy, a mother of two boys, has never allowed her children to go for unsupervised visits.

"There is one time they went to my folks' home but they were with their nanny. They stayed there for some weeks but wanted to come back home soon after."

Additionally, Gracejoy does not have close friends with whom her children can go for sleepovers in their houses.

"My relatives are kind of independent and they will demand you to be there with your children. We have all been cultured into taking care of our responsibilities. So, if my children want to visit a certain aunt, uncle, or cousin we all have to be there. Also, even then, no sleeping over."

Gracejoy has never hosted a sleepover at her home. She has no plans to and points out that should it happen, it will have met a certain threshold.

"We must have a connection. You just don't know people. People know how to hide wickedness."

While she is yet to have a conversation with her children, she explains that they themselves have never felt the urge of having sleepovers.

"They prefer to just stay here, play their games and not go to other people's home. They do not fancy it at all."

Gracejoy's way of life has also significantly shaped her children's perception of socialising. "I do not belong to chamas, or any groupings in church or even in the estate. So, maybe they have picked that from me and know that even after church you can go back home and do your things."

However, Gracejoy feels that the perception of the sleepover will not change because the world is changing for the 'worse' as days go by.

"Gone are the days when you thought that since the child is with an adult, they are safe. We've seen and heard heart-wrenching stories of kin abusing children. It is just not the same as before, children can get traumatised for life."

Loice Noo

Loice Noo, a child psychologist with ultimate carelinks during the interview at Nation Center in Nairobi on November 28, 2023. 

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

 According to Loice Noo, a child psychologist, getting a child to understand a parent’s fears can prevent the dangers posed by sleepovers.

“As a parent, you need to answer the ‘Why not?’ Children can hold meaningful conversations once they know you mean well. Invest in building trust and friendship then you can release them knowing they will come back and freely share their experiences. You won’t be releasing them to a perfect world, but they will be able to handle whatever situation they meet out there because of the training you have done at home.”