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Dads2Dads: The evolution of the sleepover

Tom Tozer and Bill Black • Updated May 15, 2016 at 8:00 PM

We think it used to be called a “slumber party.” Now it’s known as a “sleepover.” We’re not sure why one term became extinct because either one meant a sleepless night for the young ladies and also for mom and dad. On the other hand, if your child asks for permission to have a “sleep-over” at your house, it is an ironclad guarantee that it refers to an all-girls event. Those other sleepover social gatherings are not the subject of this column—and hopefully not of personal concern to our readers.

Do the Macarena

When Tom’s daughters were much younger, they occasionally hosted a sleepover. The evening would include forming a long line in the back yard and doing the Macarena (remember that?) punctuated by ear-piercing screeches. There were always games inside and out, mad dashes up and down the stairs, pillow fights and—when things quieted down—stories about dreamy boys and crushes. There was never a designated time to go to sleep. Usually slumber came naturally, after everyone was exhausted and filled with soda and brownies. Mom and dad were grateful for the silence, and so were the neighbors.

A positive social tool

However, we’re suggesting that the sleepover performed an extremely useful function. On the surface it seemed silly. But its significance was far more profound. The sleepover provided every young girl with the opportunity to be herself, to share her story, and to be part of the group. From what Tom observed, there was very little in the way of pecking order or rank. Each girl contributed her own individuality and quirkiness. One girl could sing; another performed impressions. Still another could show how double-jointed she was, and yet another could do the splits. It was a non-judgmental environment where everyone was equal and appreciated. The sleepover, while a temporary vexation to mom, dad and the dog, was an important social tool.

A great equalizer

When the hour grew late and everyone was trying hard to keep their eyes open, each girl who chose to do so could share her story—a personal longing, a family secret, or maybe a wish. They were all valid and entertaining. And everyone listened intently as each storyteller revealed something new about herself.  No one compared necklaces or shoes or outfits. The floppy pajamas that each girl wore reflected her favorite colors and perhaps her personality. Everyone was accepted, and everyone had fun.  

Unfortunately the spirit of the sleepover doesn’t always carry over into daily life. Kids have to choose their activities at school. Some select sports, others cheerleading, and still others, the choir or art club. In real life we all become segmented, divided into denominations—like money, politics and church. Not that those things are necessarily bad; however too much of what we do separates us and puts us into categories. We could learn something from the simple dynamics of the sleepover.

By the way, the sleepover is a particularly female phenomenon. Boys have camp-outs, belching contests, and speak in an entirely different language. We’ll write about that sometime.

Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of “Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers.” Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @dads2dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@dads2dadsllc.com.

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