When I was in sixth grade, the worst thing that could happen at a girls’ slumber party was some unsuspecting gal would nod off first—likely at 3 or 4 a.m. Then the other partygoers, usually snorting hysterically, would place the slumbering victim’s limp hand into a bowl of warm water, trying to trick her body into peeing inside her sleeping bag.
Sometimes we would hold a séance at midnight after the resident mother had gone to bed, trying to summon dead spirits. Together we’d softly chant, “Light as a feather, stiff as a board….”
One time, a group of us, none older than 12, snuck out of the house and ran around the neighborhood at dawn, talking in loud stage whispers and giggling so hard we were practically foaming at the mouth.
Parents, the world has changed since we were kids. In fact, it’s changed a lot. Our misdeeds are laughably innocent compared to the trouble kids can potentially get into today.
Last fall, when my oldest daughter turned 11, she asked for her first slumber party. I was hesitant. She’s a bit sensitive, my eldest. She’s sometimes easily overwhelmed. I’ve had to pick her up at playdates in the past because she’d simply had enough. “Take me home,” she’d demand, exhausted from the effort. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, it seems; she’s a loner, like me, her mother. She likes to read and retreat into a quieter headspace. Extroversion can sometimes feel like work. This child is no party animal.
So her father and I had to be talked into this event. We weren’t certain it was a good idea. How would she handle 15 hours of nonstop girly hijinks? Would she implode? What if someone made her pee inside her sleeping bag?
She begged. She was ready, she insisted. We finally agreed. We set the date. She invited a dozen girls, eight of whom could actually sleep over. My daughter asked for a Harry Potter theme, so we got busy coming up with cool activities—a wizard hat piñata for the backyard, a Hogwarts “sorting” game, a treasure hunt—and excitedly got ready for the big day.
I failed to plan for one very important detail. And, parents, no matter what theme you settle on for your future slumber party, please learn from my mistake:
Ban smartphones. Do it up front in the invitation. Or send a separate email directly to the parents of kids who are attending, explaining why you want their kids to leave their phones at home. If parents prefer to get in touch—and they may insist—or want to be able to say good-night, devise a scheme where you collect the phones when a child joins the party, and then briefly hand them back at an appointed hour to say good-night. Then ask for them back. Turn them off. And don’t back down on this.
1. Your iPhone rules are not their iPhone rules. You likely have parental settings on your tween’s phone. You’ve written a contract about usage, and she’s signed it in good faith. Your kid turns off her phone on weekend nights by 7:30, the latest, so her brain has time to unwind and eventually fall asleep, which is all well and good for you and your child. But when you have eight or more other girls with differing ideas about what’s acceptable and what’s not, guess what happens? Your restrictions fly out the window. Your rules are not their rules, and some of them are sassy enough to say so—to your face.
2. Phones can derail the fun. The girls were definitely into the Harry Potter theme, yes. But they were equally into their phones. I found myself calling for attention more than once. A few kids were downright glued to their devices, necks bent, eyes glazed over. It was a little depressing. Some of these girls showed signs of digital addiction. Without these damned phones as distractions, I bet more pure kid fun would have been had.
3. If you don’t establish the rules immediately, just try to establish them halfway through the event. I knew I’d made a mistake by 9 p.m. because the girls were pairing off and giggling, iPhones in hand. Some of them were prank-calling boys. OK, sure, that trick is as old as time—or at least as Alexander Graham Bell. My friends and I did this, too, when we were kids. But I found it to be a very difficult thing to police with so many phones in the room as possible offenders.
4. Some of the kids ignored my request to put their phones away. And I felt powerless. Smartphones are expensive pieces of equipment. They’re also property—property that doesn’t belong to me. Some kids said their parents requested they keep their phones on, in case of emergency. How could I know if this was true or not? If it was, how could I insist they break their parents’ rules? I’d failed to negotiate these details before they stepped foot in my house. Confiscating their phones felt like dangerous territory.
5. YouTube. They may not be sophisticated enough to know about Vimeo yet, but kids in middle school all know about YouTube. They openly troll it when left unattended. Their favorite songs by Taylor Swift are found there—as well as risqué videos that you, and most parents, would never in a million years approve of them watching. When I walked in on two girls viewing the infamous “Blurred Lines” video—not the X-rated version, but still—I snapped. That’s when I finally and loudly insisted that all phones be turned off right this second. No one likes the stern mother at the slumber party, but once things descended to this level, I had no choice. It changed the tone of the birthday; things no longer seemed quite as light or fun. And I blame the stupid phones.
It was well after midnight before we had a digital-free zone in my daughter’s bedroom. It took a few hours for everyone to settle down and blessedly go to sleep. The next morning was better; everyone was enthused about pancakes and happy to be running around in their PJs at someone else’s house. Finally the party ended. My daughter was predictably frazzled but remained a trooper until her last friend bade farewell at 11 a.m. the next morning. Then she immediately collapsed into my arms, thoroughly exhausted, and said, “Never again, Mama. Never again!”
I couldn’t agree more. Never again.
Or, at the very least, never again with smartphones on hand—or without a clear understanding of my rules about them inside my home.