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Staying Over

A letter-writer to Slate explains that her teenage son has his first girlfriend and that they've forbidden him from having the girl spend the night at their house. Only problem -- the girl's parents let him stay over at their house. What to do?
Some parents feel that as long as behavior they don't entirely approve of is taking place under their roof—underage drinking, taping sessions of Girls Gone Wild—they are in control of it. But these two teenagers are minors, and you have an obligation to set the standards for your son's behavior. He makes quite a case for his maturity: He throws a tantrum, then pouts. As for you, what's the point of having old-fashioned values if you're not going to enforce them? You need to have a talk with the girl's parents. Don't be either defensive or self-righteous; just say your son is not allowed to sleep at their house. Yes, your son will be angry, but what you are doing is not just for now, but for when he is a parent and can draw on the lessons you taught him about standing firm.
But what about the parents' substantive views here? I understand that there position is fairly widespread, though it certainly wasn't current among the parents at the den of immorality where I went to high school. And what's the logic of the anti-sleepover position? Teen sex is fine, but seen post-coital cuddling must be stopped! Or, at a minimum, curtailed. Why would you think that? What, exactly, is the problem here?

August 24, 2006 | Permalink


I think the implication is, they don't want him having sex. Now, with a 17-year-old, I think that position is both unwise and useless, but a lot of parents feel that way. It's not the sleeping.

Posted by: Steve | Aug 24, 2006 2:04:51 PM

I think the implication is, they don't want him having sex.

Or, barring that, they want to believe he's not having sex.

Posted by: neil | Aug 24, 2006 2:15:30 PM

Or, at a bare minimum, that he knows they don't approve of him having sex, but if he is, please be safe.

Posted by: dbt | Aug 24, 2006 2:18:32 PM

"Sleeping" has the value here of "not being in the bedroom alone together with the door closed."

Posted by: Total | Aug 24, 2006 2:48:10 PM

Except sleeping over is totally unnecessary for the having of sex. If he can't sleep over, fine, they'll do it and then he goes home.

Posted by: Aaron S. Veenstra | Aug 24, 2006 2:51:40 PM

Why does he want to sleep over anyway? He should be happy to have an excuse to go home after the deed is done. What kind of male wants all that "post-coital cuddling"???

(j/k, honey, if you're reading this)

Posted by: Al | Aug 24, 2006 3:05:19 PM

Also, I don't get this advice from the columnist: "You need to have a talk with the girl's parents."


Why can't the parents just say to the son: you're not allowed to sleep over at your girlfriend's house. Can't the parents control their son without bringing the girlfriends' parents into it? If he's not at home in the morning, then he's grounded, no car/computer, or whatever else is the going punishment these days.

Posted by: Al | Aug 24, 2006 3:09:12 PM

Or, barring that, they want to believe he's not having sex.

One could imagine them taking a similar position with regard to drugs, or some other behavior they can't prevent. How many parents let their kids toke up on the back porch after dinner?

Also, it's not an empty gesture for the parents to say, "Not in my house." They'll be able to kick him out of that house in less than a year's time.

Posted by: Wade | Aug 24, 2006 3:44:22 PM

I think the implication is, they don't want him having sex.

Well, sure, but the proposed rule -- even if enforced -- obviously isn't going to stop him from having sex. If they want to try and forbid him from having sex, they're at a minimum going to need to say that.

Posted by: Matthew Yglesias | Aug 24, 2006 3:54:51 PM

Like much regulation, it is intended to reduce the problematic behavior, not stop it entirely.

Posted by: Al | Aug 24, 2006 4:02:31 PM

The point is to maintain the tabboo over sex, so that it remains transgressive, and, therefore, more enjoyable.

Otherwise he'll get bored of sex and move on to more dangerous habits, like reading.

Posted by: text | Aug 24, 2006 4:21:33 PM

I believe in some places you could get in legal trouble (contributing to the delinquency of a minor or something) for allowing teenagers to have sex in your house. Spending the night makes it hard to pretend you didn't know what was going on.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Aug 24, 2006 4:58:05 PM

You're being silly. Societal norms don't have to be logical. In fact... they're easier to enforce when they aren't. 'Do what I say because I say so.' Period.

Posted by: MattF | Aug 24, 2006 5:49:18 PM

The logic of the anti-sleepover position is simple. The parents clearly do *not* believe that teen sex is OK. Purpose of sleepover is *soley* to have sex. Ergo, no sleepover. What's so hard to understand?

Now perhaps you can argue that this will just *shift* the sex to different times & circumstances, so the anti-sleepover policy is ineffectual. And that's probably true. But just because you can't stop your child from doing something you disapprove of doesn't mean that you must therefore *help* him do it.

Posted by: weichi | Aug 24, 2006 6:01:49 PM

How else are kids going to learn discretion and the little hypocrisies that are essential to getting along with people when you disagree on fundamental issues? I had to learn to sneak around. It's a useful skill to learn. If I could have been blessed with children, I would have wanted them to learn it.

Posted by: CJColucci | Aug 24, 2006 6:38:35 PM

How many parents let their kids toke up on the back porch after dinner?

It's not a bad idea, really. Teenagers are more likely to be honest with their parents, I think, if they're treated like adults in return. And in turn, are more likely to act mature if treated like adults, etc.

Posted by: neil | Aug 24, 2006 8:28:50 PM

Last year, my partner and I went to visit my mother. She showed us into her guest bedroom, in which she had very kindly set up--a second bed.

I'm 51; my partner is 49.

I think we have a cultural taboo against having parents be in any way complicit in their childrens' sex lives. That's why it doesn't seem to matter that barring sleepovers is utterly ineffective in stopping teenage sex-what's important is that the parents not be involved.

I'm not saying it makes sense, mind you . . .

Posted by: rea | Aug 24, 2006 8:31:14 PM

Don't think of it as a ridiculous and arbitrary policy designed to give the parents a completely bogus sense of being positively engaged in their childrens' lives.

Think of it as a brilliant, sure-fire tactic to ensure that these teens do their damndest to get into college so that they can move out of the house as soon as possible.

Posted by: Doctor Memory | Aug 25, 2006 12:26:09 AM

Mr. Henley has the answer to this dilemma.


Posted by: Curtis Erhart | Aug 25, 2006 4:17:12 AM

Weichi answers your question directly: "But just because you can't stop your child from doing something you disapprove of doesn't mean that you must therefore *help* him do it."

It seems to me that you disagree with their view that teen sex is bad. Pick on that, not on their attempt to fulfill their idea of "good parenting". Give them credit for attempting to go the extra mile to fulfill their parenting obligations.

My view on teen sex - most teens would be better off waiting until they are more emotionally mature. So it goes.

Posted by: Chuck | Aug 25, 2006 10:59:11 AM

Eh, I dunno Chuck. For some reason our culture seems to always want to ignore age differences when we talk about these sorts of issues. It always drives me crazy how people talk about "underage drinking" and basically assume that a 13 year old who drinks himself to sleep in the basement is part of the same "problem" as a 20 year old drinking a couple of beers with a friend in his dorm room. Its really sort of insane.

Teen sex discussions seem to have the same problems. If we're talking about 13 year olds then I suppose I think teen sex is bad. 17 year olds? I can't say it bothers me much. We end up equating something thats pretty normal with something that really might be emotionally unhealthy.

Posted by: Gabe | Aug 25, 2006 12:08:47 PM

One might argue that sex per se isn't too bad, but post-coital cuddling might lead to dangerous levels of emotional intimacy, and the kids will be wrecks when they go their seperate ways to college and such, talking on the phone for three hours a day, pining, succumbing to depression and loneliness, etc., whereas they'd be happy, well-adjusted, and healthy if they just regarded each other as disposable sex toys easily replaced by any other reasonably attractive member of the opposite sex.

Note: "one might argue" does not mean "someone actually does argue," because no one really does.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Aug 25, 2006 12:41:13 PM

I am nearly speechless at the shock and awe expressed here over the prohibition on sleep-overs. Perhaps it's because you're missing what is probably the companion rule: no boys/girls in your room with the door closed, period.

That's how I was raised and I'm still a well-adjusted, comfortable-with-her-sexuality adult. At the end of the day, if nothing else, it is a respect thing. Isn't there some kind of general sentiment that men can be accurately judged by how they treat their mothers/parents generally?

This boy's parents need to say no and then if they can't keep him away, need to inform the gal's parents as well.

This isn't some kind of denial of personal identity. It's a reasonable expectation of proper decorum and seems to be sadly lacking these days.

Posted by: cd | Aug 25, 2006 8:15:09 PM

A possibly related story. If you don't have a problem with teen drinking, drugs and sex, then presumably you don't have a problem with this woman, right?

Posted by: Al | Aug 25, 2006 9:23:20 PM

A few question about this 17 y.o.: does he pay his parents the equivalent rent for his portion of the house? Pay them for the food, cooking, and laundry services he consumes in their house? Pay for his own medical insurance/care? Have his own auto insurance policy?

Mosly likely answers: Probably not. No. No. No way in heck.

So, what part of the word "dependent" do you not understand? Do you think that the supporting (not supportive) parents have any right to set expected rules of conduct, or not? If not, why shouldn't they just kick the guy out of their house? In our state at least it would be legal to do so after age 16. That way he can spend as much time as he wants with his girlfriend. Of course, he will rapidly find out that without all the resources provided to him for free by his parents he isn't quite so attrative to her.


I love parenting advice from 25 y.o. unmarried childless men!

Posted by: Cranky Observer | Aug 26, 2006 8:07:11 AM

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