My DD’s are only young still, but they have slept over at the grandparents house since age 1 (when they’ve finished breastfeeding). Sleepovers with cousins just for ‘fun’ I would allow from appx 4 – I just don’t see the point of it before then, as my toddler age children just wouldn’t enjoy the experience, and stillwake at night wanting comfort from time to time. Close friends, I would allow from probably 7-8 onwards – only if I knew and trusted the parents well. School friends, etc. I would say more like 9-10+ if I didn’t know the parents really well. I would give my child a mobile phone, and tell them to ring me, or text me secretly and I will ring the parents with a made-up ‘family emergency’ of why I needed them to come home, if they felt uncomfortable and wanted to come home, but too embarrassed to say it.
Sleepovers with friends were a big part of my childhood. Most of the time it was a great experience and I loved it! I did have one sleepover where my parents didn’t know the girls parents very well, when I was about 9ish. The girl showed me pornography (it was all through their house, magazines and calendars, etc), and we watched a R rated horror movie – very gory, terrifying, not what I would normally watch at 9 years old. I was so uncomfortable at that sleepover, and just wanted to go home.
Drawing from my own experience, it’s not ‘fear of predators’ that makes me cautious about sleepovers. It’s putting my children in a position where they can potentially feel very uncomfortable, and them being powerless to stop it. I don’t want my 9 year old child forced to be exposed to pornography or horror movies. Sometimes we think that the standards we have in our own home is ‘the norm’, but all families are different, and some parents would think nothing of their 9yo child seeing a pornographic calendar, or watching a horror movie. I remember reading on BH a few years ago, a mum said other kids loved the sleepovers at her house because she let them watch sex and the city (From memory it was around age 10year old kids). For her it was no big deal, her kids watched it all the time – but for me, there is no way I’d let my 10 year old watch sex and the city. The mum also kept it a secret from the other kids mum, because she knew the girl enjoyed watching it, and she wanted to be the ‘cool, fun’ friends mum. I know there are other parents who regularly smoke weed every night, and would wait until the kids were ‘in bed’ (aka not asleep, because kids don’t sleep much at sleepovers!) and then get high. Not all families are nice and clean and bub-hub perfect all the time – there is a lot of stuff that goes on behind closed doors.
So my caution about sleepovers really isn’t driven by a fear of ‘predators around every corner’, but more so not knowing the parents well enough to trust their parenting choices for my kids, and my kids feeling uncomfortable in that situation.