Dear Dr. Wes & Julia: My boyfriend asked me whether it was OK with my mom if he could spend the night at my house. I was wondering if it would be appropriate for him to do so. I also wanted to know if I could stay in the same room with him. Here are some things I thought about so that my mom might be more comfortable with it. We could keep my door open during the night while we're asleep. I have another bed, so maybe he or I could sleep on that. Can you think of anything else that we could do to make the situation more comfortable for my mom? If this isn't a good idea, then that's OK, but I wanted to ask your opinion. - Sophomore-to-be
Wes: If the issue were sex, then the answer would be pretty simple. At your age there's no good argument for involving your mom in your sex life, except to give you good advice on safety and avoiding pregnancy. It's one thing to have an open and honest relationship on these issues. It's quite another to expect your mom to condone her daughter's sexual expression in her home. While this issue may be different for young adults, even then it's really OK only if the parent(s) feel okay about it. If they don't approve, then the 18-to-25 crowd really shouldn't push the issue either. Just as kids of any age don't really want to know about their parents' sex life, they should also exercise some discretion in how they share their own.
If we instead accept you at your word - that you just want to have a coed slumber party with your boyfriend - then the issue becomes one of propriety (correctness, modesty, good manners, etc.). Unfortunately, taking this perspective doesn't boost your argument either. Your mom has a right to feel uncomfortable about this request simply because it doesn't fit with an accepted practice in our culture. It's easy to say that she shouldn't care what other people think, but most kids and adults DO care, as well they should. If you and your mom become known as the family that allows boys to spend the night, people will fill in the gaps however they want - and none of it will make you or your mom feel very good.
The other thing that's odd about this situation is that most boys would not think to ask you to do this, most girls wouldn't consider it an option, and most parents would just say "no." It's not surprising that your boyfriend would ask you to stay out late or sneak out with him. That's against the rules (I assume), but it at least fits within normal teen culture because nearly every teen has been asked to do it, and many have done it. But to ask that your mom openly accept this arrangement just seems peculiar to me, and it raises red flags as to how this guy thinks and how he's been raised. In fact, some pretty good dating advice for you at this juncture of your life is to give a lot of thought to how any boyfriend has been raised. If it's not obvious why, we can spend another column on that topic.
Julia: You are very mature to think about your mom's feelings and come up with ideas for this kind of situation. Even so, I'm not sure how well the idea will fly with her. From what I've seen and experienced, parents have trouble leaving two teenagers in a room alone together for any period of time, often for good reason. Even if you take all of the right precautions, unexpected things can still happen (SEX) and result in untimely consequences (BABIES). The last thing parents want is their child making a mistake in the heat of the hormonally charged moment and it being partially their fault for being permissive. For the time being, I'd say hold off on the one-on-one sleepover and find an alternative. Ask your mom to consider a coed sleepover with a group of friends (boyfriend included) and with a set of ground rules ahead of time, including how this will be supervised. With a bigger group and a clear understanding of rules, the focus would be more on having fun and less about the intimacy of sleeping with someone else. Another option would be having your boyfriend stay late into the evening but not spend the night. Think of activities that take the focus away from potential sex and shift it to more parent-friendly ideas while still keeping an element of privacy to your relationship. In the end, you will gain your mother's trust more fully. That might make some kind of overnighter a possibility in the future while keeping you regret-free.
Next week: Do girls get better treatment in school than boys?
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Julia Davidson is a Bishop Seabury Academy junior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.