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"When pigs fly. When hell freezes over. When the cow jumps over the moon. N-O. No, no, no! End of discussion." This is what I'll tell my daughter when she asks me, many years from now, if she can attend a coed sleepover party. All across the country, believe it or not, adolescent boys and girls are romping around in their skivvies together under one roof with their parents' approval.
The Washington Post devoted 1,200 words to this booming teen fad. A newspaper database search turned up nearly 200 other stories on coed sleepovers. Popular teen shows such as the WB network's "7th Heaven" have featured boy-girl slumber parties. A recent Abercrombie & Fitch Christmas catalog featured four preteen girls in bed under the covers with an older boy, lewdly waving his boxer shorts in the air.
"It's the newest thing," one 17-year-old boy named "J.D." explained to the Post reporter. The mixed overnight parties "are a variation on group dating," the Post reports, "where teenagers hang out together but often don't pair off. Some parents say the parties became more common a couple of years ago after school administrators in several districts asked hotels to stop providing rooms to students after big high school events." To win over his parents, J.D. argued that hosting a coed slumber party is "better than us lying about where we are and renting some sleazy motel room."
Many parents -- and I use the term loosely -- are buying into this bubble-gum logic. "I just feel it's definitely better than going to hotels, and this way you know all the kids who are coming over, you know who they are with," said Edna Breit, a Maryland mom who allows her teen son to invite up to 20 girls and boys to sleep over, bathe in a hot tub, and stay up until dawn watching movies in the family basement.
Breit shared her furtive method of policing her young overnight guests: "You keep the serving bowls for snacks small. That way you have the pretext to go down there and refill." This is pathetic. How is it that we arrived at a point where a grown woman is proud of turning her home into a coed Comfort Inn, where parents must dream up sneaky ways to spy on their own children? When did "better than" judgments replace doing what's
best for your children?
Pushover parents who think this is all harmless fun -- that we should just chill out, lighten up, and relax -- need to wake up. Teenage boys and girls do not belong in adult settings of intimacy. Coed sleepovers send the wrong message to teens too immature to handle sexually charged situations. It is only the latest sign of a culture that has given up on enforcing traditional roles of authority and on passing down moral sense and wisdom from one generation to the next.
Thanks largely to the radical egalitarian ethos embraced by the Baby Boomers, American notions of discipline have grown softer than the down filling in a teen's sleeping bag. Kay Hymowitz, author of "Ready or Not: Why Treating Children As Small Adults Endangers Their Future and Ours," notes that nowadays, "Adults define themselves as children's allies, trainers, partners, friends, facilitators, co-learners, and advocates. Their role is to empower children, advocate for them, boost their self-esteem, respect their rights, and provide them with information with which they can make their own decisions. But is this really what children need?"
My child needs her parents to be parents, not playmates. It is not easy to say no, and mean it, but we are prepared to say it again and again. Until then, I will cherish the fleeting days of innocence when a coed slumber party for our daughter means an afternoon nap in the crib with Mr. Wormy, Mr. Whoozit, and her dolly in pink pajamas.