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February 8, 2022

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 67

Should My Teen Go to a Sleepover with Her Boyfriend?

Episode 67

A parent from Connecticut wants to know if it’s acceptable for her teen to spend the night at her boyfriend’s house. How should parents approach a conversation like this one? What do you do if your values are not the same as other parents’? The Dutch approach teen romance very differently than Americans do. Dr. Lisa explains the cross-cultural research on teens and sex. Reena asks how to move beyond an impasse with your kid and Dr. Lisa explains why there is value in having some tension with teens.

February 8, 2022 | 25 min

Transcript | Should My Teen Go to a Sleepover with Her Boyfriend?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 67: Should My Teen Go To A Sleepover With Her Boyfriend?

 

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional

mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,

consult a physician or mental health professional.

 

REENA: You know, I keep thinking a lot in the pandemic about what you said about hormones and middle school and high school, and about how sometimes just seeing that really cute kid in class can help you. What was that that you had mentioned? That was such a great point.

 

LISA: Oh just so much of the the fun of school is the crushes, the dressing up in case you see that special person, you know, and just, especially when kids were home and alone and remote from their friends, you know, one kid said to me, it was all vegetables and no desert.

 

REENA: That’s such a great line.

 

LISA: You know, it’s so much fun, you know, like there’s so much that’s hard about being a tween and teen, and the romance and the crushes can be a really fun part of it.

 

REENA: Yeah, well we kind of sometimes forget about basic high school things like having boyfriends and girlfriends, and we got this letter from a parent that talked about a sleepover with a boyfriend. It says: ‘Hi, Lisa. I love your podcast, and your talks with Reena have provided me with the wisdom to parent my kids more effectively. This coming weekend, there’s a party that one of my 16-year-old daughter’s friends is having. It’s from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Because there’s a curfew in our state of Connecticut that you have to be home by 11 if you’re within a year of getting your license, my daughter asked if she can sleep over at her boyfriend’s house. I guess this is something that other families do in our area so kids can spend time together but they don’t have to be on the road late at night and parents don’t need to drive. We live in an area where things are considered pretty fast. I don’t feel comfortable with her staying over at her boyfriend’s house because I feel that they are young. I believe they could plan to leave for their curfew 20 minutes early and simply stay in their own beds. They could still enjoy almost the entire party but I continue to be peppered by her saying quote, you just don’t trust me. You don’t live in the 21st century. I do trust her and feel that she is using that line to win her end of the argument. We have a good relationship with her boyfriend’s parents and believe our values are in line with one another. What do you think is appropriate for this sort of thing? How do you handle teens who encounter their parents’  reasoning with trust comments? Thanks for your help.’ Boy, what does this parent do?

 

LISA: This is a tricky one.

 

REENA: Yeah.

 

LISA: So, let me say off the top that if we were having this conversation in the Netherlands, it wouldn’t even be a conversation.

 

REENA: What do you mean?

 

LISA: So, the way we think about it in the U.S., and questions like this in the U.S., is very, very culture bound in that we do, and I do, on these ones tend to have a sense of like, no, no, no. You know teenagers don’t sleep over at each other’s houses and certainly not boyfriends and girlfriends. You know, certainly not boyfriends and girlfriends up for sure. Obviously, teenagers sleep over each other’s houses, but that’s sort of an automatic reflexive, but it turns out in many ways distinctly American reaction to this. In the Netherlands in particular they have a completely different view of adolescent sexuality, and it’s much more by I guess our standard much more liberal, much more accepting of the idea that kids or adolescents are going to be sexually active, that it’s seen very much as a norm in terms of it being not something that’s taboo, not something that’s seen as risk taking or pushing the edge, and they are very easy going about things like this.

 

REENA: Can I tell you? If this was in India, you’d be married before the end of the evening. Absolutely not going to happen.

 

LISA: Exactly. It’s so culturally dependent. And just to note kids in the Netherlands are not having more sex, they’re not having sex at younger ages, they are interestingly having safer sex because sex is so much more under the, you know, everyday normative, this is something you do, you should probably take a condom, as opposed to when we look at research on Dutch versus American teenagers, there’s this incredible study looking at college age women, Dutch versus American, and the Dutch women were like, well yeah of course you carry a condom in case you’re going to have sex, and the American women, I think this is a quote from the paper was like taking a condom to a party means you’re a slut.

 

REENA: Wow.

 

LISA: So before we dive in, we’re American, and we’re going to do this the American way, I’m going to think about the culture we’re operating in, but I just want out of the gate acknowledge we’re about to have a very American conversation, which is also not an Indian conversation, and it’s not a Dutch conversation. So, okay, so it sounds like you know how this will go over in your home when you were growing up.

 

REENA: Oh, yeah. I mean this was just that you wouldn’t even enter this topic of discussion, but where do you, I mean it sounds like that the parents say that the boyfriend’s parents are kind of aligned in the same values, but I also get the sense that the mom is like, wait a minute, like do we really need to be doing this at this age right now?

 

LISA: Well, it is an interesting question because if the boyfriend’s parents are aligned, sometimes I think it’s worth getting on the horn then with the boyfriend’s parents being like, are you guys in on this? Because I have certainly had that happen, as a parent, where one of my kids was like, oh, we’re all going to go see “It”, and I was like, you’re what? No. And they’re like, yeah, so and so’s mom is taking us, and I’ve got on the phone with the mom and she’s like, oh no I am not. So, it can sometimes be helpful to close the loop a little bit when you’re hearing these things, but, Reena, let me tell you of tow clinical scenarios that I’ve had over the time in my practice that come to mind and that are going to completely inform my answer to this question, and so I want to share them just so that we we have together the information I’m bringing to this question. So, probably 20 years ago, I was caring for a 17-year-old girl who had a serious boyfriend and we live with the houses have three stories, a lot of them, and her bedroom is up on the third floor, and she casually mentioned in one of our sessions that her boyfriend was sleeping over with her on the third floor in her bedroom, and I said, your parents are aware of this? And she said, yes, and I said, really? And she said, it’s so weird. I don’t know why they allow it. It’s super strange. And so this is a girl who had asked for it, invited, you know, the boy over, and the parents had agreed she was counting on them to say no. So, I have that story that informs my thinking, and then I have another story, pretty similar, I think also a 17-year-old, now that I think about it, who had a boyfriend who was a freshman in college, and she happened to live, it was an enormously wealthy family that had an absolutely massive home, just huge, and so this 17-year-old had a like a wing of the home to herself. I mean just she could be in the house without really any contact with her parents, and her boyfriend came to visit and stay. I don’t even know if it was an overnight, but visit through the day, and the parents just let them go entirely to their wing and had no contact of any kind with them and didn’t make themselves present in any way, and the girl said to me, these are actually the words she said, she said, I felt a little bit like I’d been fed to the wolves.

 

REENA: What?

 

LISA: Yeah.

 

REENA: Why do you think that teens at that age feel that way, even though they’re asking, they’re pushing, the parents are like, okay fine we’ll give in, we’ll give this to you, but deep down inside, it sounds like this isn’t actually what they want. Like they want some red lines set up.

 

LISA: Certainly with those two girls. They did not feel comfortable being allowed to do what they were asking to do, and so I’m not saying every kid’s going to have the exact same reaction, but it’s very hard for me to answer a question like this without those stories informing how I approach it, and I think for me one of the governing rules of parenting a teenager is that it is the teenager’s job to push, to ask for more, to, you know, try to expand their, you know, autonomy and their their privilege, and it’s the parents job to pull back, and that you’re doing your work as the parent of a teenager if you’re sitting in that tension. Your kid’s asking for more than you want to give, and you’re giving them less than they want, and you’re finding a way to do it as civilly as possible, but that tension is a healthy, good tension.

 

REENA: And to hear you actually say that that’s needed in that age bracket. I never thought of one, the tension being healthy and good, but two, that they might actually need that.

 

LISA: They do, and here’s another version of the story that’s a little less loaded, but you hear this all the time where a kid will say, hey, you know, like there’s this concert, and like everybody’s going to this concert, and I really have to go, I really have to go, and, you know, you’ve got to let me, you’ve got to let me, and the parent’s like, wow it sounds out of control, you’re not doing it, like no, and the kid’s like, okay, and that happens a fair bit, and often parents are like, oh, the kid didn’t want to go. Or they were really ambivalent but part of them really didn’t want to go, and what just happened is they got to play out ambivalence with me, like advocating very strongly for the thing, and I got to be the one who said no. They also get to go tell their friends that I am the lame one who won’t let them go, as opposed to saying to their  friends, I’m kind of scared of that concert, I don’t want to go.

 

REENA: What a great point. I want to get into living in a vast area, and what you can do in that situation. Also the trust comment, very interesting. Lisa, In this letter the parent writes that they live in what they’re calling a vast area where parents might be okay with allowing their child to sleep over at a boyfriend or girlfriend’s house. How do you deal with that?

 

LISA: It’s a good one. It’s a good question because kids want to do what their friends are doing, and it what it reminds me of, Reena, is our episode about materialistic stuff or material goods and luxury goods and, you know, kids having friends who have luxury items and of course those kids want those too, and it’s it’s always fascinating to me when parents find themselves in a community where they don’t really share the community’s values, and are trying to raise kids within it. Okay, well, Reena, let me flip this.

 

REENA: Okay.

 

LISA: So, another place that we often see this is in first generation immigrants where the parents have a set of values.

 

REENA: Yes.

 

LISA: That don’t match the community’s. So, when I think about what you said about, you know, growing up in an Indian home where there’s, you know, a cultural approach that is very different than American culture, how did your family and all this? How did you handle this as a teenager?

 

REENA: You know, we were never, and I hated at the time, but I’m actually very grateful now for this, we were never allowed to really do sleepovers. I think when I was in elementary school there’s maybe one sleep over that I was allowed to do, and there’s cousins, obviously we slept  over at their houses all the time, and I had a girlfriend across the street, Jenny, who my mom was really close to her mom and her her family and we were allowed to do that, but that was it. But, you know, there is this concept of even like, my parents were like study hard, no boyfriend-girlfriend business. So, it wasn’t even sleeping over. It was like you’re not even allowed to have a girlfriend or boyfriend, like your focus is the books and that’s it. You know, my parents are far more liberal and totally understand, it’s totally different, but you’re right. There is this divide with immigrant parents, but it can also swing different ways too, you know, I think just because you’re an immigrant doesn’t mean your parents are going to fall in this category, and I think economics also plays a factor on things too, right? On both sides of it.

 

LISA: But even the no boyfriend or girlfriend, that’s pretty different. Were you okay with that? Or did you, how did you reconcile it?

 

REENA: Well, I have to admit there weren’t lots of boys clamoring down asking me out on dates, so it wasn’t actually a huge problem for me.

 

LISA: You can blame your parents. You can be like, uh I would totally have a million boyfriends. It’s their fault.

 

REENA: Now that I think about it. This was not a problem, but I think it is something that people struggle with in communities where parents might be more liberal or relaxed or, you know, maybe not might have the same parental supervision, you know, that the other family has. So, how do you deal with that?

 

LISA: Well, so I think when we do walk up to this when we think about, you know, people may be coming from different cultures into a culture that has different values. Or this family who, you know, maybe is of the same culture but is in a community that has much faster, you know, kind of things happening than feels comfortable for this family is, do our rules come from a loving place? You know are they guided by a fundamental, either articulated or gut sense, of what’s going to be most helpful to our kids down the line, what’s going to be most useful for them developmentally and, you know, your parents did that, and I think this mom is doing that it, is it just like it just doesn’t feel right like I don’t feel like I’m doing my job as a mom if I say yes, and this gets into stuff that’s very vague and hard for teenagers sometimes to tolerate, when you’re just like I just don’t feel good about it. Like the reason I’m saying no is I just don’t feel good about it, and yet I would want parents to feel like that’s a reason, and to be able to say, you know, I love you so much and I have to trust my instinct as a parent, and there’s something about this that just doesn’t feel right to me, and so I’m saying no, and let the kid be mad, let the kid be mad.

 

REENA: Going back to the Scandinavian research that you were talking about, though, that’s so fascinating because one thing I do remember from my college years is we had somebody in our dorm who was super, super, super, super religious, and within three months of the first semester of her freshman year she was pregnant and had to drop out of school. How do you approach this? Maybe you’re not comfortable with the sleep over at, you know, a boyfriend or girlfriend’s place, but how do you talk about sex and how this conversation and show that you aren’t like super conservative, or, you know, that you understand, or you validate, what they might be feeling hormonally or, you know, for this person because I sort of do you feel that a lot of parents are like no, no, no, you can’t do that, they find a way to sort of sneak around or go behind your back, maybe not the sleepover because, you know they need to be back in their beds, and you’ll be checking, but how do you keep that trust open, which is what I hear this parent talking about with the trust comments?

 

LISA: Yeah, well it’s interesting because you do hear stories like that of kids who have felt so constrained and then the second that the, you know, governors are off the, you know, things don’t go well, and we don’t want that for kids either. When we’re talking about sex and sexuality, one very useful rule of thumb is for us, as parents, to try to bring it under the umbrella of healthy development, and out of the category of risk. That one way that the Dutch do this way, way better than Americans do this, is they don’t talk about sex as an all bad thing or something to be avoided or something you don’t want to be doing. They see it as part of healthy development and then they talk about it in that way, and what we see when we look at the data is the development of their kids’ sexual lives is much healthier than the development of American adolescent and late adolescent sexual lives. So, for this parent, I think it sounds, you know, that this is a parent who is very well equipped to say, look, we totally support your relationship with your boyfriend. We think he’s great, we like his family. If he wants to be over here and, you know, we’ll leave you guys be, if you guys want to be up in your room for a little while we’re downstairs, we’re not going to make a big deal of that, you know, to make it clear we’re not saying you can’t have a boyfriend, we’re not saying you can’t make out with your boyfriend. What we’re saying is it just doesn’t feel right to us to agree to a sleepover, and then I think the parent could take it a little bit further, which is to say, it feels like it puts you in a position that we’re not entirely comfortable putting you in where you are there overnight and we don’t want you to feel that we’re not taking care of you in the ways that we always have, and here you can hear how much is informed by my clinical experience where these girls reported back to me like, I felt like  my parents weren’t protecting me in the ways that I wanted to be protected, but side by side with that, this young woman may very well be having sex with this boy, you know, finding lots of ways to make out with him in hot and heavy ways, and I don’t have a problem with that per se. I think the issue becomes, for teenagers, that it feels better if it doesn’t somehow feel endorsed or supported by the parents.

 

REENA: Interesting. What do you deal with this comment, you don’t live in the 21st century? Where they just feel like, you know, you just don’t get what I’m going through right now?

 

LISA: Yeah, there’s some truth to that, right? That norms change all the time. Interestingly, when  we look at the data, parents of our generation were having a lot more sex than kids today are having, so it doesn’t actually line up with the data that kids today are very sexually conservative relative to what their parents were doing at the same age, and that could sometimes actually inform parents’ protectiveness of their kids is feeling like things were a little wild in the, you know, seventies, eighties, and we actually don’t want for our kids as much freedom as we were afforded.

 

REENA: Yeah.

LISA: But again, when a kid says, you don’t get it, you don’t understand what everybody else is getting to do, you know, live in the 21st Century, a big piece of that I’m like, well, there’s that happy tension of the kid pushing, pushing, and there’s the happy tension of the parent saying, eh, as a matter of fact, you’re right. You’re stuck with my middle-aged self, and, you know, if you wanna make out with your boyfriend, I’m sure you’ll find ways to do it, but the sleepover is a no-go.

 

REENA: That’s good. That’s good. Happy tension. Boy, I never thought about that as a thing for parenting teenagers. It’s really interesting. I want to ask you also, what if you come to an impasse? Your kid’s in a different place, you’re in a different place. How do you bridge that divide?

 

LISA: Yeah, because they very much could, right? And especially on this trust question because the kid’s saying, okay, you don’t trust me, and the mom’s saying, I do trust you, and it’s not like you can really negotiate that one through about whether one is trusted or not. The kid doesn’t feel trusted, the mom says she feels she trusts the kid. So, it happens, right? With teenagers that we get to these places where we’re stuck, and, you know, the mom can certainly put her foot down and say you can’t sleep over the boyfriend’s house and she can win that fight, but she can’t win the one where she convinces the girl that the mother trusts her because you can’t convince somebody to believe something they don’t believe. So, there is something that can help when we’re in an impasse, and it doesn’t solve the problem, but it can advance the conversation. So, what I would have this mom consider doing, is to say to her daughter, all right, I’m going to do this. I’m going to try to articulate this entirely from your perspective, I’m going to try to say what it is I think you see here, what you feel, and then the mother would do it. She would try to put in her own words how the daughter sees a situation,  how the daughter views the situation, and then the mother would say, what am I getting wrong? What am I missing? And really articulate fully the girl’s position, and then the mom would say, okay now you do that for me. You do that for me, and ask the teenager to fully articulate the parent’s position, and that, in my experience, can help to dislodge things a little bit, but when you have to see the other person’s perspective, it opens up room for empathy or understanding or not taking it so personally that you’re not getting your way. So, any time a parent comes to an impasse, especially with a teenager, that can be a strategy that makes a big difference.

 

REENA: Wow, I never thought about doing that. I would try that. I would absolutely try that because it gets me also, I’ve got to say, to think and see where they’re coming from, which I often don’t have time to think that way, or want to.

 

LISA: Exactly. Exactly.

 

REENA: Oh, this is great, Lisa. So, what do you have for us for parenting to go?

 

LISA: I think the number one thing I would want people to take away from this conversation is it’s okay for your teenager to be mad at you, and there are points in parenting where we make decisions that our kids are really angry with us about, and that can’t be a reason to not make that decision, and there’s there’s health in drawing lines and sticking to one’s values, even if our teenagers feel really frustrated and angry with us sometimes.

 

REENA: A lot to think about here. We hope you’ll join us next week. Our episode on divorce was so popular we decided to do a follow up on how step parents should fit in. I’ll see you next week, Lisa.

 

LISA: See you next week.

 

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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