Saturday, 4 April 2015

Of Sleepovers And Sleepless Nights...

Yesterday my son, who turned eleven a couple of months ago, went for his first sleepover ever. Many children in India from the same socio economic class as us, by the time they reach his age, are sleepover pros but not my children. I have been absolutely against what I term this very ' American Concept' from the day my children began school and started receiving invites for sleepovers when they had been out of diapers for just a couple of years! Ancient Indian wisdom clearly spells out children should be home before the sun sets...
On the other hand we have been hosting sleepovers forever, as there were many mothers out there who did not mind sending their kids to us, though we could never return the 'favour' by sending ours in turn! And so my daughter had to wait till she had finished sixth grade to go for her first sleepover and that too because the girl in question had a very persuasive mother who managed to convince me that my daughter would come to no harm, as there were ten other girls sleeping over, after her daughter's twelfth birthday party! And so that was my daughter's sleepover limit - one a year, in a group - for the next one year, till we moved to Nairobi. 
But I was labelled as the 'Mom who does not allow her daughter to go for sleepovers'. I did not mind in the least, my daughter's safety and well being came first for me! And then, one fine day, I was vindicated and how! The Principal of the elite school that my children attended in our home town called for an emergency meeting of the parents when my daughter had just started seventh grade and my son was in first grade. She took us into confidence and narrated the following story.
A ninth grader had hosted a sleepover for a couple of her friends. In the middle of the night the girls got up and, unknown to the host parents, began making 'anonymous' prank phone calls to three boys who were in the boys section of the same school and in the ninth grade too. The very next day the police landed up at the host's door and said there were complaints of crank calls from their number and a complaint had been lodged! The parents were thunderstruck and humiliated. The girls had forgotten all about caller identification and had been caught red handed. The Principal exhorted upon all parents not to allow their children for these senseless sleepovers. Her words, not mine, but I couldn't agree more! She said the world had changed, the kids had access to too much technology at all hours of the day and night and hosting or sending your kids for sleepovers was surely asking for trouble. 
It's not that we did not have sleepovers when we were in middle school and high school. We did and ours were the sweet, innocent ones based on Enid Blyton's boarding school books and the highlight was the Midnight Feasts! Taking turns to stay awake,then waking up every one at the appointed hour and gorging on chips, biscuits, cake, samosas, drinking synthetic juice made from artificial fruit powder, finally topped off with having unlimited ice cream, before going back to sleep. No staying up all night long for on line gaming or accessing prohibited material on the smart phones that every kid has these days, for us. Little wonder then that many educators are now coming heavily down on sleepovers, at least in India, as fewer and fewer children seem to have a moral compass these days and parents are often too busy to know what is happening in their kids' lives. I talked to my own students ranging between ten years to sixteen years about this last year in India and I was horrified to know that most of them were accessing the Internet even when their parents were not at home. Computers did not have passwords to prevent indiscriminate access by children and most mothers were not computer savvy enough to have heard of programs like 'Net Nanny' or its Indian equivalent.
Our first major battle occurred when our daughter was a thirteen year old in eighth grade, our first year in Nairobi, and came home one day from school only to declare that she had been invited, along with a bunch of other girls, for a birthday party and a sleepover at the house of one of her American friends. I almost exploded! I did not know the girl in question. I had never met her parents. How did she just expect us to let her go? And besides, this was Nairobi, where it was not unheard of for armed burglars to break in into houses in the dead of the night! What if that happened just when she was there? Her exasperated answer? 'Mom they live there. Nothing happens!' I finally told my husband to deal with it and he gave her permission! All went well except that I had a very grumpy girl on my hands the next day, as the girls had stayed up till four in the morning, chatting with each other! 
Today, at the age of sixteen she is allowed a sleepover only after the three school banquets and the group rule remains unchanged! I believe in safety in numbers and I feel if one child tries to lead the others astray, there will be at least one voice of reason in the group! Also I still confirm that the host mother will be at home throughout the sleepover. I cannot help thinking in this way, students are my bread and butter and I handle enough and more students to know exactly what can, does and will happen, sooner or later. It's enough to give parents sleepless nights!
The other down side is the messy bed room when they wind up a sleepover but that's the aspect I personally do not mind at all! It is funny how a perfectly neat bedroom can be messed up and trashed in a span of five minutes by a handful of teenage girls! They come for a night but carry enough clothes and make up items to last a week! They hole themselves up in the room, carry their meals and beverages there, snack in between meals and talk, talk and TALK non stop! They refuse to use the guest bedroom and all of them cram into my daughter's room, half of them on the bed, the rest of them on the floor, huddled up in sleeping bags! When they leave, the trash can is over flowing with empty packets of biscuits and chips, chewing gum and chocolates and cans of soft drinks. Some things, I guess, never change, just the brands do!

                                                    Look what happens to a neatly made bed!

                                              Sleepovers come with messy room warnings!

The parents of the young students, who were fast asleep in the dormitory of the University that was attacked in Northern Kenya two days ago had sent them there for an education so that they could better their lives. Many of them will never wake up from that sleepover and the parents will now have sleepless nights for the rest of their lives. We protect our children so much only to send them out into THIS kind of a world?

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