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Coed Slumber Parties Are a Test of Parents' Trust

* Some moms and dads say they like knowing where their teens are, but others take a dim view.

November 24, 2000|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Working his living room like a pumped-up lawyer trying to sway a skeptical jury, J.D. Moss, 17, rattled off the reasons his parents should let him host something he called a "coed sleepover party."

"It's the newest thing," J.D. said, explaining how 20 of his closest friends, male and female, would spend the night playing pingpong, talking and watching movies in the basement until the sun rose.

J.D. tried using parental logic. "It's too dangerous for us to be out late at night with all the drunk drivers. Better that we are home," he told his parents. "It's better than us lying about where we are and renting some sleazy motel room."

His father relented, saying his son's arguments rang true. And since making that speech, J.D. has hosted not just one but two coed sleepovers, the second one last month after he and his Fairfax County, Va., high school classmates attended the homecoming dance.

Forget the old slumber parties where teenage girls talked about the boys they had crushes on. These days, those boys are sometimes sleeping in the same room.

Parties like the ones held at J.D. Moss' home have soared in popularity in the past two years, according to parents and educators at several Washington, D.C.-area high schools.

"It's something that is their generation's spin on the sleepover, and they are very big now," said Errol Krass, whose daughter, Laura, 17, a Montgomery County, Md., high school senior, has attended coed sleepovers since she was 15. "Parents are always discussing it, worrying about it. It's a big deal."

Debby Innerfield does not let her 16-year-old daughter, Cait, attend such parties. But the fact that so many other teenagers are allowed to go makes it harder to say no, Innerfield said. "Everyone talks about these, and I know the kids hold a lot of them," she said.

Although boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes attend together, many of the teenagers at the all-night parties are not part of a couple. In that respect, the parties are a variation on group dating, where teens 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.

"Kids always used to rent hotel rooms," said Joan Graham, a journalism teacher in Maryland who hears about the sleepover parties frequently. "I guess with these parties, parents think, 'Well, they are at least under my roof.' "

But while some parents find comfort in the coed sleepovers, others are appalled at the idea.

"It's a horrible trend, and parents need to just say no," said Diane Fenner, who has two sons at an Arlington, Va., high school. "I think it's a bum deal having them all in the same room like that. I have good friends who disagree and let their kids do it. But I think these kids are getting one over on us."

Innerfield said she worries that the sleeping arrangement may lead to sexual promiscuity.

From teenagers, there are conflicting reports about what goes on at the parties. Many say that nothing beyond kissing occurs. Others say boyfriends and girlfriends sometimes go further than that. Some say they occasionally have seen guests take sips from bottles in the liquor cabinet.

Many of those who go to the parties say they obey parental rules carefully because they're grateful just for being allowed to attend.

"It's almost like there is this little voice on their shoulder," said Dan Pisner, who has let his son Elliot, 17, hold several coed sleepovers.

Elliot agreed. "It's true," he said. "You feel happy you are allowed to just be together and have one. We usually spend a lot of time talking and listening to music all night."

Joel Moss said he runs a "tight ship," checking off everyone's name as they arrive and then locking the house so that no one can leave and then return. He also warned J.D. that he would lose his car if anyone was caught using illegal substances.

"There are very clear rules," Joel Moss said. "And they all sleep in one big room in the basement, so I doubt they're exhibitionists and are doing anything sexual in front of each other. Plus, I do look in on them."

But many educators are skeptical. "I am a little leery of these," said Tim Evans, a social studies teacher and co-advisor to the senior class at Woodson High School in Fairfax. "It's sort of a cop-out to say, 'Well, at least they aren't in hotels.' They shouldn't be in hotels anyway. It's this slippery slope. It's like saying, 'We know you are going to drink, so you might as well do it in our house.' "

Ray Anderson, principal of H.B. Woodlawn High in Arlington, said the parties are a bad idea unless the parents who host them are willing to stay up all night.

"The parents might be upstairs in their bedroom, conked out, and there might be wild behavior down below," Anderson said.

Many parents said they try to stay up until about 2 a.m. and then make other checks if they wake up during the night.

"It's their custom now," said parent Errol Krass. "Sometimes you can take the moral high ground and say no. But at some point, you have to have some level of trust."

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