Care and Feeding

What Are the Rules for Sleepovers When Your Teen Is Bisexual?

I want to be supportive of their identity, but I’m not sure how to handle the usual gender divide.

A group of teens at a sleepover.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SerrNovik/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Jamilah is out today, so we’re publishing a few of her classic Care and Feeding letters. Have a question? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

What are parents of bisexual teens supposed to do about sleepovers? For my heterosexual kid, the rule is “no opposite-sex sleepovers,” and if I had a gay child, the rule would be “no same-sex sleepovers.” It seems very unfair to prohibit my bisexual teen from having sleepovers just because they happen to be attracted to both genders, but it also doesn’t seem fair that my other teens have to abide by these “no sleepovers with people whom you might want to have sex with” rules while the bisexual teen doesn’t. Help!

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—Proud Parent of Bi Teen

Dear PPoBT,

I want to first affirm your desire to support your child’s identity and your desire to be equitable in how household rules are created and enforced. Alas, equity is often elusive in a world that will present challenges to your bisexual teen that their siblings simply won’t have to face. This may be the rare occasion that this particular child experiences what seems like an advantage on the basis of their sexual orientation, but ultimately, it’s simply a heightened expectation of responsible behavior and honesty.

Sleepovers for kids and teens are typically same-gendered. I wouldn’t recommend denying this experience to a bisexual or gay young person just because they are known to be attracted to members of their own gender. These gatherings are typically more about bonding over gossip, games, junk food, and Netflix than they are about getting physical. And anyway, hetero kids and queer/bi ones that haven’t come out to their families are also quite capable of engaging in sexual activity with peers of their own gender when the door is closed and the adults have gone to bed for the evening. (Gender nonconforming kids also deserve sleepover invites, by the way.)

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The most reasonable thing to do would be to either hold all of your kids to the single-gendered sleepover rule or allow them all to attend multi-gendered sleepovers. As it is (understandably) important to you that they aren’t engaging in sexual activity during these festivities, they should only be able to sleep over in homes when you are clear that the adults present are capable of and invested in preventing any fooling around. Also, you may also want to prohibit them from attending sleepovers where their boyfriend or girlfriend is present.

There is a lot of other stuff to be fearful of when teens are under close quarters with potentially limited supervision—drug use, drinking, bullying, listening to really shitty music, etc.—and as is the case with messing around, they find opportunities to do these things during the school day, when you drop them off at the YMCA on Saturdays for “basketball,” and whenever they aren’t being closely watched. The only way to truly ensure that a sleepover is sex-free is to have them at your own house and watch those little horndogs like a hawk.

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Ultimately, if you are letting teens go to sleepovers, there’s a risk that they’ll do some shit you don’t like while they’re there. But there’s a good chance your kids would prefer not to risk humiliation by getting it on while someone’s parents are home anyway. Talk to your not-so-little ones and explain to them what your expectations are for when they spend the night out—and make sure they are clear on how to practice safe sex regardless of the gender of their partners, and that they won’t allow an STD to remain dormant out of fear of disappointing you for breaking a sleepover rule.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a single mom to a 7-year-old son and a 1-year-old daughter. I want to be able to have conversations with my son about his body, girls, sex, and everything in between, but I recently grossed him out just by saying penis. How can I begin to approach these topics so that we can have open and honest conversations? I don’t think I’ll have the same issues with my daughter, who I’ve already started to talk to about body autonomy—hopefully, vagina won’t be as gross later on. Any and all advice, resources, and suggestions are appreciated.

—It’s Just a Body Part

Dear IJaBP,

Kudos to you for already starting these (often awkward) conversations with your children. So many parents don’t feel comfortable enough to do so. Hell, a lot of people become parents because the adults in their lives didn’t feel comfortable having those talks. Ask your son what he finds gross about the word penis and find out what he’s been hearing from other family members, friends, media, etc. about anatomy and sex. Explain to him that his penis is a body part and, like his arms, stomach, and feet, it does a number of important jobs that Mommy has to be able to talk to him about, even if it may feel a little weird to do so. Give your kids an honest and clear explanation about how babies are conceived and born. Normalize talking about bodily functions and emotions now, so that when puberty is looming and the truly difficult conversations begin, they will be used to hearing you use those words and more likely to be able to receive the information you’re providing … even if they’d rather hear it from anyone else but their mom. Check out Sex Is a Funny Word, which is a great guide to sex, sexuality, and gender expression that is much more progressive than most of the books on the topic. There’s a good chance your son will always be a little grossed out at talking about his penis with you, but he’ll make better choices about what he does with his penis later on if you stay the course. Happy chatting!

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Read the original column.

• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My soon-to-be 10-year-old stepdaughter already has dark hair growing under her arms, wears a training bra, and is beginning to develop acne. It seems awfully early for these developments, but it looks a lot like puberty is coming for her sooner rather than later. Her grandma and grandpa are her primary caregivers, and her relationship with her biological mother is extremely limited. Her grandma bought her a book on puberty, but that’s so impersonal. Would I be greatly overstepping to spend some time talking with her about body changes and the likelihood of a period in the next year-ish? I try to be mindful that I am not her primary caregiver, but I think, given the changes she’s experiencing, that maybe she needs at least the beginning stages of “the talk.” In my opinion, the key word there is talk, not “read a book that you’re too embarrassed to ask questions about.” Thoughts?

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—Not Quite the Momma

Dear NQtM,

You’re absolutely correct. A little girl should not have to go through puberty without a trusted adult (ideally someone who can relate to having to purchase a first bra and getting her first period) who can speak to her about the changes taking place with her body. With her father’s blessing, speak to her grandparents about what’s going on and explain why you feel this should be a matter of talking and not simply assigning reading material.

Hopefully, they’ll be grateful to have the assistance, and you can add some routine one-on-one time to your respective schedules. It’s not clear how much time you get with her, but if the two of you are not already close, start slowly and get her comfortable talking to you alone before dropping the “SO, how about that monthly blood between your legs—any day now!” bomb. Teach her how to shave properly, unless she wants to have the hairy pits, and about the importance of good hygiene (including a skin care regimen, as acne is often right down the street from breasts and body hair). Establish yourself as a trusted source for information about the changes young women go through and be a safe place for her to turn to when her grandparents or father may be too disconnected from her issues to be supportive. You got this.

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For more of Slate’s parenting coverage, listen to Mom and Dad Are Fighting

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughters, who are in grade 4 and grade 6, are both being given standardized assessment tests this year. The message from their school seems to be that the school doesn’t make decisions based on the results of these tests, and only administers them because of state requirements. My daughters both want to see the results of their scores. One of them hasn’t even taken the tests yet, but she asks me every couple of days whether I’m going to let them see their results. Should I let them?

A complicating factor is that I’m fairly sure one of my daughters will score higher than the other, and she’s definitely not going to remain tactfully silent on the subject. (She will do better because she’s better at test-taking; they actually get equivalent grades in school because their teachers take participation, attention, projects, etc., into account.) They are both high-achieving students in general, and I’m not worried that either of them will do poorly on these tests.

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—Mother of Test Scores

Dear MoTS,

You should let them see the test scores. They may well be competitive; you can make it clear to them that the tests are not a contest but an outdated method of measuring student aptitude that has been devalued by their own school, but you can’t prevent them from having any sort of reaction to a disparity in their test scores. Nevertheless, unless there is a situation in which one or both of them will experience sustained anguish or hurt as a result of doing so (i.e., one of them scores very high while the other fails to meet the standards for her grade level), it’s fine for them to see the results.

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In addition to being clear about the problems with these tests, be sure to explain to both of them—which I am sure you already have—how the daughter who does not typically score as well on exams demonstrates her own academic strengths in other ways. Caution them that their response to this round of results will determine if you allow them to view their results in the future, and that taunting or gloating will not be tolerated. You may be surprised—there’s a good chance they’ll score higher on this test of their maturity than the exam itself.

Read the original column.

— Jamilah

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