A slumber party is a rite of passage in a child's life. It marks a time when the comfort of friends outweighs the comfort of sleeping at home. However, there's a new trend in teenage sleepovers that's causing parents to wonder when this rite of passage became a matter of right or wrong. The issue? Coed slumber parties.

"Increasing numbers of parents say their teens want to attend coed teen slumber parties," says Dr. Linda Sonna, psychologist and author of 10 parenting books, including The Everything Parenting a Teenager Book. For many parents, there's no discussion about it –coed sleepovers are out of the question. For other parents whose teens who are hosting and attending these boy-girl events, it's merely a sign of the times, a natural extension of the ever-expanding platonic relationships between the sexes.

Dr. Sonna agrees that many teenagers have "deep, platonic friendships with members of the opposite sex." She also believes the assertion that kids just want to be able to hang out with their friends, all night long –the typical argument for having such a party –is apt to be true. But she warns that coed slumber parties often include a lot of sexual activity. In most cases, having sex isn't planned; it's a reaction to attraction, peer pressure and opportunity.

It's this combination of "raging hormones and poor executive judgment" that led Melinda Reilly to say no when her teenage daughter was invited to a coed sleepover. Reilly, whose blog Parents Headsup encourages parents to make informed decisions about their children's safety, viewed the sleepover "to be an unnecessary risk.”

However, there are ways for parents to minimize the risks of a coed slumber party though –starting with good communication. For Reilly, this was a key factor in allowing her daughter to attend a coed camping trip. “The parents were very proactive about it, from the invitation forward," she recalled. "I really appreciated the approach." Dr. Sonna offers parents these pointers, too:

  • Talk to the adults involved. Be certain they are aware of the party, will not be serving alcohol and will be checking in on the teens.
  • Be clear about the rules. Dr. Sonna urges parents to let it be known that breaking the rules will result in everybody being sent home, no matter what time it is. She also reminds parents not to expect your teen to be in charge of the goings-on. “You are the responsible party," she says.
  • Provide separate sleeping areas. Have boys and girls bunk down in different rooms and set a time for "lights out."
  • Set a party perimeter. Insist that invited guests stay in the house and yard and don't allow uninvited guests onto the property.

Most importantly, talk to your teen. “It's hard to go against the group," Reilly says. It's possible your teen doesn't want to go, but needs you to be the fall guy. But, if she does want to attend and you're uncomfortable, don't give in –no matter how much she pouts and cajoles. "Consider," points out Dr. Sonna, "that if you can’t hold firm when your child pressures you, you cannot expect your teen to say 'no' when pressured by peers."