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Mom in viral video explains why she doesn't allow sleepovers

Tara Huck's "no sleepovers" rule has sparked debate online.
/ Source: TODAY

Any mother who dared to share her breastfeeding goals or her birth plan will tell you: People have feelings about others' parenting decisions.

But that doesn't bother Tara Huck, social media influencer and mom of two, who recently went viral on TikTok and Instagram after sharing her most contentious parenting belief: She doesn't allow her children to attend sleepovers.

"I had seen a couple videos of people talking about unpopular opinions they had about different things," Huck told TODAY Parents. "It was a trend, and this is something that I feel very strongly about."

In the video, captioned "this should be fun," Huck is sitting in a vehicle; the words "unpopular parenting opinions" are on the screen. Her unpopular parenting moves follow: "As long as school and chores are done, I don't limit screen time" and "if they don't eat what I make, they don't eat."

But it was Huck's "no sleepovers" rule that struck a nerve and sparked an online debate.

The clip has gone viral. "I think the video is like eight seconds long," Huck said. "On TikTok it got something like 1.6 million views. I put that same video on Instagram, too, and I think as of right now it has 6.9 million views."

Parents have been debating the pros and cons of child sleepover parties long before Huck shared her views. Along with the rise (and scrutiny) of "helicopter parenting" came a new generation of parents who decided to ban sleepovers, citing a slew of reasons, including not knowing the parents well enough, questions about gun ownership and safety, and lingering fears of sexual assault and abuse.

In a 2016 study of over 1,000 Australian parents, 89 percent of participants said they don't want their children attending a sleepover because of the safety concerns.

Huck said the responsibility of protecting her children is why she doesn't allow them — for now — to host or attend sleepovers. "I feel like kids are most vulnerable when they're sleeping," she said. "I'm just trying to eliminate one very small factor that could potentially harm them. If they could come out of their childhood without having had a very traumatic experience, whatever that experience could be, well, that's all I'm trying to do."

How safe are kids' sleepovers?

No situation is 100% safe all the time, including children's sleepovers. And the main fears that parents have — gun safety, sexual assault, drugs and alcohol use, bullying — can occur outside sleepovers, too.

Dr. Sara Douglas, a Manhattan pediatric neuropsychologist, said it is best for parents to focus on harm-reduction and prevention rather than nixing sleepovers entirely.

"What makes a sleepover appropriate for a child is less about an age number and more about the individual child," Douglas told TODAY Parents. Parents should ask themselves some questions about their child. "Can the child be flexible enough to follow someone else's rules in a new environment?" Douglas said. "From an emotional perspective, can the child be in a new place and feel comfortable? And I might be stating the obvious, but does the child even want to go?"

Douglas said it's also important that parents feel comfortable asking other parents questions, whether about contingency plans should a child want to go home early, food concerns, gun ownership and storage and who else will be in the home.

"There aren’t any wrong questions," she added," and there shouldn’t be any limitations on what a parent feels comfortable asking another parent."

What are the benefits of child sleepovers?

Douglas said there are a number of social and developmental benefits of children's sleepovers.

"Navigating social relationships is something that children don’t always have the opportunity to do with a level of independence," Douglas said. "Spending time with children together, and not just children in the playground with adults moderating the conversation but having independent social interaction, is completely invaluable."

Independent play teaches children creativity, problem-solving skills, confidence, and self-regulation, according to Pathways.org, an organization that helps parents track their child's milestones. Douglas said that even if a sleepover doesn't go well, it can still provide a moment of essential learning.

"If kids end up getting into a fight and don't talk to each other for the rest of the sleepover, I actually don’t think that’s so bad," she explained. "That’s how you learn to navigate the social world."

Sleepovers also give kids the opportunity to practice developmentally appropriate skills they may have already acquired, but have not had a chance to put into practice or perfect. That can help them make decisions and navigate difficult situations on their own.

"Sleepovers provide an opportunity for kids to operate with a greater level of independence and in a way that is going to make them more proficient at independent operation," she said.

What if a child doesn't want to attend?

It's not uncommon for children not to want to go to a sleepover at all, Douglas said, but it's important to consider the reasons why.

"If the child isn’t ready and isn’t comfortable and isn’t wanting to go on sleepovers, that’s fine," she explained. "There’s maybe no reason to do anything about that unless it’s causing some other difficulty."

But if a child does want to attend a sleepover, but chooses not to because of anxiety, overwhelm, and the stress associated with the sleepover, there could be another issue that requires adult attention and support.

"You need to figure out a little more about where the discomfort is coming from," Douglas explained. "Is it separation anxiety and the child doesn’t want to be way from their parent? Is it more general anxiety where they’re just worried about what’s going to happen, like what they'll eat, or what happens if dinner time is different? Once you have that information, then you can decide the next approach."

Ultimately, make sure that you're making the decision based on what you feel is best for your child. "That’s the core of any parenting decision that somebody makes," Douglas said.

"I know that there are plenty of parents who would feel more anxious and more uncertain with their child gone," she said. "Having their child at home is actually the thing that is more helpful for them and their mental health."

For the time being, Huck is remaining steadfast in her decision. "Things are ever-changing, parenting is ever-changing, the world is ever-changing. So could things happen and I change my mind later in life? Maybe," Huck said. "But as of right now. I feel very strongly about the fact that if all you’re missing from a get-together is a sleeping part, you can sleep in your own beds. You’re not missing out."

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