A Look At Life: Bedding Down

16th March 2012

Teenagers & Sleeping Arrangements

Heather Harris

The thought of facing my Dad over the breakfast table was enough of a contraceptive for my first proper boyfriend, along with the requirement to enjoy moments of passion in total silence for fear of waking the dog or my younger brother.

It was odd but the more liberal my parents became, the more I wanted to run off and join a nunnery. The pressure to bring home suitably macho men who would greet my parents swiftly at the front door before whisking me upstairs on their white charger was exhausting.

Looking back, perhaps this was a parenting master stroke, but it takes some guts. Faced now with my own twins on the brink of perceived promiscuity, I’m already checking my husband’s side of the bed for hidden shotguns and putting in planning permission for two spare bedrooms.

And it’s odd how our attitudes change depending on whether we’re talking about our daughter or son. Not that we’ve done much talking, actually, as every time I broach the subject of potential overnight suitors my husband becomes engrossed in the back of the cereal packet.

But I know from a traumatised friend that the worst thing to do is to ignore the matter until faced with a half-naked 17 year-old creeping along the landing at 3am pretending to have lost his way to the toilet. (Especially surprising, as his room had its own en suite…).

Interestingly, despite our supposedly enlightened times, parents of boys do seem to have a much more relaxed approach. Not only because these days few babies seem to be left abandoned on the doorstep of the reluctant father, but also because daughters seem to bring boyfriends over for ‘sleepovers’ rather than the other way round.

In our case, given the state of my son’s room, any girl he enticed up there would be reluctant to take off her gloves let alone any other garments. The fear of infection would be far more of a turn-off than the sight of me in my dressing gown waving the latest copy of Brides Magazine.

Most of my friends agree that a ring on the finger or, at the very least, a few shared Sunday lunches is more likely to win parental approval of ‘temporary cohabitation’ than the arrival of a tall dark handsome stranger or mysterious blonde complete with backpack and matching University hoodie.

But what is the correct period of time before a relationship is ‘serious’? Is there some rule of parenting that says, ‘for 29 days thou shalt go home at night and on the 30th thou shalt sleep with my offspring under my roof?’.

Annoyingly, as with most tricky parental decisions, it clearly depends on the individual. This is about the only thing that all the agony aunts and uncles (including Graham Norton in The Telegraph whom, for some inexplicable reason, I trust) stress. We should make a decision based on the knowledge of our own children.

Some daughters are more mature at 16 and far more able to handle relationships – in and out of the bedroom – than some sons at 20 who see texting as the definition of foreplay and who would rather invite a girl into the back of their Fiat Punto than up the parental stairs.

Because that seems to me to be a very real risk. If we ban them from sleeping together in the centrally heated confines of our homes, will they revert to the modern equivalent of the back of the bike sheds, where their antics have the potential to become a You Tube hit?

Perhaps meeting the star-struck lovers half-way is the answer. Put a creaky camp bed in your offspring’s room, sending out the clear message that you trust them enough to share but equally are not encouraging any activity that involves taking two feet off the floor at anytime.

It also makes comments such as ‘did you sleep well?’ perfectly acceptable without generating suppressed giggles from younger siblings. And, best of all, it allows you and your husband to get a decent night’s sleep – unless, of course, he has other ideas… in which case, as parents, we must always remember that there’s only one thing worse than us hearing our teenagers creaking the bed springs, and that’s them hearing us.

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