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Long Island parents open up about electronics at sleepovers

CC Slumber Party is one of several companies you can hire to help set up for your child's sleepover. (Credit: Linda Roiser)

A sleepover with friends has long been a chance for kids to build forts, watch movies, and stay up all night — or for as long as they can keep their eyes open. But at least one thing has changed over the generations: the kids’ access to electronics.

Tablets, smartphones and social media have complicated the overnights, raising issues that parents of  a few decades ago didn’t have to navigate. Amanda Gundy, 31, a nursing assistant from West Babylon, says she feels that kids’ general dependence on technology makes an old-fashioned sleepover even more important for her daughter, Kaleigh, 10, who has them “all the time” with her best friend. “I feel like when I was a kid, sleepovers were the best part of my weekend. I think it’s a good bonding time,” Gundy says.

Here are some modern challenges and how parents are dealing with them:

Kids stop interacting one-to-one. While parents may like sending their kids to sleepovers with a smartphone so they know they can be reached at any time, some hosting parents insist the kids only use the phone to be in contact with a parent. Otherwise, “they’re on their phone lying next to each other, not communicating. They’re parallel playing like they’re 3 years old, but they’re not,” says Michelle Magwood, 42, of Baldwin, a high school history teacher who has two children, Adam, 10, and Abigail, 5. “I don’t understand, why do you want to sleep over then?” Magwood says, comparing now with when she was a kid: “We were up laughing, and our parents were like, ‘Get to bed.’ ”

Tablets and video games can stifle imaginative, active play. “Before we were more creative as kids,” says Saundra Gorman, a homemaker from East Meadow whose daughter Taylor, 10, started having sleepovers with friends when she was 8. So when Taylor has a sleepover, Gorman lets the kids use the tablet for a little while and then says, “OK, that’s it.” When Olimpia Fernandez, 48, a senior project manager from Lindenhurst, lets her son, Robbie, 9, have sleepovers with his cousins, the only video games she allows is the Wii — because it has the kids using a joystick to do something active, like virtual bowling. "Even still, that's limited. We're not doing that all night long," Fernandez says. 

Parents worry about other families’ internet restrictions. “I don’t know what kind of internet controls are at other people’s houses,” says Jennifer Matheis, 44, of Massapequa, who works for a technology company and has one child, Abigail, 9. When Matheis was a kid having a sleepover, the kids might giggle and look up words like “boobies” in the dictionary, she says. “If she were to type the word boobies into Google, I don’t know what she’s going to get. I don’t want her to see anything you can’t unsee.” Abigail hasn’t had sleepovers at other people’s houses yet; her friends will come to the Matheis’ house — but that’s more because of the fact that Abigail has life-threatening peanut allergies, Matheis says.

Kids can post sleepover photos on social media. That can make other kids who weren’t invited feel bad, says Cyndi Hahn, 47, a biomedical research consultant from Northport whose blended family includes four kids ages 24, 17, 14 and 5. “We let all our kids have sleepovers, including the 5-year-old,” Hahn says. But she doesn’t want them on Instagram, Snapchat and other social media during the night, especially if it’s a sleepover birthday party, she says. “From an etiquette perspective, it’s really important to take away the ability for these kids to reach outside the sleepover,” Hahn says.

Videos have a powerful lure. Kids would literally stay up all night watching YouTube and making videos if they could, says high school history teacher Magwood, 42. When she was young, there were built-in limits on TV watching: “We had 10 channels and at a certain time it was all static,” she says. That’s another reason to limit the technology at sleepovers, she says.

Social media “challenges” are a potential threat. “I feel like now with all these kids doing challenges like eating detergent, things can get ridiculous,” says West Babylon’s Gundy. But she says she thinks the risk is minimal. “I don’t think that’s the majority of the kids,” she says.

You can farm out sleepovers, too

Cindy Ocampo wants to organize your sleepover party.

Ocampo, 42, a library teacher from Holtsville, launched a business in March called CC Slumber Party with her sister, Chrissy Tetrault, 46, a florist from Kings Park.

The duo brings individual teepee-style tents to the home — one for each guest. They pitch them indoors, complete with an air mattress and fitted sheet in each, and they pick them up the following day. The setup also includes individual tray tables, lanterns and sleep masks. Guests bring their own pillows and blankets.

“We work with customers to come up with a theme,” Ocampo says. “What’s hot right now are unicorns and mermaids.” The company also offers pink frenzy, camping and sports, and is working on adding a glow-in-the-dark theme. “This is an idea that’s huge on the West Coast,” Ocampo says.

Ocampo isn't the only Long Islander who is getting into the sleepover business — Allison Lynch, a seventh grade teacher from Islip, is debuting her outdoor sleepover business in July, bringing a tent that sleeps between six and 10 kids to clients' backyards. The tent, she says, looks like a circus tent and will cost $425 for set up, air mattresses, bedding, themed décor, lighting and next-day pickup.

Ocampo says she thought that the partygoers would just enter their indoor tents when it was bedtime, but she found that isn’t the case. She says they usually want to put their pajamas on as soon as they get to the party. “It’s hard to get them out of the tents,” Ocampo says.

Ocampo's Bestie Package for two tents is $100. A party package with five tents starts at $300, with each additional tent costing $50, Ocampo says. The company can accommodate up to 15 tents, she says. C Slumber serves Suffolk County, and services Nassau for an additional fee depending on the distance, she says.

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