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By Buzz McClain

"Daddy, Meredith asked me if I could spend the night at her house? Can I? Can I? I promise to be good."

Sleepovers are part of childhood -- some of our earliest, fondest memories are recollections of the anarchy that reigned the night we spent playing in someone else's house, staying up WAY past normal bedtime and giggling in the darkness about who knows what.

As a kid, the idea of a sleepover makes you giddy. But as a parent, the request to go on a sleepover is sobering. A million questions should run through your head before you give an affirmative answer. Here are 10 of them.

1. Whose house is it?

An obvious question, but you might not be familiar with all of your child's friends, their parents or where they live. Get the name, address and phone number and call to find out exactly what's going to happen. Drive past the house and take a look. Your preteen will think you're invading her privacy; just remind her that's your job. And if this information is not forthcoming, your Instinctive Internal Parental Alarm should be ringing like mad.

2. Do you know the parent?
If no, then you should. How will you sleep that night knowing your child is in an unfamiliar house with people you don't know? Before you say "yes" to the sleepover request, visit the house yourself and get the phone number, the child's phone number (if they have a separate line; more and more do these days), and any other pertinent numbers you might need - pagers, cell phones, etc. At the same time, leave all of YOUR numbers. Also, verify that the parents will be in the house the entire time.

3. What should your child take?

If yours is the only child and there is an extra bed, then you might not need to take a sleeping bag. But if it's a slumber party you may need to pack blankets, pillows, etc. Don't forget the toothbrush.

4. Is this a single sex event?
Never assume that sleepovers will be single sex - not every parent has the same values - or level of common sense -- and some parents are more easily swayed by kids to do something other parents won't do (why do you think they picked THAT house to have their party?). Further, you need to know if children of opposite sexes will be invited early and then asked to leave. Why is this important? If the kids are old enough to drive, they might not drive far before doubling back to knock on windows. (It helps here to recall that YOU were once a teenager.)

5. What activities are planned?
Does your child need to take food, toys, videos? The best advice we got from someone who had been there before: Don't take your best Barbie. Something bad happens to it every time.

6. Is the hosting parent single?
Will their significant other be in the house? How do you feel about their answer if they say "yes"? You should know if the host parent is going to have their boyfriend/girlfriend stay the same night your child and/or other children are there. They may have lived together for years, but to you - and more importantly, to your child - it's the first time. Are you prepared to explain what's going on?

7. Does your child have their "sleep toy" and the personal effects they need to get them through the night?
Do they have a favorite blanket or pillow that might make the night more comfortable? If the child is young, and this is their first sleepover, small items from home will help get them to sleep when all the excitement is over.

8. Are you leaving town during the sleepover?

Think again. Never assume it is a night off for you. Any number of things could happen - there could be an argument that makes your child want to come home; your child could get sick (one child we know had a first-ever asthma attack at 2 a.m. during a sleepover); she could have forgotten to pack that sleep toy; the chaperones might conclude no one is ever going to sleep so your child has to go home; or, as often happens with young children on their first sleepovers, your child might get homesick and want to come home early. The bottom line is, just because your child is out for the night doesn't mean you can relinquish your responsibilities - or even stay out very late (unless the chaperoning parents have your pager number).

9. Does your child know that he or she can call you at ANY TIME of the night if there is something going on they are not comfortable with?
NEVER tell your child, "Just go with it - you'll be fine." Assure them that if the other kids (or in the worst case, the parents) are doing something they don't like, all they have to do is call and you'll be there to get them, even if it's very late.

10. Last, and most important, can you trust your child to make the right decisions?
Are the younger kids mature enough to brush their teeth and wash their face alone? For older kids, can they be trusted not to deceive the hosting parent and try to get away with something illicit? Plenty of renegade magazines, CDs with parental advisories and R-rated videos are explored at sleepovers. If you can depend on their sense of right and wrong, then let them go to the sleepover. Just leave those good Barbies at home.

(Buzz McClain is a music critic for The Washington Post and the "on call" parent for Samantha, 6 1/2, and Luke, 3 1/2.)

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