I both loved and feared playing Truth or Dare. At sleepover parties, it seemed to be a secret but friendly truce written in invisible ink on the invitation. It was played when parents said their final good night, doors were closed, and the witching hour began.
I would always want to choose “Truth” – after all, at 13, what did I have to hide? But peer pressure inevitably led me to “Dare!” and I would find myself sneaking downstairs to steal a box of cookies, dipping my friend’s sleeping younger brother’s hand into a bowl of warm water to see if he would pee, or braving the outdoors with toilet paper in hand and an innocent tree awaiting.
According to my teenage daughter, games like Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever are still mainstays at sleepovers – and also at sleep away camps – designed to unmask the risk-takers from the safe-goers, the promiscuous from the uninitiated.
The best part of these games was – and still is – the socialization and communication – the look in your friend’s eyes when she confesses to kissing the cute boy in Spanish class and the story she whispers about her daring exploits.
But now there are smartphones and apps.
Have you hosted a sleepover lately? Along with the must-have sleeping bag and favorite pillow, kids’ smartphones are packed into their overnight bag’s easily accessible zipper, or tucked safely into their back pockets. Their phones are omnipresent, insinuating their addictive power into the sleepover fabric. Now, instead of freaking out over the nightmare inducing Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board, or giggling through Truth or Dare, kids are huddled in corners, texting, scanning through Instagram and Snapchat, and watching YouTube videos.
The documentary film Screenagers looks at the impact of screen time on kids’ development and interviews many experts. According to Sherry Turkle, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “When you are distracted by a device, you can’t have the conversations that would lead to the development of empathy and a sense of self.”
So can smartphones and sleepovers find a happy, social place?
Although I advocate for leaving smartphones in a basket or a locked box by the front door, I am also one for meeting kids where they are and embracing digital technology when and where it makes sense.
Mobile app games like the popular Heads-Up are interactive and fun. And, there is even a mobile app version of Truth or Dare. LikeSo’s game “TalkAbout” sparks conversation and offers an easy way to get to know each other even better. LikeSo offers fun Topics – like Teen Scene, Pop Culture Favorites and Debate Team – and questions and prompts like, “Do you care about popularity?” “Justin Bieber,” and “Global Warming.”
According to Teen Mentor and President of Girls Above Society, Lauren Galley, “Kids may feel weird bringing up a certain taboo topic, like what they think about smoking weed or their view on their own body image, but LikeSo lets you make a game out of it and possibly start a conversation you need to have.”
As parents, it is our role to monitor our kids’ activities, and put rules in place, but once midnight tolls and we can no longer keep our eyes open, we rely on our kids’ good judgment. We cross our fingers and hope that they and their friends can entertain themselves without causing too much trouble. And, we dare to hope that the allure of their smartphones gets lost in the fun of being with each other, and that when they do whip out their phones, they are choosing games that are empowering, bonding and that help develop a feeling of confidence in themselves as social, caring beings.