My 8-year-old daughter got her first sleepover invite. There's no way she's going.

My 8-year-old daughter just got her first sleepover invite. There's no way her dad will let her go.

"Back in the olden days," as my daughter likes to say, I went to a lot of sleepovers. I walked several blocks to my friend's house to play in her room plastered with New Kids on the Block posters. I rode my bike to the nearby creek and played ... alone. I did a lot of things my kids aren't allowed to do without me today.

My mom, who is so (self-admittedly) neurotic that if I don't call her everyday she thinks I'm dead, never seemed to worry much about me doing those things back in the 1980s and '90s. Not that I would have known at the time, but I don't remember a debate about whether or not sleepovers were safe. Everyone did them.

But times have changed.

The great slumber party debate

Sleepovers are now a touchy subject. It can end friendships and create animosity among family members. I've seen more than one parent take serious offense to a sleepover offer rejected by another parent.

Like so many other issues (even something that might seem as ordinary as breastfeeding), once the debate is taken to the internet, things can get really nasty, really quickly.

Even harder than saying no to my daughter is explaining why. How do I explain to my 8-year-old that her friend's houses might not be safe? (They probably are safe, but how can I know for sure?)

"It's my job to take care of you."

"But if you know Alyssa's mom, why can't I go? You said yourself she's nice."

"True ..."

What I'm teaching my kids: Kindness isn't just a virtue, it's a survival tactic

All the perfect moms online will have the perfect answer, but I have always been an imperfect mother. I am not always sure what to say or do as a parent. And when I do or say something important, I am not always sure whether I did the right thing or said it the right way.

Most days, I'm pretty sure I could have done better.

I was warned about all this doubt, all this worry. When my oldest daughter was born, my mother told me, "Being a mom is about feeling guilty for the rest of your life." I guess this is what she meant.

Carli Pierson, her mother and her daughters in Colorado in 2022.
Carli Pierson, her mother and her daughters in Colorado in 2022.

My daughter doesn't understand the risks that I know about after having been exposed to sexual abuse by a babysitter when I was 12. She doesn't know the things I know from working as an attorney reading case after case, bad law after bad law, about child abuse. She doesn't know that most often it's those closest to us, those who have intimate access, who violate our trust and our physical integrity.

My daughter is a child. She still trusts people and believes in Santa Claus and magic. She still gets money under her pillow when the tooth fairy makes a visit.

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

Unsure about what to do, I spoke with two friends about "to sleep over or not to sleep over" and got two very different perspectives. One woman told me that her parents never let her stay over at a friend's house and she doesn't let her kids do sleepovers. "Why tempt the devil?"

Another friend told me her daughter has had sleepovers since she was 6. "You can't protect her from everything forever."

But I want to.

My concern about sleepovers is rooted in my own experiences

What happened to me, and the area of law I plunged into once I became an attorney, is part of what feeds my fear of something happening to my girls.

The 'Epstein list' ... and why we need to talk about consent with our kids

If we want to protect our children from anything it's violence, any type of violence, and the shame and fear, the blow to your self-worth, the terrible ways you begin to cope, that accompanies victims for years, sometimes decades, after that type of traumatic event.

Carli Pierson
Carli Pierson

Inevitably, what you decide to do with sleepovers, like so many parenting decisions, is deeply personal. One thing I have learned as a mother is that we are all trying to do our best, even if other people don't think our best is "the best." We base our decisions off of our life experiences, our values, our education – and we try to make the "right" choice.

With sleepovers it's true, you can't control what happens in someone else's house and that is a risk. It's also true that you can't shield your children from all harm, forever and ever. But who am I to decide the "right" answer in the great sleepover debate? I am just an imperfect mom trying to do my best.

Carli Pierson is a digital editor at USA TODAY and an attorney. She recently finished a legal consultancy with Equality Now, an international feminist organization working to eliminate sexual violence and discrimination against women and girls.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Parenting styles: Why I won't let my daughter go to a sleepover