It's not something most people think about until they have children of their own. But for parents, taking young children of the opposite sex into public restrooms and locker rooms can be a real dilemma. What's a parent — who is only concerned about his/her child's safety — to do? Should a mother send her 5-year-old son into the mens' room alone to change clothes and use the toilet? Or, should she go ahead and take him into the ladies' room with her and risk getting the stink-eye from fellow females? The same struggle is true for fathers when they're out with their daughters. Depending on the child's age and circumstances, it can be a tough call. And one mom recently shared that she is not OK with boys coming into the ladies' locker room, and people have a lot of opinions about it.
Considering people are typically changing their clothing right out in the open, locker rooms can be especially tricky to navigate — and some may feel uncomfortable doing so in the presence of someone of the opposite sex. (Even if they are children.) Parents on Mumsnet were recently discussing this logistical debacle, as reported by CafeMom, and the original poster of the thread made some valid points. Specifically, this mom had concerns about boys being in the same changing area as her 10-year-old daughter.
"DDs (dear daughters) go swimming at our local leisure centre. Fabulous set up. Regular ladies/gents communal changing areas. Plus large family cubicles, plus accessible cubicles, plus an individual changing village," the mom explained on the parenting forum. "Over the past few weeks I have noticed that there are about 3 boys aged about 7/8 being taken into the ladies changing room. They are well behaved kids and there's no major problem with them."
Except that DD1 (10 and beginning to develop) is getting a bit uncomfortable — she knows at least one of them from an after school activity. I was going to just check in with the staff about age limits for boys in the ladies (there used to be a sign saying 7 and over should not use it). But, given that there are so many other options for them, is there something I might be missing?
(Yeah. This is a little awkward.)
Some moms see the mom's situation in a very straightforward manner: Boys shouldn't be in the women's locker room. Period. One commenter wrote, "Personally, I think if family changing rooms available there is no need for children of the opposite sex to be in male or female changing rooms at any age. Can't see what there is to miss!"
Another person pointed out that if moms are worried about their sons changing in the mens' room alone, that's precisely what family locker rooms are for. "I think it's fine to ask the staff to deal with it — the women can use a family changing room if they don't trust their sons to get dressed [alone]."
Still, another commenter wondered why fathers don't just take their sons to the men's room. Newsflash! Not all children have fathers in their lives. And sometimes, moms take their kids places without the fathers. Ugh.
On the other end of the spectrum, some think it's the original poster's daughter who should consider changing in a more private area. One person commented, "If your dd is starting to get self conscious given the setup you describe, wouldn't the individual changing rooms be a more comfy option?"
According to the National Child Trauma Stress Network (NCTS,) between the ages of 7 and 12, a child's awareness of social rules increases. During this time, they become more modest and want more privacy. So the original poster's daughter seems to be acting pretty normally, considering the circumstances. With that said, I'm not sure the answer in this particular situation would be for her to go somewhere else — especially since she's exactly where she should be.
Still, many moms said their sons' safety trumps others' potential discomfort. "The age limit is 8 where we live. I don't feel comfortable letting my DS (dear son) change in the men's changing room alone at his age," one parent commented. Another mom chimed in with, "These boys are presumably in there with their mothers. They are no threat. Boys deserve to be protected too and no way am I sending my ds into a man's changing room by himself."
One mom pointed out that the boys (like my own son) in this situation might appear older than they actually are. "My DS is 7 but very tall and grown up looking. Wears 10-11yo clothes and I'm sure the uninitiated could easily assume he was 10," another mom wrote. "But he's not he's 7. I am REALLY uncomfortable sending him into male public toilets alone, especially in ropey places, but get the face in the Ladies. Don't know what the answer is really."
Still, other moms brought up yet another valid point: What about children with disabilities? Maybe they can't physically dress themselves. Or, maybe it's not safe for them to be alone, even though they're older. This is definitely something to think about, especially since some disabilities aren't necessarily visible — like autism, for example.
As a mom of one son and two daughters, I can pretty much relate to all of these perspectives. The way I see it, it depends on the situation. My son is 6, and I still take him into the women's restroom with me when we're out and about without my husband. Locker rooms are a bit trickier, though. When he was a toddler, I would take him into the women's room with me without hesitation. Now that he's older? At our fitness facility, there are family locker rooms — which are small, private rooms that require a key to gain access. This is where we change together now.
Maybe it's because I do have a son (and can totally relate to the logistical dilemma of having an opposite-sex child,) but I know I wouldn't feel uncomfortable if a mom brought her son into a changing room. However, if it were a regularly-occurring situation that made my daughters uncomfortable — and the boy is well over the age limit for our particular facility? I would definitely consider taking the matter to facility staff members. Like I said, it's tricky.
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