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Moms Talk: Boys and Public Restroom Dilemmas

This week we’re discussing a problematic issue for many mothers of young boys: When can they go to a public bathroom alone? Do you drag your 9-year-old son into the women’s room for safety’s sake?

Oh, this is a tough one, moms.

I have an almost-six-year-old boy, and I would rather walk across a bed of hot coals or eat a canned biscuit than let that child go into a public men’s room alone.

But the thing is, he’s getting bigger-- and ladies are starting to give us wary glances when we shuffle through the women’s room door in Target together. I shrug those glances off, because to me they are very much preferable to the agony of waiting outside the men’s room door knowing Jack's inside.

Maybe I’m overprotective. Actually, I am overprotective, and I’m fine with that. Because I can’t stop running this story through my head when I imagine my tiny boy in a men’s room alone.

I place a high value on my peace of mind, and for now, if braving disapproving stares in the women’s room is the price to pay, count me in.

After all, what alternatives do we have?*

We certainly don’t let them out of our sight while we’re in a public place, so why in the world should we have to send our little boys into a room with strange men inside and close the door?

When they’re somewhere with us, and we have to go, do we make them stand outside and wait for us?

My answer to these questions is a vehement NO.

However, I know very well that there comes an age when it really isn’t appropriate to take your son into the women’s room anymore. And what I’d like to ask you moms is this: When is it?

When that time comes, what exactly do you do? Do you escort them to the men’s room door and stand right outside? Do you, God forbid, peek inside first?

Speak out Parents:

What about you? Does your son go to the restroom with you in public places? What do you do with your older sons? Please weigh in!

Side Note: The author would like to take this opportunity to publicly express her undying gratitude to public establishments offering family restrooms to patrons. 

Mitch June 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM
I have the reversed same issue with my 5 yr old daughter! Having her go in a women's bathroom by herself may not be as bad as a boy by himself in the men's room (most pedophiles are men), but I still do not like the fact she is alone in a bathroom with other adults. I absolutely hate bringing her in the men's room with me but at least she is with me. I've come to love the family bathrooms many places have now. Most of them you can lock and have your own privacy. I'm always willing to wait for one if occupied before using the men's room. As for the appropriate age to go by themselves, it's a very tough call and probably different for boys and girls. Several thing when they finally go by themselves; teach them to touch as little as possible, do not talk to anyone, and have that antibacterial gel ready regardless if they wash their hands with warm water and soap!
Mitch June 22, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Sorry if I invaded the Mom's talk. Just thought I would throw in a dad/daughter perspective!
Kevin Madigan (Editor) June 22, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Mitch - Your comments are more than welcome.
Ashley price June 22, 2012 at 06:41 PM
8 is not too old to be in the restroom with me! I will allow my almost 8 year old into the men's restroom after I see that no one is in there... then I stand there waiting for him to come out. Innocense is stolen from these precious babies in the blink of an eye... I don't care if anyone has a problem with me bringing my babies (8 & 5) into the restroom with me! It's my job as a mommy to protect them for the rest of their lives! Its more than teaching hygiene... to me, thats not the issue... its that creepy man thats lurking and waiting! Give me stares and looks all you want.... I'll smile back! ;)
Raven Nichols June 22, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Thanks for your input, Mitch! Dads are always welcome here! And my husband has been in your shoes with our daughter. Let's just hope more businesses wise up and make family restrooms available for their customers!
Raven Nichols June 22, 2012 at 09:40 PM
I like you, Ashley!
April Flake June 22, 2012 at 11:10 PM
Yes, I would and have taken my son into the women's restroom and any place necessary (like once into the dressing room for the Gwinnett Ballet when trying to locate my wayward daughter!) In his case, he has mild autism and there is no way I would leave my son anywhere alone! There are stalls in the women's restroom that offer plenty of privacy unlike the open urinals in many men's restrooms.
Anne June 23, 2012 at 06:07 AM
I'm a Mom of boys & it's hard to say the cutoff age of dragging them in the women's restroom. I ignored any glares or comments. Couldn't care less about winning a strangers approval of my parenting choices. When mine felt too big to absolutely be dragged in the women's restroom, I'd politely yell in the men's room to see if anyone was in there, then when seemed deserted I cautiously, thoroughly checked all over to be 100% sure, then guarded the door like a piranha. lol
Anne June 23, 2012 at 06:14 AM
Cont'd: It IS a bit unnerving/embarrassing to enter the men's restroom to check, but it's better than putting my child's safety at risk & I do make every effort to announce my presence & enter an empty restroom since I'm treading into basically a forbidden area to me and may even look like a weirdo myself for doing that, lol, but I don't really have other options. When I had to go & just couldn't wait, my kids & I have disliked this, but we've actually shared stalls & taken turns facing the wall w/ hands by our faces as privacy shields while the other went, obviously that's not much of an option the older they get, but whaddaya do?! :/ My youngest are late preteens & I still check the bathrooms, parents just can't be too careful! Once a man tried to grab my (then 3 yr. old) child from my shopping cart & I was standing right there! Don't let your kids out of your sight & don't feel like you have to justify your parenting to anyone, it's our job to keep our kids as safe as possible & sadly, society just keeps getting more dangerous.
TKD June 23, 2012 at 12:53 PM
I just took my 6 year old son (that looks more 9) into the women's bathroom yesterday. He already hates it, but too bad so sad. As his parent, it is my job to make sure he is safe, especially when predators are everywhere, and even pose as mentors to youth.
Cindy Wheeler June 23, 2012 at 07:34 PM
When my son was about six we were on vacation and he had to go, you know, "NOW". There was a line out the door of the ladies room but, of course, no line at the mens room. Reluctantly, I let him go in by himself. 5 minutes passed, then 10, then 20. Frantic, I stopped the next man entering and asked him to please see if there was a little boy in need of help inside. The man came right back out and said my son had accidently gotten his shirt wet while washing his hands and was trying to dry them off with the dryer. Whew! My son came right out, just fine, if not a little wet. I think he was probably nine or so the next time he went to the restroom by himself again. You can't be too careful.
Nona Evans June 24, 2012 at 03:55 AM
I once heard a woman in Dollar General tell her small son about 7yrs old to go next door to the bathroom in a public laundry. I told the Mom I did not mean to butt in, but I am a social worker and know of cases where children were molested in public bathrooms when they were alone and she should take her son herself. The mother was thankful for my advice and refused to let her son go alone. I was glad I said something to the Mom and she was glad I said something too. Children need parents to protect them no matter how it looks to other people.
Michelle Gilliland June 25, 2012 at 02:15 PM
I can't believe that people would give you wary glances for a five-six year old. I mean come on! Those people have obviously never had children. I have no idea what the appropriate age is, but in a women's bathroom, women SHUT the door to go. It isn't as if you're letting Jack pee in the sink. The men have an entirely different problem as they for some odd reason have urinals. (Which I never understood, but an entirely different topic.) I really feel for the Dads with their girls! I have witnessed a few Dads looking quite anxious standing outside public bathrooms, and I have actually gone back in a few times to check on their girls for them. (They were always fine... just being slow, little women.)
Jenn Syx June 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
It all depends where we are and what's going on. My son is 5 and the thought of going into a woman's restroom is horrific to him but I am pretty sure there is someone just waiting for me to look the other way so I have to weigh my options carefully. If we are at Wal-Mart and I have to go, then he goes in with me. However, there have been plenty of times when we are out to eat or somewhere else safe and I let him go to the men's room with very strict instructions. "Are you just going pee? Fine, then you have 2 minutes. You go in, DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING YOU DON'T NEED TO! You do your business; you MUST wash your hands and you get out here with no playing around. If you take too long, if I hear anything weird or if you are up to no good I will know it and I have no problem coming in there and dragging you out. You got it. Good" Without fail he is in and out and I am there watching everyone going in and out like a creepy men's bathroom stalker.
Jennifer Silas June 25, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I remember once my father took my daughter, then three, to a movie. When she had to go to the bathroom my dad asked a lady in line for the bathroom to take her in for him. I was glad I learned this AFTER the fact, when I knew my daughter was safe. But really, what was he supposed to do? I have no problem with boys in the ladies room. I'd say middle school would be the age that is too old. Other than that there are too many variables. Where are you, how mature is your child, etc. I would easily let my daughters go to the restroom alone at the mom and pop restaurant where we eat dinner at least once a week. But I would not let them go alone in the Mall.
Agnes Nutter June 25, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Mom of three boys here, and, unless I feel the situation is unsafe, I give the younger two (ages 7 and 5) a choice of whether they want to go into the women's room with me, or the men's room alone. Unsurprisingly, they always choose the men's room. I'm not super apprehensive about it. I mean, yes, there are psychos out there, like that guy in the story you linked. But, tragic as that story is, I don't feel like the aunt is at all to blame for letting her 9-year-old nephew go into the bathroom while she waited outside. I'm amazed she even walked with him to the building in those circumstances. But if I thought the situation was creepy (i.e., a truck stop, or a highway rest area, or someone nearby who gave me the willies), I would take my boys into the women's room with me, or I would go into the men's room with them. Also, if they take too long, I don't hesitate to stick my head in the door and make sure everything is okay. To answer your question of when I started letting them brave the men's room alone, the answer is when they were tall enough to wash their hands by themselves.
Agnes Nutter June 25, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Also, three is too young, and daddies just need to realize that it's not going to hurt their daughters to go into a men's bathroom. Even when there are urinals, it's not like men are walking around with their penises hanging out. What gives me heartburn is taking my kids to a public swimming pool, where there is actual nudity in the locker rooms. I mean, I don't care what they see, but I know most women have a little more modesty than I do. If I were a dad, I would just never take my daughter swimming alone.
Marcy20 June 25, 2012 at 05:49 PM
A lot of these moms think the best way to protect their children is to constantly keep on eye on them. They will grow up someday and they will eventually venture out on their own. What lessons will you have taught them to be self-sufficient? Have you taught them about listening to their gut feeling? Have you taught them to scream bloody murder if someone tries to hurt them? These children need to be taught common sense and these mothers need to use common sense. If you send a boy into the bathroom and he's gone for 20 minutes, why haven't you gone into to check on him? I doubt you'll be arrested for checking on your child. Independence, coupled with knowledge is healthy for a child. Watching your 12 year olds every move is not. And for those mothers who do bring their boys into the bathroom, you'd better be able to make them behave. I have had boys wiggle under the door and stand up in MY stall. I have had boys stand outside their mothers stalls and press their little eyeballs to the gap in my stall. And when I have said something, the mothers got mad at me! I expect privacy when I use a restroom. Yes, that's why you get the eyerolls. And one last thing, if your boy is sporting a moustache, he's too old to be in the ladies room with you!
Agnes Nutter June 25, 2012 at 06:21 PM
My biggest concern is not for the privacy of the adults using the restroom (although anyone who tries to crawl under the door into my stall is likely to get my shoe in their face, I don't care how cute they are). For me, it's more about training my kids to have the right instincts in situations, to know how to handle things like using a public toilet and not being able to reach the soap, or having a weird guy talk to you, or whatever. Public restrooms are fairly safe, controlled environments that still give a lot of opportunity to flex one's problem solving/creep radar muscles. I think it's good to give kids the chance to develop those instincts early. That's also why I still ask them if they would rather come into the women's room with me. If they pick up on something that I miss, then they have the chance to recognize it and deal with it.
Raven Nichols July 11, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Marcy20- I totally understand your beef. Children should be taught to be independent and self-sufficient. I agree with you there. But there are some situations a child is not equipped to handle. They are CHILDREN, after all, and they are our responsibility to protect until they can properly take care of and defend themselves. Just this morning a friend of mine posted this story: http://www.kptv.com/story/18996322/documents-reveal-boy-broke-knife-in-half-during-wendys-bathroom-attack#.T_2hSUdTgkg.facebook What chance did that child stand against a grown man with an evil soul and a weapon behind a locked door? I shudder to think what might have happened if other adults hadn't intervened in time. I agree there's a cut-off age for boys in the women's room. I'm not advocating pre-teens accompanying their mothers. But you can believe I'll be vigilant and even inappropriate whenever it's needed to maintain my child's safety.
Andrea W. June 08, 2013 at 05:05 AM
This evening I was yelled at by a man with two young girls for allowing my very recently turned three year old boy into the women's restroom. I was curious to find out if anyone thought I was out of line for standing up to this man and telling him his little girls would have to wait if he had a problem with it. To me, the man was outrageously crazy to even think a three year old could do harm to his two little girls whom were much older than my little guy. As far as I am concerned the risk of sending my son into the men's room is far greater than a three year old harming a five and seven year old girl. BTW, "flex one's problem solving/creep radar muscles"? I really doubt anyone under the age of 12 really stacks up to an adult pedophile. Male adult pedophiles are extremely manipulative and much, MUCH bigger and stronger than the little children they pray on. My five year old often accompanies me into the ladies room as well. I'm assuming that is coming to an end very soon because he is becoming more independent as the days pass. For now, I'm going to pass on sending my little guys into a room full of men using urinals. I'm just uncomfortable with it and it seems AND feels inappropriate.
Agnes Nutter June 08, 2013 at 02:38 PM
I started asking my boys which restroom they want to use around age 5. As I said above, three is too young to use a public toilet alone, for safety and logistical reasons. I mean, I was barely letting my kids use the toilet in our house alone at that age, not because I was afraid of the axe-wielding sex maniac in the linen closet, but because of the endless mischief a three-year-old can cause. And because it was even odds on whether they could manage to clamber onto the toilet by themselves without falling in. So, over-protective dad was out of line, and you were quite justified in ignoring him/rolling your eyes/blowing a raspberry at him.

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