Maybe you read the sad stories reported recently of two McDonald's bathroom disasters.
First, a cruel "prank" by teenage girls that left superglue on a little girl’s bottom.
Second, a tragic pedophile attack against a little six year old boy.
I was furious when I read these accounts as I am sure you were too. My heart goes out to both the victims and the parents.
These stories have unleashed a flurry of online discussion asking this question:
How old should a child be to go to a public restroom unsupervised?
I would imagine that both of these parents that came forward to tell their stories deeply regret that their children were injured and wish they could go back and make that day's bathroom decision over again. So, I am not trying to add pain to their already hurting hearts.
But we do need to have a frank conversation here on this post as this is a tough issue for most of us to figure out for the following reasons:
- We do not want to raise paranoid children or fearful children.
- We want our children protected at all cost from all forms of sexual assault and harassment.
- We all have to use public bathrooms and many of us have opposite sex children who are too old to enter the restroom with us.
Moms at mall found this sign posted on the door of the women’s restroom: “Please boys over 6 years of age use Men’s restroom. Thank you.” The image was later posted on Facebook with commenters debating how to handle this.
I would love to hear how your family has solved this difficult issue.
Here are 10 thoughts I have on this issue that has been in my daily world for over 25 years! (not necessarily in order of importance)
1. Don't care what people think: I am going to make the best decisions I can for my children even if others around me are not in agreement
2. Err on the side of caution: If there will be an error, I choose to lean on the conservative side of safety rather than the side of independence or convenience.
3. Trust no one: Obviously, that sounds quite inflammatory! But in a public rest room I have no reason to trust anyone no matter how "nice" they look. I am too smart to believe that pedophiles wear signs around their necks. But I do put my trust in the Lord who gives us wisdom and discernment as well as divine protection.
4. Teach your kids at home: Be the annoying mom or dad that regularly reviews your family's safety rules and procedures. Do not think kids heard it once and never need reminders. Walk through common scenarios. Equip yourself with this podcast: “Teaching Our Kids Self-Protection Skills” with Protection Trainer Alli Neal.
5. Pre-think bathroom issues: Think ahead about bathrooms if at all possible. Cut the odds by having everyone use the bathroom before departure. This one tip faithfully implemented has caused me a great reduction in public bathroom issues.
6. Learn where your best family friendly options are located: Once my mom became handicapped it is amazing how I took note of the best handicap stall options in town and learned to plan our shopping around them! The same is true for young parents needing to protect children.
7. Buddy systems throughout the visit: Obviously, the buddy system is a help. However, kids will often run out ahead of each other and not stay together unless reminded.
8. Carry a potty chair: This is for the youngest readers among us but a great one to consider. Because I had so many kids so close together, there were many years that I carried a potty chair in my car as a matter of habit because I could not handle them all safely in public rest rooms without mess! Call it the "travel potty" instead of the potty chair. In a pinch 5 or 6 year olds can use travel pots.
9. Be the loud mom or dad: When Josiah my youngest has to enter the men's room now and I have no other option (i.e. no family bathroom available and no buddy system in place), I announce very loudly right by the entrance to the men's room: "Josiah, I am standing right out here by the door waiting for you. Call me if you have any problems." I figure this is a good deterrent!
10. Support parental choices: I hesitate to put an exact age on when a boy should no longer enter the women's room. So when I see one that appears "bigger," I always give the mom a nod of support. She may even know something we don't. Her son may have special needs. I figure we can all give each other some room and help keep our kids safe! The same is true when I see a helpless dad sending a little girl in by herself. I watch over that child without touching them or causing them to "talk to strangers."
What other ideas have you and your family found helpful?
Here is another blogger’s post on this topic: Kids Should Not Go to the Restroom Alone
And this mom had a system, but it fell apart when they were out with family: Boys and Public Restrooms: When Is It Okay to Go Alone?
One final thought:
[Love]...always protects... 1 Corinthians 13:7