Using the women’s changing rooms of our clubhouse pool earlier this week, there was just me, a mom and her son who looked about 8 or 9 years. I was a little surprised to see him in there, but it didn’t bother me. However, the reception staff was not happy. Explaining to the mom that kids age 6 and over must use gender appropriate locker rooms, and her boy needed to leave and go use the men’s. I then witnessed his mother have what can only be described as a melt-down, yelling at staff there was no way she would let her boy go in the men’s locker room on his own, with all those “strange men”. The constant battle with our children between safety and independence is a hot topic and a major milestone is the locker room/public restroom scenario.
There are so many differing opinions as to what age a child is old enough to go in a public bathroom or locker room by him or herself. Back in March there was online debate in the US after a parent posted a sign they’d seen taped to the wall of a mall toilet. ‘Boys over six to use men’s bathroom’ it read. The sign sparked furious debate between parents and parenting experts. Some saying age six is ‘far too young’ for a child to go alone, others that it depends on the maturity of the individual child. My son will be 7 in March and he has been using public toilets on his own for a while now. If we’re dining in Element Fresh or Blue Frog, or shopping at Indigo Mall, he’ll go use the bathroom on his own with me waiting outside. I’ll call out and ask if he’s ok, but more to check he’s not struggling with his zip or locked himself in the stall, than thinking something sinister might be occurring.
Are kids really in more danger now than when we were kids? Or is our level of paranoia just getting out of control. We’ve heard horror stories of sexual abuse of unaccompanied children in bathrooms and locker rooms, but maybe parents need to keep some perspective. Most sex crimes against children — over 90 percent — are committed by relatives or acquaintances in homes, not by strangers in public. I think it’s naive to think there are either more people that prey on children now, or less people that preyed on children back in the 70s or 80s.
The vast majority of strangers are in fact good people and while a parent’s job is to protect their child, protecting them means first and foremost teaching them how to protect themselves. We need to let our children exercise their budding independence and teach them how to be confident and independent. A parent who overprotects can harm a child as much a parent who under protects.
The lady at my gym is of course entitled to make her own decisions on when she feels it would be appropriate to let her son use the male changing rooms alone. What bothered me most about the whole event was the fact she was saying all of this right in front of her child. Yes, we need to make our children aware of potential risks, but by talking to them and not making them overly fearful. Yelling about nasty people, pedophiles and weird men in changing rooms is surely not the best way to get the safety message across.
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.