Not a lot is as inconvenient as your child telling you during a grocery store trip or dinner at a restaurant that they have to go to the bathroom. It would be so easy to tell them to go ahead and go alone. I don’t let them, though. My husband or I accompany them at all times.
I read about Matthew Cecchi over 10 years ago and his story has stuck with me since. Matthew was 9 years old and was followed into a restroom by a 29 year old man while his aunt waited outside for him. The man walked in, slit Matthew’s throat and walked out. Since I read his story, I have felt the need to be extra-cautious of the dangers of my children using the bathroom without an adult.
Here is what we do when the public bathroom is needed:
Take them with us.
I have a young daughter so taking her to the bathroom is kind of a no-brainer. My husband and I both take her into either bathroom with us. However, my oldest is seven and is male, which can pose a little bit of a problem sometimes, especially if there are a lot of women waiting. If he feels self-conscious, then I let him go in alone, but with rules.
2. Stand outside of the door.
If Jax has to go to the restroom alone (long lines, he doesn’t feel comfortable with going to the woman’s restroom, etc.), then he can go into a men’s restroom alone, BUT there are things that I look for. Is anyone else in there? Are there stalls?
I stand outside of the door watching. I want to see who goes in and who walks out. When my son walks out I always ask him if someone talked to him. He knows that I am outside of the door and if someone tries something, he needs to call my name. I’ve talked to him about his body and if someone touches him, that isn’t okay. He is in a room with GROWN MEN with their pants down…why shouldn’t I be concerned?
3. My son has to use a stall.
My son knows that whenever he has to go alone to the bathroom that he must use a stall. The reason being is this: I don’t want photos of my son’s privates being traded or fluttering around online. All it takes is a quick snap with a phone and that’s it. Call it paranoia…but this happens way more than people realize.
4. Foot under the door.
A lot of times the stalls are tiny and no more than one person can fit at a time. When that happens, instead of trusting my kids to stay in the restroom and not run away or get snatched up, they put their foot under the door so I know they are there.
5. Use the family restroom.
Family restrooms are a God-send. They are private and spacious (and usually a little cleaner). They are also few and far between. If you see one, use it.
6. Don’t talk to anyone.
If Jax has to go alone, he knows not to talk to a soul in there. If someone talks to him, he has to let me know. He knows to tell that person that he can’t talk to strangers. A grown-up has no business trying to make small talk with a 7-year-old in the restroom. Jax knows that I need to know about it if it happens.
7. Make your mama presence known.
If Jax is in the bathroom alone, I check on him by slightly opening the door and making sure he is okay. “Do you need help?” “Can you button your pants alone?” “Hurry up”. If there is anyone inside that wants to cause harm, he will know there is a pestering mama waiting just outside the door.
It’s my responsibility as a mother to keep my kids safe. I feel that sending your kid into a public restroom unattended just raises the stakes for something awful happening. A child can be harmed or touched faster than a blink of an eye. I don’t know what age I will let them go by themselves and not think twice about it. There is no set age in mind…I guess whenever I feel okay with it, which isn’t going to be any time soon.
I think you should seriously consider seeing a therapist about your fear of the outside world and of strangers. One article read ten years ago should not lead to this kind of paranoia. That’s called a phobia.
As a point of fact, stranger crimes against children are rare, and they are way down since the 1970s and 1980’s. ( http://www.freerangekids.com/crime-statistics/ ) You’re not teaching your kids how to be safe. You’re teaching them to be scared of the world and of new people. The chance that your child will have his throat silt in a bathroom by a stranger is about the same as him dying in a plane crash. The chances are much greater that he will die in a car crash.
So, would you teach your children not to get into a car, or an airplane? Don’t you not want to raise your child to be a self-confident, outgoing man who feels that strangers are more than likely potential friends rather than attackers? How will he handle study abroad in college if he views every person he doesn’t know as potential enemy?
The world is scary, but it’s not as scary as reading the news too much can make it seem. My daughter is nineteen, never been attacked, loves meeting new people, going to live abroad all of next year. My other is thirteen and nervous, something I want her to overcome and to regard as irrational and a disability.
Phobias are irrational fears that restrict a person’s access to the world. They never do make a person safer, but they often do limit lives. Let’s not encourage them in our children.
Misty I applaud your article! As a mother with 3 boys (23, 7, and 3) AND a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am constantly terrified of what could happen behind the bathroom door in just the mere seconds it takes to harm a child!
Stranger danger is VERY important and while the incident of the boy having his throat slit may have happened 10 years ago, I would NOT ever want to be the parent who had to face anything that happened wrong to my son because I did not adequately prepare him for the fact that life isn’t all candy and friendships. There ARE people out there that want to hurt kids and I feel better being paranoid then being SORRY!
Love it! I feel the same way and don’t think it’s irrational. Is it rare for something bad to happen in a public restroom, yes, but it does happen! It’s estimated that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are sexually abused in the US. Some expert think that number may even be higher but that incidences go unreported. Just like you would put your child in a car seat when you get in the car, this is a way to protect your child from a potential predator. It seems like family restrooms are becoming more of a norm though which is so great!
Chris, thank goodness for your comment. I was starting to fear that everyone had become completely paranoid.
My kids were allowed to use the bathroom alone as soon as they could reach to wash their hands. I don’t stand outside the bathroom if I don’t have to. I trust my kids to find the bathroom and make their way back to me as soon as they can do so without getting lost. We’ve never had a problem.
I have to agree somewhat with Chris S. above. Children need to know they are safe, yes. Children also need to know how to handle themselves and have some sense of autonomy and independence. I have a 5 year old daughter. I take her to the restroom with me. My ex-husband brings her to the restroom with him (that I am aware of). When she is 7 years old (like your son), I honestly think it would be more awkward and unhealthy/unsafe for her to be in a men’s room filled with GROWN MEN while my ex were to use the bathroom. A 7 year old girl in a men’s room?! You cannot be serious that you think that would be a good idea! Now, that being said, it does depend on the circumstances. Superdome, New Orleans Arena, Baton Rouge Convention Center…those places parents need to be more cautious and figure out what is best for them. On a normal day-to-day basis a child should be able to go into the restroom and potty and come out and not be terrified that they will be murdered, kidnapped, or touched. A healthy fear is okay, it seems to me your fear is fueled by this article from 10 years ago and is not all that healthy. Can you honestly say when your daughter is 7 or 8 years old that you would want your husband taking her into the men’s bathroom?
Thank you. Great article about how to be diligent. No, abuse and violence does not happen to everyone, but it does happen. AnD it is awful when you or your child become a statistic.
I have read everyone’s reply and I do respect everyone’s opinion. Let me start with that first. This is a touchy subject and I knew that before I started writing. It is something that I feel strongly about and I think it’s something that needs to be brought to attention since it is parenting common ground.
With that being said, I do disagree with a lot of the comments. Especially with Chris S. who says I need to seek therapy. And to that I say “No”. I do not need therapy. I do not believe I am being overly protective. Do you realize how many untrusting people there are? The world is so unsafe now. Just because you do not KNOW of an instance where your child was targeted does not mean it hasn’t happened. We live in an age of cell phones. One snap of a picture of your son at the urinal and no one would be the wiser.
My children are unaware of the what-ifs I have in my head. I do not share the fears I have with them. They are too young. I don’t want them to be fearful of living, but I do want them to understand that they need to be aware of their surroundings. There is nothing wrong with that.
To answer the question “When your daughter is 7 or 8 years old that you would want your husband taking her into the men’s bathroom?” my answer is well…we will see when we get to that age. My daughter is 4 right now. That’s another 3 years down the road.
I want to PREVENT anything that I have control over in regards to my kids safety. That is my job.
My daughter is 3 and my husband takes her into the men’s room whenever he’s out with her and into a family restroom if he possibly can and says he’s never had any issue. He’ll do this until she’s able to do everything herself including wiping and washing her hands well. There’s nothing wrong with a small child in the opposite sex restroom.
And as for the other poster’s argument, what happens at 7 that would suddenly make it so inappropriate as compared to a 5 year old? When she’s that age and if she was uncomfortable going in her herself like at a big arena or someplace like that he would probably still bring her in with him.
Statistically the world is a much safer place than it used to be. You are overwhelmed with media. The chances of a child being sexually molested/injured by a stranger is extremely low. However your children will need to interact with “strangers” every day of their life. You realize all of your friends/acquaintances you have was a scary stranger until you introduced yourself, right?
When my daughter was 4 I allowed her to go into the Panera and Baskin Robbins restrooms. It was a one person bathroom and I sat outside. It helps her independence. Now at age 7 she will go in a multi stall restroom when I’m outside.
I’m in my mid-30s and have always been very independent. At age 14 I rode my bike 5 miles, got fast food and then went to my friend’s house. (I used public restrooms the whole way, including the public park). When will you allow your child to do the same? Will you have gps on them all the time?
I live with API…Assume Positive Intent by people around me. It makes my world and hopefully others a better place. I’ve lived in very small towns and the biggest cities in the world. I know how to analyze situations, when to quickly get to a place with other people, never walk home after drinking etc. I want my daughter to see the world as a place to experience not a place to fear.
I’d like to mention that in no way do I put fear into my children about going to the bathroom. I tell them to be mindful of the people they are around, yes. But I have NEVER told them that people in the bathroom could hurt them. They aren’t of afraid of much. If anything, at times, they can be TOO social and TOO carefree. And I am good with that…that is part of who they are.
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