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Fayette-Mom: On his own - five-year-old in the men's room?

Posted August 1, 2011

Jennifer Joyner

I’m having a dilemma with my five-year-old son, and I am turning to you Go Ask Mom readers for advice.

It concerns his going to the bathroom in public places. I am not comfortable with his going into a men’s bathroom by himself. Does this make me smart or paranoid? I’m not sure … all I can go by is the nervous pit in my stomach the last time he insisted on going into a public bathroom alone. First, I had him go inside and tell me if it was empty. It was, so he went inside while I stood outside the door. Sure enough, two men walked up and went into the bathroom.

Now, am I being unfair to those two men, to strangers everywhere? Perhaps, but I couldn’t help it. I found myself calling loudly through the door, “Are you OK?” “I’m right here.” My son came out all proud of himself. I was a nervous wreck.

The next time this happened was at a rest stop. There was no way he was going in that bathroom alone. I insisted he come with me into the ladies' room, and you can image his reaction to that. Tears and yelling aside, I would not budge. He wouldn’t talk to me the rest of the way home.

To be fair, he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t allow him to go in by himself. How could he know, at five years old, that strangers aren’t always nice, that sometimes people have cruel intentions, and it is my job to protect him from that? Of course, we’ve discussed the whole “don’t talk to strangers” thing — but he’s never really in a position to put that into practice — he is always supervised. Is it really time now, at five years old, to start letting him go out on his own a bit?

I’d love to hear what you experienced parents have to say — please advise in the comments.

Jennifer is a mom of two and WRAL-TV assignment editor in Fayetteville. Her food obsession memoir, “Designated Fat Girl,” came out last year. Read more about Jennifer and her book on her website. Find her here on Go Ask Mom on Tuesdays.


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  • abswitala Aug 3, 2011

    Besides stranger danger (or even more importantly) is teaching our kids what is inappropriate touch from anyone- even friends of the family or that once removed uncle. People our kids have come to trust and are not trustworthy are statistically most likely to violate our children.

  • Meridian Aug 3, 2011

    Rock on, Jennifer. This means you are aware, not paranoid. I have 3 boys, 1 girl. I'd rather any or all of them be so mad they wouldn't talk to me for a day, rather than someone snatch or murder them and NEVER be able to hear their voices again. I have protected them all the same way as you. I'd drag a screaming, kicking 5-yr old boy into the women's bathroom in a skinny minute before I'd send him in the men's bathroom alone. I have a rising Eagle Scout, a football player and a baseball player. None of my boys grew up to be wimps because I took the precautions all parents should take for their children. Oh, that 100% of parents could be classified as "good, caring parents," but we all know that can never be. So, raise your children with your heart first, your brain second, and your hands last. They will turn out fine. Mine did and I'm proud of every one of them.

  • bmcleanshag Aug 3, 2011

    I had the same experience with my grandson, about the same age, at a restaurant in Myrtle Beach several years ago. He was the only boy and his sisters and I stood right outside the door. Being the only boy, he would have been mortified to be forced to go in the ladies room. I felt that standing right outside the door, I could hear anything going on. However, a man came out of the bathroom and really reprimanded me on letting him go in alone. He said to NEVER do it again. At some point, there's just no way to take a boy into the ladies' room. We can only hope for the best. The man reprimanding me, however, let me know that everyone knows the dangers involved. I think you did the right thing in both places.

  • Iwasthinkin Aug 3, 2011

    I agree with most of the comments here. Once your son has been violated you can't undo it so why take the chance? I have two sons and there was NO WAY they were going to go to the bathroom by themselves at age 5! They are grown now and their masculinity is just fine, thank you.
    Note to Mommy2Caleb- don't waste your time or breath on pangboo7. and I agree let's hope he doesn't have kids-God help them! Let's protect our children's innocence as long as we can-our gift to them...

  • lifesjourneync Aug 3, 2011

    I am Mom of two boys ages 5 & 9. My 9 year old just started going into the men's room in select places like the mall or a restaurant with me standing outside the door. I still make him go into the women's with me at rest stops, RBC Center, etc. My 5 year old goes with me to the women's unless it is a single urinal/toilet restroom and I can see no one is in there.

    Both boys have asked about various news stories involving children. I explained that sick people have kidnapped and/or touched kids and I would rather them be angry at me than anything happen to them. So, when I say they're coming with me to the women's room they know it's non-negotiable.

    I feel it's better to make them aware of what can happen (yet not be paranoid of everyone). I have also told them that if anyone ever threatens to hurt their family if they report any incident that they should absolutely tell a parent anyway.

  • iriemom Aug 3, 2011

    I have two boys. One is 8 and the other is 5. My 5 yr old definitely comes to the Ladies' room with me and no one gives me a second look. My 8 yr old still *sometimes* comes to the Ladies' room if I don't like the situation with the Mens' room for some reason. Most of the time my 8 yr old uses the Mens' room and I wait outside ready to "save" him if he needs me to. It's amazing how much more mature an 8 yr old is than even a 7 yr old. When my older son joins us in the Ladies' room, I'm actually surprised by how well accepted he is. I think people are more paranoid these days, and I think we have reason to be.

  • jasdor Aug 2, 2011

    Too young. I have two boys who are now teens and they were either accompanied by their father or came into the ladies room until they were about 7 or 8. Not only was I worried about the perverts lurking in there I couldn't see, I was worried they would touch something nasty or the toilet would splash in their faces when they flushed. I have an 8 year old daughter and still pre-check the stall for nastiness and flush for her. When the boys were old enough to go alone, I would give them 3 minutes and then bang on the door.

    I too know of stories of bathroom incidence. One was in the Philadelphia public library where a homeless person attacked a child (a girl I think in the ladies room) and we had an incident at Disney World. My husband went in with my boys and witnessed two men somewhat "engaged" in an open stall. It is just easier to mitigate the potential here and take the boy with you into the ladies room. @ GetRight, thanks for the insight on the male mind!

  • hihuwatlu Aug 2, 2011

    Feel good that your son has the confidence in himself that he feels ready to go in alone. And as others have mentioned, once he goes to school he'll be doing a lot more on his own. You'll never be completely ready and you'll probably always worry when it takes him a little longer than you think it should but there's no way to stop them from growing up. I also think people in general have started to worry disproportionately about things that are unlikely to happen. I can't name a single person who has been harmed in a public bathroom (news stories excluded). I can however name many who have died in car wrecks but I still let my daughter ride in cars. I can name a couple of people who've drown or nearly drown and I still let my daughter swim. Take appropriate precautions and get on with life. I know, it's easier said than done:)

  • Mommy2Caleb+Carly Aug 2, 2011


  • TeenDAD Aug 2, 2011

    wow no wonder kids are such wimps these days