I genuinely don’t have an answer for this question.  But it is a debate I see on my news feeds time and time again.  With my eldest rapidly approaching the grand old age of 8, it’s something that is on my mind a lot.

changing rooms

So when is the right age for children to go it alone in changing rooms?  It’s a complex issue. I am a mum of two boys, and take my sons swimming on my own.  My eldest goes every Saturday morning for his swimming lessons.

Firstly, the givens:

If there is a family change area available I will always use it, rather then taking my boys into the female changing rooms.

If the facility does not have a family change area, (like where my son has his swimming lessons) I will always take my son into a cubicle to get changed.

So what are my issues with sending him into the male changing rooms on his own?

Safeguarding

The obvious issue and the one I don’t really like to think about.  In reality, when I take my son for his lesson it is all families there for the same reason, so that chance of their being an unsavoury person in the men’s changing rooms is unlikely.  However I can’t rule out the risk completely.

Ability

One post I read said that as soon as kids are school age they should be able to go into the changing rooms alone as they get changed for PE at school.  I have two issues with this. Firstly my experience of year R is that they don’t very often get changed for PE, and when they do there are lots of staff to help.  Year 1 is not a dissimilar situation.  Secondly, changing into shorts and t-shirt is very different from drying and changing after swimming.  Have you never experienced the knot your knickers get into after you’ve done a few lengths?  

I try stand back with my seven year old and let him get changed himself, but there is only so many times you can watch someone drop their towel onto the wet floor, or attempt to get their socks on their still wet feet without intervening.  He probably could do it on his own, but he probably would catch pneumonia!

Responsibility

Can I trust my son to remember all his belongings?  Being that I spend a regular amount of time sifting through the jumper dumper at school looking for his lost clothing the answer to that is a big fat no!

One of the key parts of my job as a parent is to know Where my son is at any given moment. If I don’t know where he is, we have a problem.  Every swimming pool I know has two ways in and out of the changing rooms, one to the pool, and one to the reception area. And here lies my dilemma.  Which end do I wait at?  Can I trust him to go where is supposed to go? I know that I sound like a neurotic mother here, but this is still something to consider when deciding if your child is old enough to go it alone. 

 

Is your child ready?

I know that if I told my son he had to go into the men’s on his own his first question would be “Why can’t I come in with you?”  And surely that is the main factor in our decision.  If your child doesn’t feel ready to go it alone, then they are probably not ready to.  

But the issue seems to be less about if the children are ready to go it alone, and more about being with the opposite sex. Are we sexualising children from a young age?  Is the question not ‘when is the right age for children to go it alone in changing rooms’, but rather ‘when should children stop going into the opposite gender changing rooms?’  My son is not looking at the other girls and thinking about their bodies.  He’s thinking about ninjas and what he can have for a snack. 

Parents Know Best

We know our children.  We know when they are ready, both emotionally and physically to go it alone, and we make a judgement call on whether or not we think it is safe enough for them to do so.  Some kids maybe ready at six.  Some may not be ready until nine.  Is it right for somebody else to dictate when our children should do something?

I don’t know if there is a right age that applies to all.  In reality we will give it a go when he turns eight and see how he gets on.  But I don’t agree with people saying they should go into changing rooms alone from as young as four and five.

 

Would I feel differently if I had a daughter and seven year old boys were in the female change area?   

What if your partner was taking your daughter into the male changing rooms?  Are the issues the same?

It’s a big old can of worms isn’t it.

 

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4 Comments on When is the right age for children to go it alone in changing rooms?

  1. It’s a hard one here. I’m the same – my husband never takes N anywhere, so our 6yo has rarely been into male toilets, and never the swimming changing rooms. Tomorrow will be his first time with school. Our leisure centre is unisex changing – we use a family cubicle. But the school he swims at has small changing rooms no cubicles. He’ll be fine with school (as long as he remembers all his stuff and has someone to put the swimming hat on), but general public places he’s definitely not ready now. In a couple of years, hopefully he will be it is worrying. I don’t think that age is really suitable to be coming into female changing rooms where girls might be embarrassed. I guess more unisex/family rooms are needed

  2. My son is 6 and can get dressed on his own fine. When we go swimming, I don’t help him at all, he manages fine and has done for a while. But, I wouldn’t trust him to do the right thing if something happened. If someone said something to him, or if he fell over, anything out of the ordinary and I don’t think he’d know what to do without me.

    But, our swimming centre doesn’t have a family room. And, on the door to the women’s, it says “no boys over 8” so it’s dictated to us a little bit.

  3. Great post but like you I don’t have the answer.
    My eldest is 6 and I know of I send him upstairs he can dress himself but would I expect him to be able to dry himself and get dressed without being distracted…he’ll no.

    Of course it’s down to the maturity and ability of the child. Maybe let him get out of the shower and dry/dress himself and see how he gets on at home first?

    Good luck finding an answer.
    L

  4. This is definitely one which is down to the individual child and parents, for sure!
    My son is 8and a half and I would not let him go into the changing rooms alone, usually his grandad takes him to swimming lessons but if I go I take him into the ladies and use a cubicle. I do tend to let him get dressed himself, I help maybe with socks and hair, but I stand right outside the curtain. I don’t think anything bad would happen, but he’s very slow in getting ready so I’d be pacing the floor worrying and he’s still a young child!
    I agree school is different, they have people to help and ensure they put all their stuff back so it’s not the same and I would never dream of sending a 5 year old into the changing rooms alone!
    My daughter is only 10 months so I haven’t had to think of her yet, but I don’t know if I would be happy with dad/grandad taking her into the men’s when’s she’s 8, but I know they would use a cubicle so it’d be ok really. I don’t think, as she gets older, I’ll be too concerned with boys in the ladies changing rooms with her. It’d be a bit hypocritical wouldn’t it?!
    Great post to get you thinking

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