On Children's Safety in Public Restrooms

A few days ago, I was escorting our little girl (3 years old) to a restroom at a local public park. The eight year old was with us. As we turned the corner to the men's room, a woman was standing outside the door and her seven or eight year old son emerged alone from the isolated multi-stall bathroom.

"Be careful," the woman said to me. "There was an older man hanging around. Oh, there he is driving away."

She pointed to an older model compact that was driving at a normal pace to the main road.

I asked the lady a couple of more questions and it seems the guy was doing nothing more than looking in the mirror at himself. She seemed unconcerned now that he was gone. I thanked the woman and my crew went about our business in the now-empty men's room.

The Mrs. and I are not shy about bathroom assignments when only one parent is available as the sex of the escorted kiddo doesn't matter: the little boys go into the women's restroom with my wife, or I escort the little girl and the other boys to the men's room as necessary.

Unfortunately, we feel strongly that this practice is essential to protect children in our society. Sending kids into public restrooms alone is dangerous. We tell the older boy, to close his eyes when he walks through the female bathroom with the Mrs. Similarly, the guys at the urinal "get over" their discomfort as I walk little girl to a stall.

A good 1998 article from Salon magazine offers perspectives from police professionals advocating this safety point, as well as listing several cases where unescorted children were victimized in restrooms.

Included in the list of cases is the horrible murder of nine-year old Mathew Cecchi in a Northern California public restroom by drifter Brandon Wilson--the crime that came to my mind when the woman told me about the (maybe or maybe not) loitering man at our public restroom.

I always want to error on the safe side.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Some restrooms don't allow opposite sex children over the age of 4 in with opposite sex parents (I don't know if I said that right, but you know what I mean). How do you handle that one if there's no family restroom available? Do you resort to the woods-pee?

And don't you worry about your daughter seeing men's privates? That would be a concern of mine (I have two daughters).

I send my kids together and I wait for them outside. If they don't come out in a couple of minutes, I go in. But usually, we go in together anyway. They are 11 and 12.

Masorti said...


I am with slam on this one. I am a single father, my children live with me and have for years. when my daughter was little I had no problem taking her into the mens room to go.

I would send her into the stall..then I would stand in front of the door. It was simple. I never had a RR tell me I could not bring her in.

As far as her seeing mens "privates", truthfully, we do not walk around with our junk hanging from our zippers in the mens room. It doesnt happen. But let me ask you something Katherine, would you rather explain what a penis is to your daughter after her father takes her in the mens room, or explain to her siblings that she was murdered because you wanted to be PC.

I know its harsh..but honestly..think like a parent instead of a PC drone.

Expat From Hell said...

I will fall in with Masorti. What is it about places where our privates are "used" that we are so vulnerable? Why do drifters and criminal types find this type of vulnerability worth exploiting? Maybe the Europeans have something figured out here - make it all unisex, and let the genders protect one another. And the genitals. Great post, and compelling subject, SD. You never disappoint. EFH

Stephanie Faris said...

Oh wow, that's scary. My boyfriend had a tough time before he met me, since he has a daughter. I now always go into the bathroom with her, even though she sometimes takes for-freakin' EVER! What DO kids do in there? As Katherine said, though, it sounds like waiting outside is the solution for opposite-sex parents.

mappchik said...

I'm with you on this one. My biggest worry on long trips without dad when the kids were younger was not the long drive or staying in hotels along the way, but all the potty breaks. Up to hitting a double digit age, oldest boy had to go with mom. He did not like it, but tough.

The last couple of road trips have been so much easier. Now that big brother is into his teens, and approaching 6', I have been comfortable letting younger son go to the mens restrooms with him, while little girl goes with me.

As for what takes kids so long, and what they're doing in there, Stephanie?
Humming/singing quietly to themselves,
Swinging their feet and daydreaming,
Contemplating life
And, if you're at a gas station... thinking about all that candy they passed on the way to the restroom, and how they can get you to buy them at least one thing.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Oh it has nothing to do with being PC, Masorti. It has more to do with giving children more information than they might be able to handle. And who is to say some pervert won't turn around and flash your daughter right in front of you?

I am not saying anyone's decision is wrong. I think it's up to a parent to be vigilant and provide for their children's safety the best way they know how. Some kids might know what a penis is (I know my kids did) but that doesn't mean they are ready to SEE one.

I would rather shield my child in a woods-pee than bring them into the men's room.

If the men's room had all stalls, that would be something different all together. I'd have no problem with that. In fact, in that case, there would be no reason we couldn't have unisex bathrooms IMO.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for all of the comments. Katherine you raise some good points.

First, unless it is a really old style restroom with the "open tub" style urinal, there is not much to see except guys standing with their backs turned (as Masorti discussed). Our family is as respectful as possible--we go straight to a stall, then to the sink, and then to the exit (as opposed to allowing the kids to play tag or hide and seek in the men's room).

Second, I should have added that one should be cognizant of local/state laws on ages permitted in a bathroom. Even then from a legal perspective (if 4 or whatever is the age for your locality), the kid is either violating a law for public urination or one for too old for that specific gender's facility--sort of like a take my pick scenario.

So, to answer your question as to what we would do--with our kids, my wife just can't in good conscience send the 8 year old into an isolated large public restroom alone. If a police officer was to have to enforce that law against her, we would argue our case in court, and pay the fine if found guilty.

We would also sleep soundly with our decision and certainly violate that law again if it was in the order of protecting our kids.

Fortunately, with more family-type restrooms (or uni-sex as Expat mentioned) and other citizens seemingly understanding the situation (seeing that we are respectful)this has never been an issue for us.

When children get to be 11 or 12 years old, it does give a parent options--depending on their maturity, physical stature (like MC said if when her son got be near 6 ft. tall), the location, etc.

Also, thanks to Stephanie and Mappchik for their discussion of what kids do that takes so long. I spent a little while looking for an old commercial involving a male traveler who stops at a gas station needing to pee when a little kid in a cowboy outfit jumps in front of him to use the single room facility. The kid then spends lots of time practicing his quick draw in front of a mirror, while the poor guy outside struggles painfully while waiting his turn.

Anyone remember that commercial--what product it was? I was thinking Dairy Queen or something, but I can't find it.

Wow, sorry my comment is too long.

In sum on the comments, I think it is a parent's call--one that should be an informed decision.

J. J. in Phila said...

Within the last month, a 40 year old wheelchair bound man was sexually assaulted in a restroom of a supermarket in one of the suburban counties around Philadelphia.

I am 100% with Slamdunk on this one.

Natalie said...

Thanks for this post. I see my children as divine gifts that I strive to be worthy of raising, so protection is a gift I can give them, even if it's seen to others as paranoia.

fayezie said...

I have been taking my son to swimming lessons, and inevitably we have no choice but to change him in the women's locker room where there is an abundance of ladies changing. My sweet son hasn't realized the "difference" between men and women yet, and I caught him just staring blindly as a woman was changing... I discreetly directed him that it is impolite to stare at others in the changing room, and just have tried to get him to refocus. I am actually thankful that he doesn't get "tripped up" over nudity, probably has to do with the fact that his mother is pretty casual around the house...

never-the-less, there will ultimately come a day/time when he's a bit taller and older, and not so "welcome" in the ladies room. I'm not sure when that will be... I of course, being a mom, am not troubled by other people's male children in the restroom...

Anonymous said...

"And who is to say some pervert won't turn around and flash your daughter right in front of you?"

As long as the little girl's father is there with her I don't think he has to worry about that.

Twin Cities janitorial said...

Indeed, it is always our priority to keep our kids safe. I do bring my son inside the women’s restroom because I fear on letting him alone in the men’s restroom. I do not really care what the other ladies say. When it comes to my kid, I do what is best for him. Thank you for this post and the tips.