Opposite-Sex Child in the Locker Room

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Boys in Women's Locker Room at the Pool

May 2007

For the past few summers I have brought my son with me into the women's locker room at King pool when he gets ready for his swim classes. This year he is seven and they have a rule that 7 year olds *must* use the room corresponding with their sex. We were recently barred from a family swim because I wasn't willing to let him go into the men's locker room alone. My first thought was ''are these people crazy?'' The man working there said my son had to go in alone and they weren't required to supervise him. I'm considering giving him swim lessons elsewhere this summer and am wondering a couple of things: 1. is this a rule at most public pools? 2. is this legal? who is legally responsible for my *unsupervised* minor child should he god forbid get hurt or victimized in the locker room?( I'm guessing since I signed a waiver when signing him up for swim classes that the person responsible would be *me*. --and thus I should be the one watching him) 3. Is there a way to get around this rule at king? --can I refuse to sign the waiver and still take him to swim? 4. what could the legal basis for this possibly be? I'm justified, don't you think? I think my son would prefer to go himself but it's one thing for him to go in a public men's bathroom with me waiting outside and checking on him and yet *another* for me to expect his safety in an unsupervised public locker room situation where *any* male, whether child, teenager or adult, could be in there with him, changing clothes and showering. Even if I weren't worried about sex offenders, what if he slips in the shower? what if there is an altercation w/ another boy? That doesn't seem so far-fetched to me. I'm a pretty relaxed parent about most things, but I'm definitely not willing to let him go into a men's locker room alone. I guess I may be finding him other lessons. I find this incredibly unfair. concerned mom

I was a competitive swimmer from age 5 and changed in locker rooms without my parents from then on. I'm a girl, but boys did the same thing in their locker rooms. Granted, this was in the 70s, but I think it's naive to think there are either more people that prey on children now, or less people that preyed on children then. Talk to your son and prepare him. Give him some credit and independence - it will HELP him take care of himself. Do you also tag along at recess when he's at school? He can get in altercations then - probably more likely to do so because he knows the kids. And you're worried about him slipping and falling? That's starting to sound a little hysterical on your part. He can slip and fall anytime, even if you're standing right next to him.

And as a side note, as a woman, I would be very uncomfortable changing in the locker room with your seven year old son in there looking on. Not to be rude, but you know, it's not ALL about you and your son. ANON

The same 'rule' is stated for my neighborhood pool in El Cerrito. There is no statutory code posted with the sign as with other posted rules, so I take it to be an arbitrary preference. There are other arbitrary preferences the pool has, which I have decided myself to follow or not. My children often want to wear noodles tied around their torso. When seeing this the lifeguard typically whistles or shouts ''not allowed''. I go over and remind him or her I am within arms reach at all times. Reason always wins. It of course helps too that I am a 44 yo man, and the lifeguard usually a 17 year old kid. I'm let break the 'rules'. I view nonstatutory rules as guides for behavior, not as absolutes. I'd prefer a child of 7, 8 or even older feel comfortable alone in a changeroom, over any potential discomfort I may feel with a 7 yo girl with her father in the changeroom with me. If that's not the norm, then I hope the child's parent will choose to make the decision himself or herself, vs leaving all reason to a simple signed 'rule'.

I think that this is a pretty typical requirement at pools. As a female swimmer, I do not particularly like it when older (7ish) boys come into the lock room. I feel like they are old enough to know what they are looking at, but not old enough to know they shouldn't stare, and the mothers are usually too busy getting them showered and dressed and doing the same for themselves that they do not notice.

Not to belittle your concern, since I don't have a son and so have never had this problem, I think that maybe you are building up your worries too much. I think at 7, a child is ready for this. I know it is probably hard to let go a bit and trust him in this situation, but I really think it is quite safe. It's not like he is not within ear shot of you. Stay by the door and let him know you will be listening. You can call to him to ask if he is ok. You are worried he might slip in the shower. Well, he might slip on the playground, he might slip in the bathroom at home, he might slip getting out of bed in the morning. He will be ok. You are worried that he might have trouble with some other boys in the locker room. Again, this is something he is likely to encounter (and probably already has) at school, at the playground, etc. If an actual brawl broke out, you would hear it from outside the door. As far as sexual predators, you can warn him about danger signs (but try not to make him paranoid about any man in the locker room). I would imagine that the common MO of a predator of a young child would be to make friends with them first, and so you would obviously see if that was developing since you will be waiting for him right outside the door. I'm not familiar with King pool, but there is probably only one exit from the locker room, so you don't have to worry about abduction. swimmer

Change swimming lessons. I would never ever send my 7 year old son into a men's locker room alone, period. I have had several (now adult) family members be subjected to molestation as children & teens, no way am I even going to take a chance with my 7 year old. Young children in need of help often trustingly approach adult strangers in settings they are comfortable with (like a pool); 7 years old is just too young to have good judgment about this. The accidents etc. you describe as possibilties are likewise a good reason not to do this. anon

The downtown Berkeley YMCA has a similar policy, only I think it is ''over 5''. They also have some ''family changing rooms'' where the entire family can go in together and change, but boys are not allowed in the womens' locker room over a certain age. I believe this is because many women and especially young women and girls are just not comfortable taking their clothes off with boys around. I have three sons, the youngest is 6. My boys started to be modest about undressing in front of mom and others around the age of 5 or 6. This seems like a natural time to give them the responsibility to dress and undress themselves without mom to help. I think a 7 year old is totally capable of changing out of street cloths to a swimsuit and back. He is not going to get ''lost'' in the locker room - you are waiting for him and you can follow up if there are unreasonable delays. You need to give him the chance to grow up in this way now. He is not going to have mom around always. Ginger

Yep. I hear you. Feel the same thing myself, and I'm concerned because my son is very shy. So here's what I think we'll be doing this summer: The towel cabana! I learned this at Canyon Swim School where my son takes lessons. Sometimes he doesn't mind going into the boys room, sometimes he does (and it's mostly kids in there). The times he doesn't want to go in the boys room, I take a towel and after drying him off make a sort of tent around him where he can take off his suit and put on his underpants and pants. Shirt too, but usually that's not a problem. There. He's dry. He's changed. He's not showered, but we can do that at home later. another concerned mom

I know this doesn't really address all your various concerns, but could you just have him change into and out of his suit at home or even in the car, instead of at the pool? I sympathize with your concerns -- at our pool, the age limit for using the opposite gender's dressing rooms is 5. I guess mgmt's reasoning is that other grownups might feel uncomfortable with a child of the opposite gender around. Naked is no big deal

Hi -- I also don't want my son in the men's locker room alone. At El Cerrito Pool there is a unisex changing/shower room, wheelchair accessible and open to one person/family at a time. Try it! Pool's nicer than King, too. mom of swimmer

It's just so interesting how different we all are, and how different things make us anxious, or not. I am generally a very anxious mom, yet my son started going by himself into the Men's locker room at Willard pool when he was six? five? The cut off age at Willard Pool is definitely younger than seven. Besides the pool's official age, the 11 and 12 year old girs began to feel uncomfortable with my son in the locker room. When it is summer time and there are swim lessons happening, there are just tons of kids and parents and teachers around and I geuss I just figure there is safety in numbers. There are always some people I know around. Usually one of his teachers will keep an eye on him or check on him. If the locker room were more deserted, I might worry more.

Barring that - many parents I've seen bring their children in bathing suits and take them home that way too, even if wet. Anonymous

While I completely sympathize with your situation - Really - and if I had a son I would feel the same frustration about what to do. I face this somewhat when my 6 year old daughter's father takes her to swimming lessons and he can't help her with a shower. On the other hand, as a mother to 2 girls, having little boys over the age of 5 in the locker room makes both my girls uncomfortable and I can't get them to take a proper shower or change clothes unless there is a dressing room (which often there is not). My pre-pubesent 10 year old will openly declare she will not get undressed in front of a boy. So, I guess it's time for a bit of creativity: Put your swimming suits on before you go to the pool and just wear street clothes on top to shed just before you go into the water. Or perhaps swimming lessons can wait until Saturday when Dad can help with the dressing room. As for other pools - We go to El Cerrito. Their maximum age for a boy in the women's locker room is six. But you also do not need to go through the locker room to get to the pool and there is an outside shower to rinse off. I really do understand your fears and frustrations, but I am also glad 7 year old boys can't come into the women's locker room. Mom of girls

Could you just have him wear his swimming trunks to the pool and home again? kevin

I'm with you on this one! I wasn't comfortable sending my son alone into the men's locker room when he was that age, but he wasn't allowed in the women's locker room with me. I think the rules are reasonable to not let older boys into the women's locker room because it may bother some of the women and girls there, but that still didn't mean I wanted to send my son into the locker room alone. (It's not that I think child molesters are lurking behind every locker; it's more that my son still needed help getting everything together at that age.)

The Berkeley YMCA downtown has ''family changing rooms'', so we ended up taking swimming lessons there for several years. At other places where we'd swim, if there were nobody to supervise my son in the locker room I'd have him put his swim trunks on under his clothes. Then after his swimming lesson, I'd just wrap him up in towels and bring him home to change.

I know it seems challenging now, but it's a short time, and pretty soon he'll be old enough to be alone in the locker room. Good luck! - Swimming Mama

Around every corner does not a child molester lurk. Take it from someone who was very athletic and so spent years in locker rooms of various kinds from the infamous YMCAs to public pools to Catholic league basketball to junior and high schools sports every season. I was also an altar boy and not once did a priest try to molest me. My point is that your fears seem to be very out of proportion to the reality of the situation. Consider that your son will take about 3 minutes to change and you will be right outside listening at the door and will have told him to scream his bloody head off is anyone so much as looks at him funny. Am I right?

The chances of something bad happening are infinitesimally small, while the chances of something good happening are highly likely. Your son needs to grow up, meaning cut the apron strings. He needs to learn to do things on his own. He needs to learn that the vast majority of strangers are in fact good people and when they see your son changing to go swimming their only thoughts will be a bit of reminiscing about their own childhood down at the swimmin' hole laying in the sun butt naked and goin' a'fishin'. A parent's job is to protect their child, sure. But that does not mean never ever letting your child be in a situation that could in any remote way be harmful. Protecting your child means first and foremost teaching him how to protect himself, and that he learns to go out in the big bad world and make a way for himself. In my view, a parent who overprotects harms her child as much a parent who underprotects. Strive for an age appropriate balance.

At 7 I was riding my bike 3 miles sans helmet (people would have laughed uproariously at the idea of wearing a helmet) on busy streets to a public pool back and forth three times every day (came home to eat). We were gone for hours climbing trees and riding bikes all over hell. I now give my daughters little independence tests. I will do something like have them take a bus from near our house in very scary Richmond (not) , take BART to Berkeley, watch a specific movie on their own, then go to lunch at a certain restaurant on their own, intentionally ask a stranger for directions even though they already know the way, handle all the money on their own, but the BART ticket, and call me from a public phone (I didn't allow them to have cell phones until they were older) to come pick them up. True safety comes from protecting yourself, not relying on others to protect you, and your parents need to teach you that rather than take that away from you. sean

We take our daughters to King for swimming lessons. I hear your concern, but I think he will be okay getting changed in the men's/boys' room. I know a lot of kids are in and out of the locker rooms at the same time during swim lessons, if that makes you feel any better. Also, when lessons happen, the only adults around are the instructors and parents of children in lessons. The pool isn't open to the larger community at that time. If your boy takes longer than a few minutes to get changed, you could ask a staff member, another boy or Dad to check on your son. Or, if you feel more comfortable, you could have him sign up for lessons with a friend, or you could have your son wear his suit to the lesson and go home to change after the lesson. Another thing to keep in mind: from a girls' perspective, it can be uncomfortable when school-age boys are in the women's locker room. Your son may seem young to be off on his own, but now's a good time to talk with him about how to handle himself in different situations. King swimmers

If it matters to you that much, bring your son to the pool already dressed to swim, and take him home in his swim clothes (towel-dried) and have him shower/change clothes at home. But let him go to the boys bathroom by himself if he has to pee (please don't send him into the bushes)! Yes, there's always a chance that something bad can happen in a public place without your direct supervision, but in my opinion, I think it's a greater detriment to your son that you're not letting him learn a bit of independence at seven years old. Mom of boys

If your son is 7, he'll be fine in the locker room by himself. If it's for swim lessons, there will be other kids there. I'm sorry, but I do not think you are justified. I would feel EXTREMELY uncomfortable dressing in front of a 7 yr old or older boy in the women's locker room. I'm not even all that comfortable with it when they come into the women's bathroom. If you are flat dead-set against giving him the opportunity to just be normal in the locker room changing into or out of his swimsuit, then have him get in his swimsuit at home, and let him wear it wet before he gets home. This does not seem like a big deal (in fact, it's what I usually do at public pools just because it's quicker and I like my very own shower!). You also mention that your son would prefer to go by himself. Take your cues here. He's getting bigger, and probably feeling horribly embarassed by your insistence on watching every single move. He's growing up a little bit. The world is not actually crawling with sex offenders hanging out in public pool locker rooms waiting for 7 yr old boys to come in. In fact, most locker rooms are pretty wide open--so how could anything untoward happen without a lot of planning. And I'd bet that other boys & men in the locker room are there to swim. Altercations could happen anywhere, any time. It's not about whether he's unsupervised for a moment. If he were to slip in the shower (and I'm not sure why that would happen-does he have a tendency to run in locker rooms??), I'm sure that he'd get help immediately. ANYBODY can hear anyone yelling in most locker rooms. Oh, and keep in mind that most sexual predators actually KNOW their victims--not somebody they happen to see in a swim suit. I think it's pretty common to have the boys go into the male locker room, and I don't think you have a leg to stand on. Furthermore, you will certainly draw attention to yourself as not very relaxed, and you will probably humiliate your son. Have him dress/shower at home if it truly bothers you, but otherwise consider just giving him a little space to grow.

As a mom of two boys 3 and 6 1/2, I can totally understand yr issues with sending yr son off to interact with a locker room that is unsupervised.I'm sure plenty of Dads would like to go off to the pool with their daughters and not have to worry about this stuff too. I agree there should be an alternative, say a locker room attendant. I think in your son's best interest and yours(because it's clearly putting a damper on something you both probably love to do) how about this: UNTIL YOU CAN RESOLVE THIS DIPLOMATICALLY AND STRUCTURALLY, come completely dressed for swimming on arrival. King does have side doors. Ask to use them if they are not accessible. Deal with being wet on departure. Shower at home. DO NOT IMPACT YOUR SON'S ABILITY TO DO WHAT'S GOOD FOR HIM. Remember he's asking to go off in the locker, maybe b/c he wants the independence, maybe b/c the fuss yr raising, right or not, is hard for him. Continue to move up the City of Berkeley Dept of Rec chain of command(you don't think those teenagers who work at the pools have any control over what they've been told is the Rule, do you? of course not. They should have been more concerned for sure and worked with you but if they won't, maybe someone else will) I'm sure you can make an impact, but you should always do what's right for yr family and everyone's comfort level is different. Hope I didn't sound harsh. I really do support yr feelings that this should be different. I generally think Uppity is a quality to aspire to, but it can be hard for our children to be around when they just want to fit in and have fun. Another Riled Up Mama

Yes, you are out there on this one - Might be more your issue than your son's. Come to terms with it or find a pool with family changing rooms (good luck). This is the rule at most public pools where cut off age is often 5. King Pool is actually more lenient than others.

By the way, at 7 your son's presence may soon,if it isn't already, make the girls uncomfortable, and soon after that, it may be downright inappropriate. So is that okay to impose your fears on the girls' privacy? And how will your son soon feel having to go with you into the GIIIIRLS locker room.

Also, it is really a men AND boys locker room at King, as the one on the other side is the women AND girls. The folks at King pool are generally very cool. My husband, our men friends and boys we know who used the pool have never reported any problems with weirdos at the pool, nore have they reported floors being anymore slippery than usual (the male locker room floor is probably not any more slippery than the female locker room floor). I'm sure if your son yelled for help, that you (waiting outside the door) and others would hear easily and immediately. Even if he is with you, how do you prevent him from slipping on the floor? So that question is moot, in my mind.

Yes it is legal to segregate the two sexes in this way (in my non-legal opinion). Your unsupervised kid is porbably very able to handle himself in there. You can't watch him all the time. What age have you set as a cut off to allow him to be in a locker room alone? It is lovely that you care so much about him and do so want to protect him.

Hey my girls go through the girls locker room when their Dad is taking them to swimming and they've never had a problem. They just take longer getting ready. Sometimes a parent of one sex will ask an adult that is the same sex as their kid to go and check on their kid to see how they are doing. They have always been fine (just dawdling!)

I strongly urge you to check out a Kidpower class for you and your kid. They do a great job teaching safety for kids (to kids and their loving adults), in a non scary way. It teaches them how to deal with the situations that you sound like you are fearing most. Doing this might ease your fears, might help you give him some room to grow, and might help you have more confidence in his ability to take care of himself for a few minutes on his own. In this way you are less likely to damage his own self-confidence.

So please have more faith in your son and in King Pool folks. It is a fabulous place and the staff are pretty darn good, too. Best of luck in working through this. Anon

I think you are absolutely justified and you don't need to explain yourself to anyone. You are his mother and you want to supervise him in the locker room. End of story. The policy seems stupid and prudish in the extreme. agree with you on this

I appreciate your nervousness about your 7-year-old son using the boys' locker room. However, you need to look at this from the perspective of the girls (and women) in the locker room. My 10-year-old girl (who is beginning to develop) is quite unhappy with the presence of boys in the locker room. Sure, an adult can say, ''he's only 7,'' but to a girl who isn't that far from his age, boys (past kindergarten) in the locker room are a problem. The other side of this, is you are assuming that the older boys and men in the locker room are dangerous to your son, rather than at the pool in order to swim themselves. If the set up at King makes you too nervous, there are some places, like the Berkeley Y, that have family changing rooms where parents can help children dress privately (no showers, alas.) mother of a swimmer

Honey, I wouldn't be calling other people crazy. Lets look at this from MY perspective (38-year-old woman with school age daughters) and probably that of most other women/girls in the locker room. Quite frankly, I do not want your school age son (who probably giggles when he sees girls underpants) in the locker room with me while I am naked or my girls are naked. Can you imagine if they go to school together? How would my girls feel? Heck, how would I feel? Kinda creepy...Oh, and ALL pools/gyms that I go to limit the upper age for boys to ages 3 or 4 to be in the woman's locker room.

Also, I think that most of your concerns about the changing in the men's locker room are pretty far fetched. I have never slipped in the shower in my entire life (just asked my husband, and he says 'ditto.'). I have never witnessed weird altercations such as you suggest between primary age boys who have been in contact with each other for five minutes and have never met before in their lives and are just trying to put on their swimsuits...

Some ideas for you: dress your son in his trunks before he comes and let him ride home in his wet suit, then let him shower at home OR call around to a bunch of pools to find one that has a 'family' dressing room. -just normal, not unfair...

Actually, the 7-year-old limit is very generous. We belonged to the Hills Club in Oakland--a fairly nice private pool--and their age limit was 5 years old. You have a lot of options, including going elsewhere...but I seriously doubt you'll find *any* pools that will allow a 7 -year-old-boy into a women's locker room. What about the girls in there!!?? My 8-year-old daughter would FREAK OUT if a boy around her age saw her naked! It would be a total violation of the privacy and safety SHE should be able to feel in a changing room.

Your options: -- Don't have him change at the pool. Bring him and take him home in his trunks, and have him shower at home. Or have him change in the car while you stand guard. -- If there are outdoor showers for hosing off, have him rinse off outside in his trunks and do a surfer's change (towel around waist, drop drunks, put on pants) -- Let him do it. You said yourself he wants to go in the locker room himself. You could tell him to shower in his trunks then go straight to a toilet stall to change. -- Enroll him in swimming with a friend so they can go in together. Safety in numbers.

We had to do all of the above at one point or another because my son didn't want to be alone in the locker room at age 5. Eventually, he got used to it and did fine. I think 7 is about the right age for him to handle it. From the sound of things, you've probably scared him enough about strangers that he'll be on his guard.

I, too, think this rule is very silly--and dangerous. Exactly what do they think a 7- year-old boy is going to do in a women's locker room that is worth expelling them to the men's unsupervised? Unfortunatley, I don't know much about the legality of it. However, one suggestion I have for you is to find a child in your sons' swim class whose dad takes them, and ask him to watch your son. If the man happens to have a daughter, perhaps you could watch his daughter. Incredulous, too

I too have a 7 yr old son and am uncomfortable when he goes into the mens locker room. The pool we use is in a park complex heavily used by homeless people (not to malign the homeless - but would you want your 1st grader maybe be alone with them?).

I have been at pools where there are family changing rooms - definitely a great solution. Where we swim now there is a rule that over 6 they go into same sex locker rooms. Last fall when we moved here I protested and the staff let me take him (& my daughter) in the women's locker room (just to change and I didn't have them linger much). Now my son wants to use the men's locker room. I don't want to make him uncomfortable by forcing him to go through the womens'.

With both of my kids I bring them to the pool in their suits (when I can) and take them home wet and put them straight into the shower. I figure I save at least 20 minutes by having them shower at home when I can get busy with dinner or something.

And for the respondents who are concerned with boys staring - I too don't like it. My son does know what he is seeing, he bathes with his 8 yr old sister. They have always bathed together, they have a great time, and they don't see anything strange about having different ''parts'' (they do think it is interesting - but not strange). We live in a very small house and pretty much all see each other. I noticed that he was starting to look but it was not to try to figure out ''what are all those strange female things.'' I think it was what we all experience, not anything about the ''parts'' that we all have but that everyone's bodies are so different that it is kind of facinating. Because of that, I was relieved when he started insisting on going through the men's locker room - but still worried. Since he doesn't change or shower in it I just tell him to walk through quickly.

In response to the many people who said that the chances are so small of there being a sexual predator...my basic MO is 1. With my kids, if I don't have to take a chance, I don't take it. (keeping reasonable tabs on being over protective of course) another concerned & modest mom

As a regular public pool swimmer, let me emphasize that no, you are not justified in bringing your 7 year old son into the women's locker room. This is common practice at most pools, many have a younger age cut off. If you are uncomfortable with him using the men's locker room, then have him take care of all business at home, change in the car, whatever, or find another facility where you will be comfortable with him using the men's room by himself. It's unreasonable to expect the other locker room users to accommodate your personal issues. Frankly, I don't think any boy over 4 belongs in the women's locker room. And just for the record, I have 2 sons so yes, I've lived through this issue. Not only do I object to young boys in the women's locker room, I particularly object to women who bring older boys into the women's locker room, then the women go hide in the toilet stalls to change while the boys stare at the rest of us. boys belong in the men's room

3-year-old daughter in men's shower at YMCA

Feb 2004

My husband takes our three-year-old daughter to the Hilltop Y to go swimming, which she loves. She also loves taking a shower afterwards! We want to know if there is an age when girl children should no longer be allowed in the men's lockeroom. He isn't uncomfortable with it, she doesn't care, but the issue is at what age is it no longer acceptable.

I see boys in the women's bathroom and showers until they are 6 years old (Of course, some of them are beginning to grumble about it, too). As long as dad is very attentive (i.e., she is not left alone for a moment) and she still loves it, I say why not let the same standard stand for little girls as for little boys? Perhaps you will get some advice about what age small children can ''remember'' things and that's when the showers should stop. Deciding on such an age is unreliable and probably not a good criterion to base a decision on anyway. I recall well how much fun it was to take a shower with my father (I remember only coming up to his knees quite distintively while standing in the shower!). When I was a teenager or adult, I mentioned this to my mother. She said my father abruptly stopped letting me take showers with him literally on my second birthday because he thought I was too old and would remember (It turns out I have quite a few ''independent'' memories prior to my second birthday, so such early memories are not unusual for me). However, I do in fact remember and I remember that it was a fun thing to do with my dad (and I do remember all his anatomy, although he would probably die of embarrassment now if I told him this as an adult since he thought I was too young to remember and he is a bit shy about such things!). And, with my father being the only man in the house, I think it was healthy for me to innocently see the differences between boys and girls, not to mention simply having a fun activity to share with dad.

So, back to your case: As long as dad and daughter are comfortable (which likely also is influenced by how comfortable the other men in the locker room are), I see no harm in continuing (with vigilance) until it no longer is a comfortable situation. I would imagine that it will not be that difficult to tell when someone is uncomfortable, and therfore I wouldn't make an arbitrary decision -- i.e., one that is not already socially acceptable for little boys in women's locker rooms -- before that time. kb