Outrage of the Week: Dear Abby!

Dear berfartniz

I have a problem. I read a supposedly “helpful” advice column yesterday about public bathrooms and whether children are safe from pedophiles if their mom is waiting right outside the door. The piece said no! No way! As a matter of fact, it added, slightly off tangent, “Children have been violated in a matter of seconds in the play areas of fast food restaurants with the parents RIGHT THERE!”

Now when I think about McDonald’s “ball room” it has a whole new meaning. Ick.

 Signed: Newly Scared of Fast Food Playspaces That Seem Too Small For Most Grown Men to Squeeze Into, But What Do I Know in New York

 Dear Newly Scared:

Oh! That was actually MY advice column you read. I’m flattered! It had a lot of tips like that. Tips based on nothing more than base fearmongering passed off as gospel. It’s a living!

In case you missed them, here are the biggest doozies I ran yesterday with nary a hint that bathrooms are, in reality, very safe places for boys to go pee. No, I made sure never to question the basic premise of my tip-givers – regular ol’ readers — that predators are lurking in pretty much every stall. What can I say? They hear scary stuff, they pass it to me, I pass it along, they hear it again. Vicious circle, but boy does it sell! Read on! — these are the wackiest reader tips that appeared yesterday:

* I have a 7-year-old son and I do not allow him to go unsupervised into a men’s room. Anyone could be behind that door and anything could happen in less than a minute’s time. We must protect our children even if it means that sometimes they have to suffer embarrassment.

A friend with two sons offered an interesting alternative. She would allow her sons to use the men’s room if they talked to her while she stood outside the door. If they stopped talking, they knew it meant she was coming in. — DONNA IN TYNER, N.C.

*When my son was 7 or 8, he, too, was embarrassed about going into the restroom with me. I gave him a whistle with instructions to blow it if anyone bothered him while I waited outside the men’s room. The whistle also came with additional instructions: “Never blow it as a joke just to see if I’ll come running, because if you do, you are in DEEP trouble!” — LORI IN TEANECK, N.J.

*Lisa should invest in a pair of two-way radios. This way, her son goes into the restroom with an additional layer of protection. She should also inform him to always use the stall so he can lock the door. — MARK IN GATOR COUNTRY

Dear Abby:

Millions of people must be thanking you for these! But I hope you don’t mind that I called Dr. Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child sexual abuse. Now she runs a sex abuse clinic once a week down in Atlanta. I wanted to confirm just how common the crime of bathroom pedophilia is.

 Dr. Baxter said that she has seen about 500 children who’ve been sexually abused. Terrible!

 “How many of them were abused in a public bathroom?” I asked.


 She then contacted two friends in the same field. One had seen an instance of this, which is horrible. Another – a biggie in the field — had seen none.

My point is not to say there is NO danger in public bathrooms. NO place is ever 100% safe. My point is that there is no reason to make public bathrooms seem any less safe than anyplace else. Especially since 96% of child abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows (according to Dr. Baxter), not a stranger. So why whip up the fear of stranger danger any more than it is already whipped?

I think it is good advice to tell parents to teach their kids to stand up for themselves. But it is bad advice to make parents think the world is so chock-full of predators that even when we stand a few feet away from our children, they are still in mortal peril. Your job is to preach common sense, not recycle paranoia.

On the other hand, I do generally like your advice about teens, affairs and politeness. And in-laws! Love the in-law stuff. Have a good weekend.


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73 Responses to Outrage of the Week: Dear Abby!

  1. Lynn Strand-Meyer August 14, 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    Seriously?? A two way radio? My boys can pee faster than they could figure out how to use the radio for help. Sheesh. Abby blew it on this one. Let the kids use the potty and move on. 🙂

  2. Kari August 14, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    Oh PLEASE send this to Dear Abby… Seriously!!!

  3. Sander de Regt August 14, 2009 at 9:44 pm #

    Funny, I was about to ‘report this’ advice myself.
    Personally I like the 2 way radio idea best.
    Nothing beats having to pee with one hand holding your walkie talkie and informing your mom of your progress while doing it.

  4. sonya August 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    I hate hate hate boys over the age of about 5-6 coming into the ladies bathroom! They look under the stall doors and stare at women fixing their clothes/makeup…Yuck!

  5. Micki August 14, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    A friend of mine used to have her son sing at the top of his lungs when he went in to the bathrooms by himself. IThere *Was* an incident a few months ago at where I regularly shop. The store employees and several customers, bless them, tackled and beat the snot out of the offender until the police arrived. My reluctance to let them use the bathroom alone has less to do with fear but rather from knowing my boys may very well have a water fight or other foolishness LOL

  6. LisaS August 14, 2009 at 10:15 pm #

    I actually blogged on this topic this week because of something that happened on a shopping trip last weekend … I hadn’t thought of Sonya’s point, but seriously, where does the other parent’s right to feel secure end and my right to privacy begin??

  7. Michele August 14, 2009 at 10:16 pm #

    Lenore – glad you saw this one! We need someone like you to help stop the insanity!

  8. Jon August 14, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    Cut and pasted into


    I would suggest everyone do the same.

  9. Robert J August 14, 2009 at 11:24 pm #

    I feel sorry for the kids that have to go through this. The parents will always make them feel uncapable of doing anything on their own. And what the hell is this paranoia of predators being as ever present as mosquitoes or flies?

  10. Rich Wilson August 14, 2009 at 11:33 pm #

    So, if seven and eight year olds need to sing while peeing, at what age are they ‘ok’? Are you going to make your 18 year old son or daughter sing to you while they pee?

    And what about “number twos”?

    “The wheels on the *grunt* bus go round and *grunt* round”

  11. Stephanie August 14, 2009 at 11:34 pm #

    I read that one and thought of this site. What a ridiculous answers, from Abby and other readers!

  12. Socialwrkr24/7 August 14, 2009 at 11:52 pm #

    I distinctly remember my grandmother telling me about children being molested in public bathrooms – luckily my mom rarely listened!

  13. Meagan August 15, 2009 at 12:01 am #

    Actually I think the whistle idea, while not necessary, is not really contrary to what you preach here. Forget about the fact that were talking about bathrooms and think about kid-snatchings in general. Free range suggest that the best way to deal with kidnapping is, rather than hover over them every second, arm them with knowledge and common sense. That means in the extremely rare instance that a guy grabs them on the street and tells them not to make a sound, they scream and kick and yell, “you’re not my dad!” It means you teach them to trust their own instincs of what’s creepy and what’s ok. And the whistle does exactly that. I still think it’s unnecessary, because yelling accomplishes the same thing, but the spirit of the idea seems about right.

    There’s a difference between living in fear and being prepared. You don’t want to go to sleep every night expecting the house to burn down, but you teach your children how to get out, and where to meet, just in case it does.

  14. dahozho August 15, 2009 at 12:22 am #

    Sad to see the silliness that has crept into the “Dear Abby” second generation.

    IMO, boys over the age of 4 should be perfectly capable of using a men’s restroom on their own. If a parent/caretaker is watching the entrance, how could a snatching occur?

    I too am very irritated by the age of boys I see in the women’s room these days (most often in airports). The boys, bless them, are usually embarassed to be there as well. If they are old enough to get through bathroom routines unassisted, they are old enough to use the men’s room unassisted.

  15. the Rebbetzin August 15, 2009 at 12:30 am #

    @Meagan I agree – if public restrooms are your issue, this is a good way to give kids a way to “be prepared”. I find it hard to judge other people’s neuroses, since I have some myself that would elicit the “are you freaking kidding me?” reaction 🙂

    I am sad that Abby feels the need to perpetuate that kind of fear, however. It’s not healthy.

  16. KateNonymous August 15, 2009 at 12:40 am #

    A couple of years ago I was in the women’s locker room at my pool, which has open showers. I went to shower after my swim and found a woman there with a couple of relatives and her son, who must have been at least six years old.

    Now, I certainly can understand wanting to make sure your child was supervised, and being concerned that the duration of your shower would be too long a time. But that didn’t mean I was willing to shower with that kid!

    The real kicker? His father was right outside. Explain to me why the father couldn’t have taken the kid into the men’s locker room.

  17. Rich Wilson August 15, 2009 at 12:52 am #

    wait- “Then wait outside the bathroom. If a man needs to go in, she can explain the situation.”

    Does she mean she’s not going to let any men into the bathroom while her son is in there?

    If so, then I swear, that lady is just asking to get peed on.

  18. Karla E August 15, 2009 at 12:58 am #

    Last Sunday I went to the Ladies restroom at my church and encountered a woman with her son…who must have been at least 8 years old. He was nearly as tall as my 10 year old. Now, seriously, if your kid isn’t safe in the church restroom, where is he safe?

  19. darrenhillock August 15, 2009 at 1:00 am #

    As a dad, It always more concerned me what might happen to my girls while they might be unsupervised OUTSIDE of the restroom if we each were making a potty stop. Who might swoop down while if I was still inside? We have worked it out with a system where they kind of lurk by the door if they don’t see me out. Then they’re instruction is to actually run back in if they feel threatened.

  20. The Mother August 15, 2009 at 1:08 am #

    Oh, I just knew you’d be all over this one. I wrote mine, but it got in the way of my Nefarious History of Motherhood post and my rant about the study on how exercise doesn’t help you lose weight, so it won’t run till next Wednesday. Damn.

    I just don’t know how men manage to deal with this. I mean, having every woman you meet ASSUMING you’re a child molester? Horrible. Unbearable. Awful.

  21. Uly August 15, 2009 at 1:08 am #

    I agree, meagan. The odds that a kid will ever be in a situation that requires a whistle are slim, but if it makes everybody feel better – whatever, whistles are cheap. And meanwhile the kid can handle his own business.

    Lynn, I suspect that the two-way comment, at least, was sarcastic. If it were serious he would’ve suggested using cell phones.

    As far as privacy goes – well, there’s an example of an odd fear. Build the stall doors a little lower so nobody can see lower and have unisex bathrooms, I say. I’ve never understood the thing about dividing bathrooms – nobody can see anything if they’re not looking anyway. But I get that it’s nothing I’m convincing anybody on, so whatever.

  22. Katie August 15, 2009 at 1:11 am #

    To be fair, sometimes special needs kids don’t look it, and a kid who LOOKS perfectly capable of using a restroom or changing after swimming by themselves might not be. Also, some kids are very tall for their age – my son is 3 and looks like 5. When I see kids who look too old to be in the restroom with a parent, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and not judge the parent as a paranoid hoverer. But maybe that’s just my wishful thinking.

  23. darrenhillock August 15, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    Our other child has multiple disabilities, physical and cognitive. While it’s pretty clear that he is not capable of self-care, if he’s somewhere with my wife it sometimes causes some tricky situations facilities-wise. Family restrooms aren’t everywhere!

  24. LauraL August 15, 2009 at 1:59 am #

    I sure hope, Lenore, that you will be writing yourself to correct this horrid misconception and come armed with facts and figures, unlike Ms. Phillips there!

  25. RayD August 15, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    I find this paranoia over public bathrooms ridiculous, a local supermarket in the town I lived in last year had a sign on the men’s bathroom door advising parents not to let children under 9 go in by themselves. For their own safety of course.

    The other thing I find weird is the paranoia over kids catching something from sitting on a public toilet. I know several parents (and grandparents) who will either hold the child up off the seat while they do their business or will line the seat with toilet paper before the child sits. Yet they then will sit on the same toilet themselves without any “protection”. What exactly is it they think their kid is going to catch through their butt?! The only thing I can think of is that kids often need to hold on to the rim to balance but if you make them wash their hands (and you should!) then I can’t see how that’s the issue.

  26. Susan K August 15, 2009 at 2:27 am #

    My issue with sending little ones(male or female) into the bathroom had nothing to do with being snatched. It had everything to do with playing in the sinks and generally screwing around annoying others. I have been known to chide unsupervised kids that the bathroom sink was not a water park. 🙂

  27. Sammi August 15, 2009 at 3:39 am #

    In the play area!?!? Aside from the fact that (as Lenore pointed out) an adult man wouldn’t fit, you’d think the other adults would notice an adult man crawling up the slide. Even if they didn’t assume he was a predator, they’d watch just for the giggle factor.

  28. Lisa August 15, 2009 at 3:59 am #

    I agree that for the minute that it takes to use the restroom, school-aged boys can and should be able to use the restroom on their own.

    I, too, have boys who will likely/have already had a waterfight in the restroom… but that, again, is part of living and learning.

    I am, however, shocked that a woman would be uncomfortable with a six year old watching her put on her makeup… Grow-up!

  29. Alexicographer August 15, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    Great spoof!

    I, too, find it odd that people care what age children are in cross-gender restrooms or changing rooms for the sake of the adults present. If you don’t want your 10-year old son to see an unclothed woman, OK, but why I’d care if your 10-year old sees me is beyond me.

    Not that I’m saying that most 10-year olds need to be with their parents to change, just that I don’t see why we’d be put off by the presence of pre-adolescents.

    On the other hand, I find much about U.S. attitudes toward nudity puzzling, despite having been born and raised here, perhaps because much of my extended family (and some of my family of origin) is from Europe, and rather more blase about this (non)issue.

  30. frootbat31 August 15, 2009 at 5:11 am #

    I’m not sure what bothers me more; the fact that parents fall for the fearmongering advice of so-called experts (who I doubt even have kids), or that I see people offended by seeing young boys in a ladies bathroom. Do you think they’re perverts?!?! How ridiculous is that?

  31. Randy August 15, 2009 at 5:52 am #

    I can’t blame this Abby columnist too much; she’s probably under a lot of pressure to use the most eye-catching letters she can, especially if they give her something to roundly condemn or support. And what could be more eye-catching than a real, live (well, not really) boogie man?

    I don’t know much of anything about journalism, but I bet that editor was absolutely drooling to get the words “violated in a manner of seconds” and “Anyone could be behind that door!” into print. Bonus points for rape whistles. Bonus BONUS points for running a 600 word advice column that she only contributed 2 sentences to!

    Sweet, sweet gig.

  32. TC August 15, 2009 at 7:38 am #

    It took my son until the age of 8 to be WILLING to go into a men’s room on his own. He has some special needs, but they’re not obvious; luckily, he’s the SIZE of a 6-year-old at 8.5, so nobody seemed upset when I brought him in the ladies’ room until he felt comfortable going in the men’s on his own. Once he was, however, I certainly wasn’t going to tell him no! What I *did* tell him is that if there is ever anything going on in a men’s room that he feels weird about, he should just turn around and walk back out, and we’ll find him somewhere else to go.

    I usually stand outside the bathroom door in public places like parks and malls, though rarely in restaurants. The only time I stand there *anxiously* is at amusement parks…A lot of them tend to have front and back entrances to their bathrooms, and my son is just the type to wander back out the wrong door and get totally freaked out by being lost. But we have the “find a mom with a baby and tell her you’re lost” rule for that eventuality, too, so it’s all (relatively) good.

  33. BMS August 15, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    The biggest problem my sons have is that my little one is physically small, and can’t always get the door open on his own to come out. So I send the two of them in together. We have been doing a lot of day trips lately while my husband is at work. Our rule is basically the buddy system. When it is time to go to the bathroom, I find some nearby landmark (bench, water fountain, display in a museum, etc.) and tell them “Go in together, come out together, wait by the bench. Got it?” Then I go in the women’s room, they go in the men’s room, we do our business, we meet up. So far, haven’t lost anyone yet.

  34. kherbert August 15, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    I’m a teacher – I DO NOT want one of my 9 – 11 yo students (Male or female) walking in the YMCA changing room while I’m changing. Yes it makes me uncomfortable. I also worry that if one of the students – especially the ED students – gets mad it makes it easier for them to accuse me of wrong doing.

    If I need to use the YMCA near my school I use a stall to quickly change. I live in a different neighborhood so I use that Y more frequently.

  35. MaeMae August 15, 2009 at 9:44 am #

    I think it is crazy that parents won’t let their boys use the men’s room. Don’t they deserve a little dignity? I don’t mind 6/7 yos in the restroom so much as in the locker rooms. That drives me bonkers. Maybe, Alexicographer, I am just a prude American but I believe in modesty and am trying to teach my children. That would be hard to do if I was making my 9 yo son come in the women’s locker room with me.
    I actually read the Dear Abby column at work and was laughing so hard. Those women sound like real pieces of work. Poor Abby, it sounds like she was bombarded with letters against her initial advice.

  36. MaeMae August 15, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    BTW-The Dear Abby column in my paper stated that the responses Abby posted were readers that were upset with her initial advice that the mom COULD let her son use the men’s room and just wait outside for him. I don’t think the column itself was trying to illicit fear just showing that the majority of readers disagreed with her. Which,IMO, is a fair thing for an advice columnist to do. Let’s keep the outrage where it belongs-with the readers that wrote in, not the column writer.

  37. Kim August 15, 2009 at 11:11 am #

    I have an even better idea than whistles and two-way radios. Why not make children (regardless of age or potty-training experience) wear diapers whenever you go out, so they won’t have to go into those pedophile- and psychopath-filled public restrooms in the first place. So what if it totally humiliates the kids…at least they’ll be SAFE. Right?

    Seriously, people…I’d be more concerned about letting them sit down after someone with poor aim had used the toilet than letting them go into the bathroom alone.

  38. Rebecca August 15, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    Doesn’t it seem like a public bathroom, with all the traffic in and out, would be a terrible place to try to do anything illicit?

  39. Casey August 15, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Alexicographer – I agree about the views on nudity and such. My problem lately has been with breast feeding. I have one of those “hooter hiders”, but my baby and I both get so hot using it. Why do breast have to be seen as purly sexual? I understand their purposes…all of them, but I wish people would relax about seeing a breast while a baby is getting it’s food!

    About the bathrooms…the kind of abuse we’re talking about (if it occurs in less than a minute) is most likely the kind where someone shows you a little something you don’t want to see. And while I hope my child doesn’t have to go through that, I hardly think it’s reasonable to act as though if she did her life would be tainted from that day forward.

    I really don’t think it’s possible to get through childhood completely unscathed (has anyone here?) so I think the most important thing is to have a continual open dialogue with your children so that they can deal with the sometimes emotionally painful situations in a good way.

  40. Chris H August 15, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

    Surely the American way would be to walk in guns blazing. Anyone in there is probably a paedophile and a commie universal health care nut.
    Take ’em all out, then let the kid go.
    Safe as houses.

  41. Patricia August 15, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    HI Lenore,
    I heartily applaud your ‘free range’ concept but in this case I have a couple of points I think worth making. I know this is only one terrible incident, but here in Australia a couple of years ago a little girl was raped and murdered in a shopping centre’s ‘disabled’ toilet while her family waited for her at the end of the corridor. She was out with, I think, her father and brother. . Not sure why they weren’t waiting outside the door, or how the offender escaped without being seen. I agree that an ordinary public loo with all the traffic is actually likely to be safer than the disabled toilet – which enabled this pervert to be hiding in there unseen and grab her as she locked the door – pretty hard to do in an ordinary facility.
    I am a widow with three little boys (now 7, 9 and 12)and have no problem letting them go into the men’s room together alone (as it were!) or the biggest boy by himself at any time, BUT in Australia anyway, it’s easy enough to just take the whole family either into the disabled toilet, or into the Parenting Room. Do they have those in the US? It’s a large room with couches, breastfeeding cubicles, and usually a ‘family’ toilet with a child size and adult size loo inside.
    I’m a bit confused why anyone would be offended to find a boy in the ladies’ toilets, though. Are we just more ‘laidback’ about such things in Australia? Aren’t there doors on the cubicles?

  42. Matt August 15, 2009 at 9:37 pm #

    This reminds me of an incident I witnessed a while back in a department store. A mother allowed her son (maybe 8 or 9 years old) and daughter (6 or 7 years) to get a drink at the water fountain while she and another adult with a child in a troller shopped in a nearby aisle around the corner. The boy decided, after using the fountain, that he needed to pee; he was in and out of the restroom before his mother met up with them two minutes later.

    The mother then suggested that the children use the restroom since they were there. The boy proudly announced that he’d already thought of that and had used the facility.

    The mother asked, in a shrill, panicked tone, which restroom he had used–mens’ or womens’? He informed her that he’d used the mens’ room. She began shrieking at him hysterically. “Don’t you ever go in the mens’ room! If you go in the mens’ room, A bad man will cut you into little pieces and kill you!”

    That’s literally what she said. What’s wrong with these people?

  43. riverdaughter August 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    Ok, so I took my 9 year old daughter to a movie. We drank too much soda and had to use the bathroom. You know how women’s bathrooms are. Always a loooooong line. Too many pee-ers, too few stalls. So, there was a mom in the bathroom standing guard over about 4 stalls, waiting for the kids to come out because Gawd knows, something may happen in a women’s bathroom what with all the pedophiles. As if people aren’t more concerned with whether they are going to make it or just pee the floor. So, we waited and waited and waited. These kids were taking a loooong time. They must have been reading War and Peace. Finally, the doors open and out steps…

    wait for it

    4 boys.

    They were aged about 10-12 years old. They were in the LADIES bathroom where the logistics of elimination are already against the preferred users. Men’s bathrooms? Zip in and out. Women’s bathrooms? Well, you know the drill.
    I was livid. There was this mom escorting these boys into an already overcrowded women’s bathroom. My jaw dropped. How fricking inconsiderate can you be? My kid and I were about to wet ourselves and we are waiting for boys to get out of our stalls.
    I complained to the theater owner. There is no reason why those boys couldn’t have used their own bathrooms and if the mother was that concerned with her and other people’s kids being molested, she should have stood beside the urinals in that bathroom, not ours.
    Yeah, it went right through the manager’s ears and left no trace. She didn’t care. Well, maybe that’s because the theater was not super busy but if it had been and the line had stretched out the door, I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the only one complaining. It was beyond ridiculous.

  44. Uly August 16, 2009 at 12:46 am #

    She began shrieking at him hysterically. “Don’t you ever go in the mens’ room! If you go in the mens’ room, A bad man will cut you into little pieces and kill you!”

    And thus her son now believes she’s crazy and will NEVER listen even if she warns him about a REAL danger because she just stated something will happen that he knows from experience (and, uh, logic) will not. Great move there.

    BUT in Australia anyway, it’s easy enough to just take the whole family either into the disabled toilet

    Patricia, please don’t hog the disabled toilet. Those toilets aren’t for you, they’re for people who can’t use the regular toilet… many of whom also have bladder control issues and/or are *additionally* prone to bladder or urinary tract or kidney infections and shouldn’t be trying to “hold it” as it is. Your temporary convenience isn’t really worth the cost of another human being’s public humiliation or hospitalization.

    Doesn’t it seem like a public bathroom, with all the traffic in and out, would be a terrible place to try to do anything illicit?

    Not to mention, how sick are you that you’re hanging around in the stinky public toilet on the off-chance that some little kid is going to come in? If they’re that determined, there’s not much you really can do. It’s not like seeing an (unarmed) mom in there would deter them.

  45. Heaz August 16, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    A few months ago, I allowed my 5yo son to enter a men’s room alone for the first time at our local community center. Per his own “I can do it myself” request, I waited at the other end of the hall, and he found me quickly. Success! However, when we were leaving the facility, an angry staff member confronted me…came out from behind the counter and read me the riot act for letting my kids “run wild” without “proper supervision” and went on about how he isn’t there to “babysit” for me.

    Babysit for me? My kid peed, then returned directly to the gym. OMG I’M THE WORST PARENT EVER!! I was rattled, but what was worse was my son, who was nearly in tears by the time we got to our car, asking why we were in trouble, and what he’d done wrong.

    And then…

    A week later, in another public building literally across the street, a 7yo boy was molested in the restroom by a stranger.

    Yes, for real.

    So then I felt all humbled and panicked. I was raised in an era of AfterSchool specials and at home, school, and in the media the constant message was drilled into me that Predators Are Everywhere. I did NOT want to raise my kids that way. I still don’t. I firmly believe that most folks are basically kind and decent, and that the probability of something Bad happening is statistically very small. But how to strike that balance between caution (to keep them safe) and paranoia/fear?

    It’s something I’ve been working on ever since. FRK has been a big sanity touchstone during this period. I do still allow my son to use public restrooms when the situation seems reasonable. That is, when he is comfortable with the idea and when we aren’t at a proven child-unfriendly place (which I’m finding in more and more ways, that “community” center is, alas). We’ve had discussions about what to do “IF”, but it’s more along the lines of if you feel uncomfortable. I’m not going to terrify my children with graphic stories about attacks, and lead them to believe that they are likely.

  46. Amy August 16, 2009 at 8:37 pm #

    I happen to disagree with much of what I’ve read here. I think the real issue is that our culture hasn’t figured out yet how to accomodate children and families (US). Why not have children-only restrooms? Family bathrooms? Family locker rooms? As a mother of a daughter and son, I had to take my young son with me into the Y locker room simply because he needed help with bathing and changing, and no, I’m not comfortable (nor was or is he) with the open showers in the men’s locker room (why is that, when the women’s have shower curtains?)

  47. Jan August 16, 2009 at 11:36 pm #

    I have reached my limit on boys in the women’s bathroom. I’ve met teenage boys in there (and I mean a 6 foot tall teen male who looks old enough to drive) or little ones who are on all fours looking UNDERNEATH doors at other women. I’ve had it.

    I’ve drawn a line in the sand.

    I now react with excessive and entirely fabricated emotion when I meet males in the women’s room. I think I have the right to accuse a teen boy of being a pervert myself for being there or at least to shriek that there are males in the women’s room. Maybe then his stupid inconsiderate mother will realize there are cons to her paranoid behavior.

  48. Patricia August 16, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    “Patricia, please don’t hog the disabled toilet. Those toilets aren’t for you, they’re for people who can’t use the regular toilet… many of whom also have bladder control issues and/or are *additionally* prone to bladder or urinary tract or kidney infections and shouldn’t be trying to “hold it” as it is. Your temporary convenience isn’t really worth the cost of another human being’s public humiliation or hospitalization”

    Hospitalisation? Again, maybe we’re lucky in Australia – I haven’t once in 12 years of parenting exited a disabled toilet to find a humiliated disabled person waiting for us in the few minutes it takes for three boys to share a toilet – but there are usually multiple such facilities in any reasonable sized public place such as a shopping centre here.My small local centre has three. And it’s not only a matter of ‘temporary convenience’ When the boys were younger, say 2, 4 and 6, and still needing some help with toileting, was it preferable to ‘hog’ three of the usually over-subscribed cubicles in the Ladies, or go into the Men’s with them? In fact I have a problem myself with IBS and if I need to go while out I am often 15 -20 minutes – I feel this justifies my use of the disabled facilities as I can bring my shopping, and my sons in with me. Evven older children don’t much like hanging round outside a toilet for 20 minutes.

    “I think the real issue is that our culture hasn’t figured out yet how to accomodate children and families (US). Why not have children-only restrooms? Family bathrooms?”
    I agree! See my earlier post – don’t they have Parenting Rooms in the US? They are actually very useful for the opposite problem too – when the mum needs to ‘go’ and she has three little kids of the opposite sex. It’s a bit hard to fit them all, plus a shopping trolley, into an ordinary toilet.

  49. Chris H August 17, 2009 at 1:30 am #

    Patrica, the story you remember is about A girl who was dragged into a disabled toilet and murdered while her brothers went to the toilets in Perth.
    The disturbed 23 year old who performed the murder was caught and convicted the following year.

    Millions of Australians use public toilets every day – yet you base your actions on one case from 2005? Like it always said here: Do you put your children in a car? If you do you are exposing them to a much higher risk of injury or death.

    And disabled toilets are for disabled users. Not Mums with kids. You don’t use the disabled car parks do you based on “I’ve never come back to my car and found a disabled person waiting” or “they are always empty”?

    Have some respect and a good dose of not-so-common sense. Your children are safe.

  50. Uly August 17, 2009 at 1:52 am #

    Well, Patricia, do you know many people in wheelchairs? Do you know many people with mobility issues?

    I do. And every last one of them – from the US, from Canada, from the UK, and yes, from Australia – has a story about not making it to the toilet in time because somebody else was in there who didn’t need it as much as they did.

    Most of them have stories of trying to explain to their doctors that no, they really don’t hold it on purpose, they cannot REACH the other disabled toilet (doesn’t matter if there are three if you can’t get to the second one before you pee all over yourself) on time.

    If you’re taking 20 minutes in the toilet, you really CANNOT keep taking up the disabled seats. It’s incredibly insensitive and rude.

    And disabled toilets are for disabled users. Not Mums with kids. You don’t use the disabled car parks do you based on “I’ve never come back to my car and found a disabled person waiting” or “they are always empty”?


  51. Elena August 17, 2009 at 3:50 am #

    I’d like to point out that while I don’t feel threatened by small boys in the locker room, it pisses me off that my school age daughter had to either strip down in front of male peers or go to the toilet stall.

  52. LauraL August 17, 2009 at 6:45 am #

    I have to disagree somewhat with the disabled toilets.

    Most of the time, IME, that’s also where the diaper-changing station is, because it’s a big enough stall to accommodate a stroller and additional children, particularly those well under the age to be left unattended, which in my case started at age 4 down to infant. As well, I am a larger person and sometimes the stalls are simply TOO SMALL for me. If there is not a disabled person specifically waiting for that room, then I feel free to use it because it’s a toilet first, in a big stall second. If there is a line, I see no reason that that room remain empty for person after person just because it’s marked for wheelchair access – it’s a working TOILET. I would hope that someone who needs that specific room would make it known that they do and reasonable people will allow them to the front do so.

  53. LauraL August 17, 2009 at 6:47 am #

    As to family rooms, we have some family rooms in some places, but they invariably require one to locate an employee to unlock it. The one time we tried to use one in a mall, no one had a key and they didn’t know where it was. So, no family bathroom for us! We do have three at our local swimming pool, though, no key required. People will wait in line for twenty minutes rather than just use the appropriate locker rooms, and I think the kids waiting are well old enough to manage.

  54. MaeMae August 17, 2009 at 6:58 am #

    My understanding with handicap accessible stalls were that anyone could use them but if a disabled person came in they were given that stall right away. I’ve never seen any problems result from this. People seem to be very respectful, letting the person go immediately in without waiting in line. I see no reason for it to stay empty when there are people waiting.
    You know what I find interesting though is that boys of most ages, even teenagers, are allowed in the women’s room but if women try to use the men’s room we’re threatened with arrest. Seriously. This happened to us at a concert. The line was ridiculous so we waited until the men’s room was empty and rushed in to do our business and sure enough the cops were right there to let us know that was not ok. Weird, huh?

  55. Chris H August 17, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    LauraL, maybe this is the difference between the US and Australia. In Australia, every mall or decent sized building has a separate parents room (multiple change stations, feeding lounges with privacy curtains and space for the stroller, gated play area for the three year olds while you deal with the six month old plus a room with a adult sized-toilet and a child’s sized toilet. Family rooms are never locked here!

    In Australia there isn’t a disabled stall with the restrooms – there is a completely separate unisex room accessed from corridor separately – it isn’t contained within the men’s or ladies’ restrooms. It is designed solely for disable use.

    Your “disabled people are automatically next in queue for the appropriate stall” sounds reasonable enough. Patricia’s ‘they can roll on over to the other side of the mall ’cause my boys might be molested by a stranger’ just isn’t ocker.

    But to return to the subject – there is as close to zero chance of a child being molested in a pubic toilet as you can get. Any incidents are reported nation-wide and there is a story every couple of years. Statistically, you are safer leaving your child in a public restroom than alone with your husband as three times as many children are molested by relatives than strangers, and six times more are molested by close friends/neighbours/teachers/priests than strangers.

    I’m not saying your husband is going to do anything – I’m saying ‘think about how unlikely it is for your husband to do anything, then divide that by three’.

  56. Jan August 17, 2009 at 8:30 am #

    I have to wonder why this is only a mother-son issue. Do single dads drag take their daughters into the men’s room?

    Hmm. I checked with a couple of single dad pals. Nope, they have NEVER taken their daughter into a men’s room. They have NEVER seen a father-daughter combo in a public restroom. They deal with their own daughter’s needs in public by approaching a family nearby and asking the wife to take their daughter when they accompany their own girls.

    The dads were certain they, as single dads, would be collared by child services as abusive/deranged for taking their daughters into a men’s room, no matter what excuse.. and thought that moms dragging boys through the trauma of going in a women’s room deserved no less. Both questioned what that does to the psyche of a boy over about 5 years old. Okay, end of rant.

  57. Christy August 17, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    I’m all for letting school aged children use public washrooms alone.

    I did, however, just notice this article: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2009/08/16/calgary-mall-voyeur-arrested.html Apparently things can happen. I’m still not worried, but

  58. Uly August 17, 2009 at 12:52 pm #

    Jan, I know men who take their daughters into the men’s rooms… but come to think of it, the bathrooms I’ve seen them do this in have all been in kid-oriented places, empty, or both. (And they were happy enough to let me take both their daughter and my niece into the women’s room at the same time if I offered, but you know, when they’re toilet training it’s easier if their friends go with them!)

  59. sue August 17, 2009 at 8:36 pm #

    I used to pound on the door, open it a tiny bit, and say, “is anyone in there?” because they’re going to call out if they think a woman is coming in to clean! And if the area is crowded, I still tell my son in a loud voice, “I’ll be right here waiting–if you’re not out in 2 minutes, I’m coming in after you.” Yes, yes, I know in 2 minutes “the unspeakable” can happen–but if someone knows I’m willing to come in the restroom, they’re going to think twice.

  60. Rich Wilson August 17, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    @Jan (Dad’s never take daughters)

    Bill Cosby had a routine about this.

    Personally, I think more emotional damage will be imparted onto our children by neurotic parents than by actual molesters.

    Except of course when they are one and the same, as someone pointed out.

    I considered replying to Abby that since so many abusers are friend and family, the only solution is to never leave a child alone with a single adult. I know, it’s hard, but c’mon, do you REALLY trust your spouse that much? Obviously both parents should be with a child at all times unless they’re in public.

    And seriously again, if I think it’s about intent. If your child for whatever reason needs the assistance, then by all means, you should be allowed to assist them. I’ve seen signs at rest area washrooms on US highways stating that opposite sex assistants to disabled persons are permitted in the restroom.

    But if your reason is some irrational fear, then keep in mind that children can smell fear.

  61. sonya August 17, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    I’m the one whom several people think is prudish for not liking boys in the women’s restrooms. Firstly I would point out that I am European, not American, although I live in the US, and at home we are totally relaxed about nudity. But to me, nudity at home is totally different than nudity in front of strangers. That being said, I remember being 10 years old, boys at that age do have sexual thoughts (I remember kids passing around porn and telling sex jokes at that age). Public toilet stalls often do not have doors that go all the way to the floor and I have seen boys looking under them, which I find offensive, as I would if they were 16 or adult. I agree that “family toilets/changing rooms” are one answer – my YMCA swimming pool used to have one, and some campsites have those.

    On the question of men with daughters – up to age 4 my husband used to take them into the mens, beyond that he sends them into the womens and waits outside. We settled on age 4 because that was actually the cut off at the YMCA for children to be allowed in the opposite gender changing room. I think the reason men don’t take daughters into the mens toilets is that (a) men’s toilets have urinals, (b) fathers are with the kids away from home perhaps less than mothers (although not in my family’s case) (c) according to my husband, the men’s toilets are always too disgusting (his excuse for why I had to do toilet duty, when the kids were younger than 4).

  62. Vince L August 18, 2009 at 11:35 am #

    An attack at a Target bathroom happened today. So much for 0 chance:


  63. LauraL August 18, 2009 at 11:37 am #

    1. No one ever said the risk was zero. Just very, very low.

    2. The boy did what he was supposed to do – SCREAMED.

    3. Accused is not convicted. I’d like to know WHY he grabbed the boy.

  64. Chris H August 18, 2009 at 12:07 pm #

    Ha ha Vince! Massive fail on understanding this blog!

    Laura – don’t worry about responding, the trouble is the 20/20 rule.

    It takes 20 seconds to say something that sound vaguely plausible but twenty minutes to explain why its wrong. That’s probably why we’ll never gain larger acceptance of Free Range Kids in the community.

    The 20 second sound bite works best on TV. No thought required (phew, says Vince). Quick, snappy and alarmist as well.

    The 20 minute explanation has no chance in the modern media.

  65. Vince L August 18, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    @ChrisH: Glad you think you know my personality. Guess I should leave my thinking to you.

    I already Free Range my kids (is that a verb now?) and have for ages. I grew up that way and so are my kids.

    The idea of posting the story was the fact that the Media is making a big deal of it in St Louis. One incident and ALL bathrooms are now evil places.

    I’ll check with you, Chris H, in the future before I post anything more.

  66. Eric August 19, 2009 at 2:47 am #

    I found this Dear Abby really out of whack with reality. Most of the time I agree with her suggestions, but definitely not in this case. Almost made me put pen to paper, but then I saw this post instead!

  67. Lisa August 19, 2009 at 7:11 am #

    Ok, so I get that everyone has their own idea about how to keep their children safe, but seriously do we need to be so judgemental about how others choose to do this. It’s one thing to send your child into a restroom and wait outside but it’s another to have your child wait outside while you are using the restroom. Plenty of times mothers bring their sons in with them becasue they need to use the facilities and want to know that their children are safe while they are doing so. Trust me, if a 5 year old is peering under your stall, there is a mother trying to go to the bathroom and stop him at the same time. Just be thankful that you generally get to go to the bathroom in peace, because chances are the mother of that child you are complaining about does not.

  68. Rhonda August 23, 2009 at 11:19 pm #

    Or, according to today’s column, you can use your cell phone to take a picture of your kid *every single day* so that you have a picture of them in that day’s outfit in case an Amber Alert needs to be issued. Seriously. http://www.uexpress.com/dearabby/


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