Parenting • Aug 05, 2013

When can my child use the public restroom alone?

My 4-year-old now refuses to use public ladies’ restrooms with me.  “I’m a boy!” he tells me… So what should a mom do?  When is a child old enough to use a public restroom by himself?  What is the real risk here?

RestroomsAlthough the idea of sending my children into a public restroom alone is quite horrifying, the incidence of child abuse in restrooms is rare.  The vast majority of child sexual abuse is from persons known to the child, not strangers in restrooms.

But these cases do happen:

  • A  6-year-old on a kindergarten field trip in Albany,  NY was subjected to sexual contact by a 22 year-old man in a museum men’s room in June, 2013.  His mother was waiting outside the door.
  • A 12-year-old boy in New York City reported being raped in the men’s room of a South Street Seaport shopping area while his grandmother waited outside, also in June 2013.
  • A 6-year-old boy was reportedly sexually assaulted in a public bathroom at a Berkley, CA marina, also in June 2013.
  • In January, 2013 in West Nyack, N.Y., a man hid in the women’s room in a mall. He was accused of following a 7-year-old girl into a stall and sexually assaulting her while her father and a sibling waited by the bathroom entrance.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children feels that children of any age should not be permitted to use public restrooms alone.

The easiest solution is to find a unisex or family restroom.  Even my 4-year-old son is happy to use the family restroom, and I can be assured that he is safe and even washes his hands.  Family restroom laws are changing and, in many states, public establishments with more than six toilets are required to have a family restroom.  Ask for help finding the family restroom, which many not be near larger unisex restrooms.

Many older establishments still don’t have family restrooms… and so you’re stuck.  I still drag my 4-year-old son into the ladies’ room, but things are getting harder with my 9-year-old son.  One hotel we stayed at even had a sign outside the restrooms stating that any child over age 7 had to use a gender-appropriate restroom.

Public Restroom Survival Guide

  • Never send a child into a public restroom alone.  Ask for assistance from a security guard or employee of the establishment, if needed.  Don’t accept help from well-meaning strangers who offer it, often as they walk out of the restroom.
  • Instruct your child to use a private bathroom stall rather than a urinal.  Also instruct them never to talk to a stranger in a bathroom.  If a stranger talks to them, they should know to respond that they are not allowed to talk to strangers in bathrooms.
  • Avoid restrooms with more than one entrance.  You might need to go to a different area to find a smaller restroom with only one entrance.  Then, try to make eye contact with anyone who enters the restroom while your child is inside.
  • Stand in the door and talk to your child throughout their time in the bathroom.  Call out things like, “Is anyone else in the bathroom?”  “Remember, we don’t talk to strangers in bathrooms.”  “Do you need help?”  “Did you wash your hands?” “Can you reach the soap?”

Don’t be afraid that you might embarrass your child by talking to them at the doorway.  At very least, your child won’t forget to wash their hands.

When do you think your kids are old enough to use a public restroom by themselves?  When do you stop monitoring them by the door?  We’d love to hear your public restroom survival tips in our comments section below.


  1. I feel really sorry for your 9 year old to have such an overly smothering mother 🙁

    You managed to find FOUR cases.

    Over 500,000 children are injured or killed in car accidents EVERY YEAR.

    But no, you concentrate on humiliating your older children and then wondering why teenager child suicide rates are so high.

  2. We have three boys and our rule is they cannot go to a public bathroom by themselves until they’re ten. The four cases mentioned in the article are just the tip of the iceberg. As a court reporter for a district court, I’ve seen dozens of cases of sexual assault come through our court where perps have grabbed little boys in public restrooms at churches, pizza restaurants, the pool, McDonalds, etc. the list goes on and on.

    As parents we have a duty to keep our children safe and educate them about the reasons why so they can understand and make informed decisions as they get older.

    We can’t protect our children from everything, but we can be vigilant, responsible parents and greatly reduce the risk of something awful like this happening.

  3. 4 cases in june of 2013 across the country. this does happen. in fact I seem to remember a girl being killed while her father waited outside the door to the womans restroom. note that one was even a 12 yr old 3 years older then her 9 yr that you feel bad for. I will take them with me as long as I feel comfortable doing so and find family rooms when I can. going on road trips with my dad when I was younger I ws always told to scream if I see a man and check stalls around me before going into one. just incase they were waiting one stall over. the fact that you seriously don’t think this is a problem parents need to cocern themselves is disturbing to me.

  4. oh and keeping the conversation going if possible is a great idea. lets the person know there’s someone listening and waiting right there.

  5. I think that if a child is informed correctly about the dangers than they would know why you are calling into the bathroom and I think it wouldn’t be as embarrassing. Or set up a code system, you yell one thing they yell another. It is so important for children to understand the threat and that not all people are nice. Yes its a scary thing to talk about but its the world we live in now. I have started letting my very mature 6 year old occasionally go into a mans bathroom by himself thinking my fears were just being an over protective mom and because I feel like I am being looked at shockingly when I take him into the womans with me. But now I know that this is a threat, that I would rather conversate with my child and take the risk or embarrassing him. I would rather embarrass than have the alternative happen. As of the age of the child. I think its more the maturity level than the age. It just depends of that particular child.

  6. wow Joe – you clearly don’t have kids because you would realize how ridiculous your comment is about a smothering mother….maybe some underlying mommy issues?

  7. Well JOE is obviously not a parent! Or is one of those oblivious parents that let their child run wild in any situation. If JOE is a parent like this ….Hint: The rest of us are tired of your children ruining everything for the rest of us. Your child is likely as obnoxious as you. Have a great day!

  8. I understand the safety issue but you are invading the privacy of others by taking your boys in there and also I feel like on some level you are sexually abusing these boys. You need to find a single person restroom or you need to find something else because that is not ever okay. School age boys need to go to the boys bathrooms… Don’t get me wrong I am not saying you should take any chances with your kids but at the same time you don’t need to violate everyone else and perhaps you could ask them to sing or hum when all is well while you stand at the door. Embarrassing? Yes but not violating them or anyone else like taking them to the girls room.

  9. I’m currently 13, female, and my mother still doesn’t let me use public bathrooms alone. Sure, she never invades the stall, but she always insists to just stand in the stall next to me. She also calls out my name, pretty loudly at that, for everyone to hear, just to see l’m okay. I just pretend l don’t know who she is, at times. Even during a school dance, she “chaperoned” (Helped with decor and food serving) and STILL followed me to the bathroom when surrounded by innocent peers and teachers/staff that would never do anything to their students.

  10. I am a father of 4 kids. 3 girls and a boy. Mens restrooms are not all set up the same. I once had a terrible experience with a mother, her son and 2 daughters at a large grocery store. I was standing at a urinal going to the bathroom. The door flung open. A girl about 12 years old held the door open for her little brother to go to the bathroom. The mother and the other daughter, I think about 14 or so stood in the hall and said to the girl, keep the door open. I turned around, in clear site of the mother, and 2 daughters. The girl holding the door was about 5 feet from me to the side. Had I not been really up to the urinal, she would have been able to see my privates. To me, despite it being a mens bathroom, it was a clear invasion of my privacy, and quite rude. I had to turn away to put my privates back in. They watched me the WHOLE time. I came out and said to the mother, “I fully understand the safety of your child. I have 4 kids myself, But holding that door open like you did and allowing your daughters to view me, including yourself, was totally unacceptable, and an invasion of my privacy, and quite rude. Would you like me to come into the woman’s bathroom and watch you go? You could have waited a few minutes for me to finish. I then told her that I was going to the store manager, to which I did. There is talk now of re-designing the men’s bathroom for more privacy. Many men, by the way despise urinals where there are no dividers inbetween the urinals. We value our privacy more than you think.

  11. Re:Jim. Yes, that was indeed a violation of your privacy. I’ve been using a urinal before when a father has brought his toddler daughters in and that didn’t make me feel like my privacy was violated, because they’re so little. But when they’re old enough to understand the difference and notice it’s just not right for a member of the opposite sex to observe someone using the bathroom.

  12. There are even more horrific bathroom stories than what’s listed here. I woudlnt let my son use on his own, he is 4 now but I’ve heard a story of even a 9 year old being murdered in the bathroom. People are sick!

  13. Why should a boy be told not to use a urinal in a men’s bathroom? Boys are generally expected to use urinals in school, so they should already be aware of how to use one appropriately. I understand the concern about sexual abuse, but it seems as if there are even more things to be concerned about in a stall (like someone peeking under the door, throwing or shouting from the adjacent stall, or even trying to solicit sexual behavior (google Larry Craig)). A pedophile trying to target someone who is using a urinal is much more likely to be identified and run the risk of getting caught. In the male community, using a urinal is usually seen as a sign of self-confidence. It would also be quicker and cleaner, preventing him from having to touch a potentially germ-infested toilet seat or stall door handle, and make his voice more audible to his mother or another adult waiting outside the bathroom. Having said that, I can understand a boy being uncomfortable using a urinal in the presence of older, strange men. I would tell him to use whatever he prefers but let him know how to stay alert and aware of suspicious behavior.

  14. Never thought about this much until the freakshow Liberals decided it’s OK to let any Transgender mess of a person into the bathroom of their choosing. I don’t believe the Caitlyn Jenners of the world are sexual micreants but too many child molesters out there use this “I don’t know my own sexual identity” loophole to slither their way into the wrong bathroom to touch children’s private areas. Disgusting. HB2 is a good law and I hope people understand that some perceived “discrimination” which doesn’t even exist against a very small subset of the population is not reason enough to pass a law that endangers millions of normal children.

  15. You are out of touch with reality if you honestly believe an adult male will go into a female restroom with his daughter. Keep your transgender freakshows to their own single stalls. Liberals have destroyed the most basic fundamentals of human existence including the purity of gender, all in the name of some non-existent “discrimination.” Let’s make a deal. When you take your 5 year old son into the men’s public bathroom let me know because I want to see what happens. in the meantime, take your son to the women’s bathroom while he’s young!!

  16. Transgenders ARE freak shows. Millions of Americans are opposed to your defiling of society and it will be stopped through all necessary means if legislators cannot get a handle on it. Gender and marriage are two sacred principles being deviously twisted in your perverse liberal mind. We will put an end to this distasteful stain on society soon enough. Your attempts at arguing against this are clearly misguided in smut.

  17. Becky cannot decide on what bathroom SHE needs, and now wants to force herself upon everyone. It will never work as we will not allow it.

  18. I never said transgenders were sexual predators. I said they were freakshows (FACT). What I said was sexual predators will use these loopholes to go into the bathroom of their choosing (FACT). Please read the comments before spouting off on your illogical justifications. So if a mom wants to accompany her young son to the bathroom which one do they choose? If a father wants to accompany their 12 year-old daughter to the bathroom which one do they choose? Your women’s bathroom is full of men! Oh right, it’s gender neutral because 0.0001% of the population are freakshows. That makes total sense. Listen whatever gender you pretend to be, Generalization is not discrimination. I find your earnest seeking of approval on non-existent social justice issues to be pathetic.

  19. Who said it was males attacking females? Nobody said that, you simply inferred it. Your “discrimination” is fake and unsubstantiated.

  20. The vengeful, rabid left will concentrate all their hatred on trivial “data.” Case in point is Black Lives Matter. Let’s focus on 20 police shootings instead of 7,500 inner city shootings. Thats 375 times more shootings, mind you. Which one is more important? Completely absurd how these idiots gobble this shit up. It’s like they take all the money for cancer research and direct it towards preventing ingrown toenails. That is the perfect analogy.

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