OKLAHOMA CITY — At what age should a boy begin to use the men’s public restroom instead of accompanying his mother or caregiver into the women’s restroom?
That’s the debate sparked by a sign hanging on the door of a women’s restroom in an Oklahoma City mall. The sign, which went viral when it was posted to the Oklahoma City Moms Blog Facebook page last week, reads, “Please boys over 6 years of age use Men’s restroom. Thank you.”
The post quickly garnered hundreds of comments and shares, with parties from both sides defending their opinions on the issue. Many commenters felt sending a 7-year-old into a restroom unattended was an issue of safety.
“That’s fine, but I’ll be going in there with them,” wrote one commenter.
Another wrote, “What if it’s the mom who has to use the restroom? I’d take him with me and ignore the sign. I’m not leaving my 7-year-old out in the mall to wait on me. Too many abductions.”
Some invested in the debate felt that young boys still needed help with things such as handwashing or wiping.
“It isn’t going to harm women or harm my sons to drag them into the ladies’ room where I can make sure they actually go, make sure they actually wash their hands, and make sure they don’t get lost or confused,” said writer Maria Mora in a post on the parenting blog, She Knows.
Public restrooms can present a whole new set of challenges for young children, according to child experts.
“They aren't particularly friendly for young children, with toilets you can fall in, sinks you can’t reach and toilets that flush on their own,” Kristy Simons, an early childhood educator, told Today’s Parent.
Other moms didn’t see the problem and argued children of that age group are perfectly capable of using the restroom alone.
“My son used the public restroom by the age of 5 by himself,” wrote Bridgette Marie. “No need for me, his momma, to hold his hand… I can understand family restrooms for those who have disabilities and can’t use the restroom on their own, but I see a lot of mothers pamper their kids way too much.”
Several commenters wrote that they were fine sending their child into the men's restroom alone, but remained outside the door the entire time and told their child to make noise if they felt threatened.
“I do let my boys go in (5 years), but they have to sing loud enough for me to hear them the entire time they are in there,” wrote mother Michelle Doty Magan. “I know if I can’t hear them, something is wrong and that is my sign to go in.”
The consensus: More family restrooms are needed to negate the issue. Family restrooms are found in most airports, stadiums and malls, but can be difficult to track down in smaller venues and restaurants.
In the meantime, experts advise parents to talk to their children about appropriate public restroom behavior.
“There are lots of teachable moments around proper behavior in public washrooms,” said Simons. “Reinforcing manners, respect and privacy from a very young age is important.”
So back to the big question: How old is too old for a boy to use the women's restroom? The answer isn't so simple and often comes down to parental intuition.
“Depends on the child, depends on where we’re at, how many people are there, etc.” said Kim Nelson, a mother of three.
As for the sign, it was taken down by mall authorities several hours after the post appeared on Facebook, according to Oklahoma City Moms. At this point, no one knows who put the sign on the door in the first place.
“This sign was not approved or enforced by the mall,” Oklahoma City Moms wrote. “As soon as management was notified, the sign was removed. They are still trying to locate who actually put up the sign.”
So what do you think? Add your voice to the debate in the comments section.