"My sons use the women's change rooms and I won't stop them."

Once a week my six-year old son knowingly breaks a rule.

We do it together. Despite the fact I drill into him on a daily basis that rules are there for a reason I encourage him to do it.

I’m not the only one asking their children to break the rules. There are hundreds of us right across the country with exactly the same dilemma. So when is your child too old to be in an opposite sex changing room?

The topic crops up every summer on Facebook parents groups.

I have a 7 year old son whom I take to swim lessons once a week. At the moment he still comes into the change rooms with me, but at what age should I let him use the men’s change room by himself? Thanks.”

“At my daughter’s swimming lesson today there was a mother in the change room with a seven-year old boy who kept glancing at me. Should I have told her he made me uncomfortable or held my tongue?”

boy swimming pool swimming
When is too old for your child to be in an opposite sex changing room? Image via iStock.

At many swimming schools, including the one I take my children to, signs hang from the doors to the change facilities boldly stating that children must use the designated change rooms. While the majority of swim schools offer “family rooms” these are usually in use (in the swim school we go to, quite often, by the staff themselves.)

So what are you meant to do? It raises several issues and one that as a parent, you can see both sides of while being totally infuriated by it as well.

I have two boys and a girl. My eldest, a boy aged 8, does use the men’s change rooms. He started at the age of 7 but it was at his insistence. To be honest, it stemmed purely from being afraid of being labelled a “girl” if one of his mates saw him enter the “ladies.” (Yes don’t worry I recognise the inherent sexism in that old playground taunt but I’m saving that for another post.)

Various signs at swimming centres.

My youngest son who is 6 does however, use the women’s change rooms, along with his sister aged 4 and myself. He uses them because he is 6 and struggles to get a rash vest over his head. He uses them because he is 6 and struggles to turn the shower on. He uses them because he is 6 and struggles to get his dry clothes on his not-dry-enough body.


He uses them because he is 6.

We don’t use the family change rooms and in the interests of curtailing all the “just-use-the-family-change-rooms” comments, I will explain why. They are on the other side of the complex and there is no way in hell I am leaving my other son wandering around a swimming pool by himself trying to find his mother, brother and sister.

Sounds reasonable right? If only it was. Unfortunately the mothers of other primary school girls don’t agree that my youngest son should be allowed in the change rooms.

My son who recently mastered his sight words looked at the faded sign the other day and asked me why. “Why can’t I come in here Mama I’m over 5,” he said to me.

It was tricky to answer. What do you say? Because the girls are worried you are looking at them? Because women need their privacy? Because your body is different from theirs and they feel you should be getting changed elsewhere?

The fact we are continually having this debate each and every summer is frustrating. We all decree the idea that out young children are being sexualised too early and then we do it ourselves. Boys under 10 are not sexual creatures. They aren’t looking at your daughters with “interest”; in fact 99.9% of them aren’t even looking.


They are primary school boys for goodness sake. Their minds are filled with dragons, handball and football. They are worried about being bowled out at cricket and dreaming of how to be YouTube star like DanTDM. They are wondering what’s for dinner and whether mum will let them buy a triple-coloured push pop at the lolly store or if they’ll have to make do with six mixed jellies like usual. They haven’t even seen your daughter.

“They are primary school boys for goodness sake.”

The boy in the 1% who does happen to glance your way isn’t looking out of interest he’s looking in the same way they would look at your daughter wearing a school uniform.

When Mamamia wrote about this same issue Child and Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr Gregg said that these types of edicts are “the product of puritanical, antediluvian thinking.” He added, “There is no documented harm from boys seeing girls or women naked. What is the harm? Who are we trying to protect? “

On one hand children cannot be left alone in cars or at home at this very young age, yet they are expected to enter showers alone?

For Michael Carr Gregg, the age of independence for a child is not something that can be written on a sign, or set in stone. “One size does not fit all. The key message for parents is that they teach their kids to keep themselves safe. Go with their instinct and learn protective behaviours,” he said.

Do you take your child into an opposite sex change room?