A Question About the Toilet Down the Hall

Hi Folks! Here’s a question about bathroom break protocol at a Sunday School. Weigh in! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: What got me interested in this movement is a conversation I had at church just over a week ago. I’m my church’s Health and Safety Officer, but we also have a Child Protection Officer who is also Churchwarden.  She approached me just before the service and asked my opinion on what age a child should be allowed to go to the toilet unaccompanied.

I should explain the toilet is in a room adjoining the church which connects with the school and has a door opening onto the school yard. This is left open so the Sunday School students can go into the school hall and return to the church later. The Churchwarden seemed to be worried that a stranger might climb over the fence into the yard and attack a child using the toilet.

She was called away by someone and the service started a minute later so I didn’t get a chance to reply, but the question lingered with me. Talking to her later, I suggested a cutoff age of 12. I actually thought younger would be fine, but felt that that would probably cause outrage, knowing how paranoid people can be about child safety. To my absolute astonishment she said others had convinced her it should be 14, as this was the legal age children could be left on their own in the UK!

I have since found out that is untrue — there is no proscribed legal age its up to the judgment of the parents.

I didn’t press the issue then but I have been researching it and that’s what led me to this website. I must say it’s one of the most heartening things I’ve ever come across. I work in a secondary school as a science technician and I’ve often felt sad at how restricted children are compared to when I was growing up.

But, back to the church issue. I’m sure she’ll bring it up at the next Church Council meeting, but I intend to fight a cutoff age of 14. Just what sort of society are we creating if a young person of 12 or 13 can’t be allowed the dignity of going to the loo on their own in broad daylight?

I agree! And I’d set the age a lot younger. I actually think first graders can get themselves to and from the bathroom on their own. Didn’t most of us? I sure did. And after reading (in the comments on the post below this one) about the 4 and 5-year-olds using machetes elsewhere in the world, I have a feeling we First World denizens REALLY underestimate what our kids of capable of.

What’s more, the idea that some miscreant is going to scale a fence in the  hopes of maybe finding a kid in the bathroom on the other side is bizarre in its unlikeliness. If I were a thug, I’d certainly prefer committing a crime that did not require me to start by climbing.

The whole situation sounds safe and simple, and let’s not forget it! — L

(Public) Bathroom Humor

Or really, just public bathroom stories. That’s what I’m looking for, readers. As I start pondering the idea of writing another book (and, more to the point, FILLING it), I’m going to be asking for anecdotes from the real world, from YOU. And what I need first, believe it or not, is bathroom lore!

Specifically: Can you tell me about the time you let your kid use a public bathroom WITHOUT you? Was it a big deal? A small one? Scary? Surprising? Wonderful? (Or at least as wonderful as something like that can be?) What age?

Moreover: Kid reaction? Onlooker reaction? Spouse reaction — if any (and printable)?

That’s it. Thanks for any and all stories — we’re on a roll! (Ha ha.) — L.

Put Down that Calculus Book & Come to the Bathroom with Mommy

Oh, Readers: Here’s one from Glasgow, Scotland: By law, any time anyone under the age of 16 is in a “licensed premise” — i.e., a pub, or a restaurant that serves liquor, it seems — he cannot be out of his parents’ sight. Even in the loo. Even if it’s a young man with his “mum,” or a lass with her dad.

As nutters as that sounds — don’t the Scots deal with enough under-the-kilt jokes already? — the bathroom angle isn’t even the most disturbing part of this story. No, I’m appalled by the way this local law treats 15-year-olds the same as toddlers simply because there are no legal provisions for distinguishing them.

So make some!

And yet, here in America, we have the same problem on a different front: The consumer protection laws passed after the lead-in-toys-from-China scandal insist that every item sold to children under 12 be tested for trace amounts of lead, in case the child puts it in his mouth.

Now, I can understand testing a doll or even a baby shoe. Kids’ll gum them. But my 11-year-old is not going to chew the buttons on his shirt. Nonetheless, those buttons have to be sent for testing same as a pacifier, as if they pose the exact same threat.

There is a huge difference between babies, school children and older kids. Lumping them together makes babies of them all. Come to think of it, it makes babies of us adults, too: too helpless to do anything when faced with legal overkill but roll over.  — Lenore

A Baby, A Stranger, And Starbucks

Hi Readers! Want to know what happened?  Read on!

Dear  Free-Range Kids: It’s so inspiring to hear that there are others out there who refuse to freak out at every little thing.  I am a first time mom to a now 4-month-old and I don’t sterilize his pacifiers when he drops them on the ground, I refuse to ever use a shopping cart cover, and a month ago, I did the unthinkable.  I left my baby with a stranger while I used the bathroom at Starbucks.

My son and I were about three hours into a road trip heading back home, and I needed to use the bathroom, and he REALLY needed to get out of his car seat. Hence,  a Starbucks stop. I looked around and found an older, grandmotherly lady sitting with a mom-like lady.  I approached them and said, “Excuse me, I really have to use the restroom. Would you like to hold a cute baby for a moment?”  (Thankfully he wasn’t screaming any more since he was out of his car seat. And he IS pretty cute, if I do say so myself.)

They were surprised and delighted.  I used the restroom, and 30 seconds later, reappeared, my baby none the worse for wear.

I sat with the ladies who were thrilled to have a cuddle with a boy  who is very smiley and social.  It turned out the older lady IS a grandmother, and the other lady was her daughter.  We had a lovely chat for  about 20 minutes, and the grandma even insisted I take a picture of her and my son on her cellphone.  The whole experience made their day and I found myself marveling at the fact that such a little thing, approaching some perfectly sweet-looking strangers for help was something most parents today would absolutely freak out over.

I haven’t told many of my friends for fear they will think  I am an irresponsible parent, but in reality, I think it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and I’m determined to not live my life in fear thinking that child molesters lurk in every corner (of Starbucks!), just waiting to snatch my babe away.  Thank you for your book and your blog and a return to sanity.

You’re welcome! Thanks for a charming tale that shouldn’t be so surprising, but to many folks probably is!