A few days ago, The Irish Times reported on how some swimming pools in Ireland require children to use gendered changing rooms from just seven years old. It can make for some awkward conversations and decisions – particularly for a man bringing a young girl to the pool or for a woman bringing a young boy.
Since Jen Hogan’s article, many people – some who have children, some who don’t – have been in touch to express their views on what age is appropriate for a child to have to use a swimming pool dressingroom on their own.
Here are a selection of the submissions.
“I think the appropriate age is somewhere between seven and nine years. Having been in changing rooms where there are children of the opposite gender aged about 10-12, it has been an uncomfortable experience due to being “looked at”. I know it’s done out of curiosity, but 10 or over is old enough to be learning about the human body and is also old enough to use the correct changing room as it makes others uncomfortable and self-conscious. This problem could be entirely avoided if swimming pools had a dedicated family changing room, or provided individual changing cubicles – this would also mitigate the need for any gendered changing areas.”
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Not being rude
“My son is seven, but I let him use the men’s room. I have given him age appropriate language of what he should expect from others there and how he can ignore others and that’s not being rude. There are no communal changing rooms at this pool.”
Not a big deal
“I think this is looking for yet another thing to stress/feel guilty about. Random attacks on children are, thankfully, very, very rare. Getting changed on your own is not a big deal.”
“I live in the UK and so far haven’t had this problem as a lot public pools have changing rooms which are communal with private cubicles for everyone. This works a lot better. I don’t think I would be comfortable with my child going on their own to the changing rooms until they were around 12, especially the men’s.”
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“Family changing areas should be the norm. Unfortunately, our local pool operates a policy whereby children over eight must use gender-specific changing rooms. My experience is that age is a rather arbitrary criterion for the decision regarding whether a child is ready for this arrangement. My older son (12) was comfortable using the men’s changing room from about the age of 10 and is quite an independent boy. However, my younger son is turning 10 soon and is not ready to use a male only changing area without a parent present. If I bring him to the pool, we use a cubicle in the women’s changing room.”
“In Iceland, children used their gendered changing rooms from age six. The kids learn independence and responsibility early. Pools have attendants who check and clean the changing areas very frequently, and there’s no issue. There are often family changing rooms and/or closed cubicle shower stalls for those who want privacy. As an aside, changing and showering nude are the norm, and people have much more body positivity, less shame and children are more familiar with, and by extension less squeamish about, the naked body. My Irish catholic and convent school experience did the reverse.”
“I (male) remember going swimming with school, aged 12-15, and despite teachers supervising, there was still some grown men who made us feel uncomfortable with some of the looks. Children should be allowed change with parents at least until their teens. The solution seems to be more gender-neutral changing rooms with a mixture of individual and family cubicles, and an end to open-plan changing rooms.”
“Open-plan gendered changing rooms are awful. I use one weekly with my baby and I hate getting naked in front of the other mothers. It’s humiliating and awkward. Communal changing rooms are much better.”
“I’m an avid swimmer and love the pool. I feel very uncomfortable when I see 10-year-old boys in changing rooms. Ten-year-olds are more aware these days and as some dressingrooms have no privacy. It is not appropriate.”
“What about the little girls in the ladies changing rooms who do not want to see boys getting changed – just because their mothers won’t teach boys how to get dressed. I was able to teach both of my children by age seven, but yet made appropriate arrangements to cater for a safe environment for my daughter to get changed in, which often meant taking her home in a robe so she didn’t have to see boys in the changing room. Excuses are made for boys but it’s their mothers not willing to teach them properly.”
“I have stopped using our community pool because the mammies keep coming into the larger gents changing rooms to change their kids. Absolutely ridiculous. Imagine if I walked into the ladies every time to change my kids when they were smaller.”
“I understand the issues around sending a young child into a dressingroom on its own, but as a lady using the swimming pool I am not happy at all with boys over the age of seven being in the dressingroom with me. Instead of campaigning to change the access age, can I suggest a campaign to have the swimming establishment provide family rooms?”