Should boys over six be allowed in the women's toilets?

Bathroom ban: The viral image that has sparked debate over how old is too old.
Bathroom ban: The viral image that has sparked debate over how old is too old. Photo: Facebook

I don't remember the first time my son used the men's toilets by himself. He was, no doubt, the one who made the decision. He would have said something like "No, Mum, I'm not going in the girls' toilets with you. I'm a boy. I'm going in there."

And I would have been hesitant, because he was my little boy, and I didn't want him going in alone. But of course I wouldn't have wished to alarm him by implying that danger lurked within the bathroom; I mean, the chances of him stumbling upon some kind of lewd act in the loo was pretty remote indeed.

So I would have said "Okay," and hovered outside the door, calling his name at intervals to check that he was okay. And when he came out I would have felt relieved, but also a bit proud, because my big boy was growing up to be a man.

But what age was he when it happened? I honestly can't recall. He wouldn't have been younger than six or seven; at that age I would never have let him go anywhere without me. But he certainly couldn't have been much older than eight, because he wouldn't have deigned to go in the ladies' loos at that age.

Whatever his age, he used the men's toilets when we both decided he was ready.

Recently an image has been circulating around Facebook of a sign in a women's toilet: Boys over 6 years of age use men's restroom. And it makes me cross. Very cross. Because whilst some six year olds are capable of using the men's loos by themselves, many are still teeny tiny and do not have the maturity or confidence to do so. And things can and do go wrong. My daughter once got locked in a toilet cubicle at around that age – those things can be hard to open for a little child - and if I hadn't been there to rescue her by crawling under the door she would have been terribly distressed indeed.

But more significantly – what do grown women have to fear from a six-year-old boy? Or a seven-or eight-year-old boy for that matter? Even if boys that age were excited by naked women – which they're not - women's cubicles have doors and locks so no boy of any age is going to see them actually wee. So what are they concerned about? That a male child is going to watch them wash their hands and apply their lipstick? Really?

Now, no-one is suggesting that 12, 13, 14-year-old boys enter the women's toilets. Boys that age are starting to get interested in girls and may make the girls of a similar age uncomfortable. But below that age, boys are just children with penises – and children is the operative word. And it should be their parents' prerogative to decide when they are mature enough to go unsupervised into a public restroom, whatever their gender.

The more complicated issue for me is when little girls need to use the toilet when they are out with their dad or grandfather. Men's toilets have open urinals and no-one wants their little girl to see strange men weeing into a trough. I have actually offered to take little girls to the toilet when I've seen a male carer lurking awkwardly outside, and a couple of times my offer has been accepted.

Obviously the easy solution is to have parents' rooms in every public toilet block. As this is unlikely to happen any time soon, we may need to settle for the sensible option, which is to let every parent do what is right for them and their child. And that means taking that stupid sign down.