Updated: Changerooms, Children, and Etiquette

[Topics: Child Abuse Risk Factors, Child Supervision]

I’ve recently seen more men directly supervising children in changing rooms. Each time I go swimming, I see at least one man supervising children as they get changed.

I think it’s great that men are spending time with children under their care.* There’s obviously a growing awareness of child safety and the need to supervise children.

But I can’t help noticing these guys who stand there, fully clothed, looking terribly awkward. Not looking at their kids too much, not looking at the other guys getting changed too much – where can they look? What are they meant to do with themselves while supervising the kids?

I’ve seen some male teachers supervising school groups who look completely out of their depth. They’re meant to supervise the kids, without looking at them! And they’re not meant to look at anyone else, either…

I can feel a little awkward, too, particularly when someone ends up staring at me. And it’s not only carers who do this! I sometimes end up staring at guys (adult men), too. Sometimes I’ve zoned out and ended up starting into space (but space with someone in it!) Other times, I’ve ended up staring, thinking: “I can’t believe that guy is so incredibly fit!”~

I have no idea what the etiquette is for men, child supervision, and changerooms.

Part of my cluelessness is historical: my parents separated when I was young. I only have fuzzy memories of my dad taking me swimming, and those memories tend to focus on diving for coins. I was the eldest child, and my mum was my sole carer until I was a teenager, and didn’t need close supervision.§ So I didn’t grow up with men supervising me on a regular basis, at least until I reached high school.#

Part of my cluelessness is cultural: when I was growing up, child protection was taught, but there was less awareness of the need to supervise children around strangers.

And part of my cluelessness is situational: I’ve never had kids, and I’m rarely in a carer’s role. Even when I’m around children, I’m not their primary carer, so I can take the lead from someone else.

But I can put up with a little awkwardness. I’m willing to learn. My awkwardness is such a minor cost, compared to a vital outcome: improving the safety of younger children.**

* Men don’t deserve to be congratulated for equitably sharing caring responsibilities. It’s simply their responsibility. Neither do children necessarily need a male carer. However, I do want to acknowledge that male-identifying children often imitate male role models. (It’s important that children have some interaction with role models of all genders.)

Nor do children need carers of any particular gender, nor specific combinations thereof.

~ The pools I usually attend all have gyms attached, and it’s common practice for people to go to the gym, then use the pool, spa, steam room, and/or sauna. (I’ve only ever been to one pool that has every single one of these facilities!)

§ Even if I wasn’t strictly a teenager, I certainly felt old enough that I didn’t want my mother supervising me closely any more. My dad was an occasional carer from when I was around 10 years old onwards, but my mum remained my primary carer.

# I went to a single-gender high school with a high proportion of male teachers. Even before high school, I was involved in the Scouting movement, and I had male teachers from late primary school onwards.

The child protection training I received as a child at primary school included adult strangers, but also adults known to the child. Statistically, [Detailed Discussion of Child Abuse Risk Factors] children are more at risk from adults known to them or their families.

I was a Christian youth worker for around 6 years, but only with high-school aged youth.

** There’s an ongoing, complex, and nuanced debate around child supervision, from free-range children, [Update: to children left in a car for a few minutes,] to helicopter parents. I can’t possibly do the debate justice, but I do want to acknowledge that: supervision isn’t a panacea; each family makes decisions on child supervision based on their particular context; and some children simply don’t have a same-gender primary carer.## There are many families won simply can’t conform to the supervision regimes that some people expect. There can be many reasons for this, including single-parenthood, shared custody,†† parental work commitments, and cultural contexts (including extended families).

## Almost all children will be cared for by an adult of another gender at some point while they’re growing up, even if it’s only on an occasional basis.

†† Shared custody typically results in children having only a single carer at any one point in time (even if they swap between multiple single-carer households). This can change if the separated parents have partners who act as carers.


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