child safety

I belong to a very small parish (22 registered families, average attendance about 50. A little over 20 of those are children, all under 12 years old.) We all gather for lunch together every Sunday in the basement of the church. Because of the size of our parish, our priest has asked all adults, particularly all parents, to do a background check and complete the required safe environment training for volunteers. This afternoon, we had our annual “safe environment” training. Father was going over the safety rules, which included common items, including not letting the children be unsupervised in the parking lot or anywhere outside, not allowing the children into the kitchen or storage closets, etc. He then asked us to always have a parent escort our children to the bathroom.

Now, I’m a very relaxed parent. I try to keep reasonable restrictions on the kids in the name of safety, but I also appreciate greatly the fact that my children are growing older (my eldest is 10) and can now be trusted to act and react appropriately in the face of danger or unexpected events. I refuse to be a victim of paranoia and I generally allow my kids a bit more freedom than most other parents I know. I have no problem allowing my 9 and 10 year old children to use the restroom alone in many situations, including church. There are also situations in which I would not be comfortable. At church, I often allow my wiggly 9 year old to take her 3 year old sister to the bathroom during Mass because it gives her an opportunity to move around a bit and get the wiggles out. As a bonus, I don’t have to do it myself. I honestly believe that this should be a parental decision and that it is absolutely ridiculous that this should be viewed as a liability for the church. When does it stop? In 5 years, do I still have to escort my 15 year old to the bathroom, because our society considers teenagers to be children and refuses to allow them to take any kind of responsibility

Having said that, I love and respect my pastor, and realize that I owe him obedience in this matter, so I will do my best to follow his directives. I’m just really frustrated.

So my question is this: Am I way out of touch on this one? In my discussions with other parents at my church, it seems I am. I was the only person who did not adamantly agree that it is irresponsible and dangerous to allow a child of any age to go the bathroom alone at church. If we can’t give them freedom and responsibility in environments like this, when can we? When do they start to learn how to grow up if their every action is parent supervised?

In defense of your pastor, I was just in a public restroom where two girls around the age of nine or ten absolutely trashed the bathroom when they were allowed by their mother (or female guardian) to go in the bathroom and play around. They were shoving each other, looking under stall doors, and proceeded to slop soap all over the floor and slide around in it. I’ve also worked in a middle school where boys would frequently urinate on the wall of the bathroom as a joke or stuff paper towels into the toilet bowl. Not all kids are going to be a good as yours are so the pastor is probably trying to cover all his bases. I don’t think it would be too far out of line for you to assume that he was refering to the parents of bad kids when he said this. As long as you keep an eye on the clock when they’re gone, you’re probably fine. A bathroom trip shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

Although this could be a separate area of concern, I am absolutely certain that a situation like you described was not the basis of his concern, based on the whole discussion. It is something to think about, though. I was an extremely good kid, but I do remember one time that I threw wads of wet toilet paper onto the ceiling of the bathroom in my elementary school. It was really fun to watch them stick and I gave no thought to our poor 75 year old janitor who likely had to clean them off. As you can tell, I still feel guilty, even though it has been 35 years.

I know that it is the policy of our diocese that children under the age of 12 need to be escorted to the bathroom by a parent. If the student is at CCD, then they are given a pass to use the bathroom, and the halls in the Parish center are monitored by adults who have gone through the Protecting God’s Children training (any adult who is going to have regular contact with children needs to go through the training - I forget what the definition of "regular is, but I know that a definition does exist).

This is to protect the children, but also to protect the adults who could be wrongfully be accused (it happens) and to legally cover the parish and the diocese. It is sad that we need to think in these terms, but it is a reality of the current state of our world.

Did your pastor happen to quantify the ages that need to be escorted? There comes a point in time when it’s just not something a parent does any more…I think 8 or 9 may be the on the verge of that boundary…12 is well beyond it. The kids are going to rebel against this degree of parental hovering.

This actually makes sense to me, and although I think it is more to protect the parish from liability than to protect children. At least there is a reasonable, albeit extremely cautious, age cutoff.

My question isn’t so much about why the parish need to do this, though. I was a bit surprised by the unanimous opinion of other parents that 9 or 10 is way too young to be sending the child to use the restroom without parental supervision, and the sense that it would be both dangerous and irresponsible to do so. Am I so far out of mainstream thinking on this?

Whatever he is actually concerned about happening, the point I was trying to make was that while your kids might be responsible and safe, other kids might not be.

This is precisely my point! I allow my 9 and 10 year old to go to the bathroom alone. I do not allow my 6 year old to go alone. I am willing to go along with this policy for a while, but in a few years it is going to be ridiculous. I asked about an age limit and he really didn’t answer, but simply restated the policy that all children need to be escorted.

I’m not totally without sympathy to the concerns here. Our parish is not in a great neighborhood and the bathroom doors are facing a door to the outside. We are close to the street at a busy intersection. Father (and other parents) are picturing a possible scenario in which someone wanders in from the street and lies in wait for an unsuspecting child.

Which is why I think it should be a parental decision. Parents know their children best and know their capabilities and level of responsibility.

I think my comfort level would depend on some variables. Where is the bathroom? Can I see it from where I’m sitting? Is the church crowded with strangers or is it mostly people I know? Is it a bathroom that has multiple stalls? Is my child going alone or is a sibling going as well? Are there other people in line for the bathroom? I would probably be okay with letting a child as young as five or six use our parish bathroom alone, because I can see it from the sanctuary and only one person can use it at a time. I probably wouldn’t be comfortable letting even a ten or twelve-year-old wander the Cathedral looking for a john, because it’s in a secluded part of the church, has several stalls, the church is always full of visitors and tourists, and the church isn’t in the best neighborhood either.

My thinking is very similar on this. It really depends on the situation, and I have determined, as a parent, what my comfort level is. I really feel that my parental prerogative is being undermined. As I mentioned, it is a very small parish. We know everyone by name and we know if there are visitors. But your answer does affirm that I’m not totally alone in my thinking. I agree with all of the considerations that you listed. I really appreciate your response!

This must make me a terrible risk-taking parent! :rolleyes: I let my son start leaving the sanctuary to use the single-occupancy bathroom earlier this year at the age of six! We give him five minutes, and if he’s not back, my husband goes looking for him. He knows the rule that no other person is allowed in the bathroom with him. Never had a problem, and don’t expect to.

I’m actually more likely to let my 3 (almost 4) year old go to the bathroom by herself than I am wiling to let my 6 year old. Why? Because I know my children! I actually wouldn’t let my 3 year old go unless I was planning to follow closely behind, though. I’d much rather just send her 9 year old sister to help out.

I think knowing your children is the key to making the decision. I’m all for safe environment training (I’ve had to take the course myself), but I’m also for common sense and parental instinct. A set of hard-and-fast rules that’s the same for every child isn’t going to keep our kids safe. WE are going to keep them safe. I think your judgment is spot on.

First–our parish is a large one with a large building (modern), although for some reason, the bathrooms are still down in the church basement–what IS this thinking that compelled all the Catholic churches to put their bathrooms down in the basement?!! I’ve seen this all over the country and it astounds me. Very silly and impractical. I guess at one time, everyone came to Mass and then went straight home, and everyone was expected to just “hold it”.

Anyway, our parish has had not just one, but several incidents of children being accosted in the bathrooms by perverts. So I am naturally going to side with the OP’s priest on this issue.

I would tend to err on the side of extreme caution. **Those who desire children and teenagers are very clever and subtle, and even a well-trained and savvy child or teen could be drawn into their net. ** Once a child or teen has been threatened or heaven forbid, actually molested, their innocence can never be restored fully. An incident will mark them for life.

And if a child or teen is accosted, they may be too confused and scared to tell their parents or anyone else, and all their future behavioral problems would be blamed on their character flaws rather than the abuse that they suffered in a church bathroom.

I agree with those who say that this is a liability issue. I am not sure if the church/diocese would be released from liability if they have stated that parents are required to take children under the of 16 to the bathroom. I suspect that this may free them of liability, but a good lawyer will make shreds of it and bring a lawsuit that could level the church and cripple the diocese.

The pastor/diocese has to set an age cut-off. My nine-year old nephew is very immature and babyish, as are many other nine-year olds. OTOH, my daughters were mature enough at that age that we allowed them to travel with other people to skating competitions on the other side of the country.

The OP’s pastor has decided to err on the side of extreme caution and has apparently set a very high age.

My feeling is that a parent should explain to their older children and teenagers that we live in a very wicked world, and that we must obey those in authority over us in order to protect ourselves and others.

And that brings up another issue. A teenager or older child who is alone in a bathroom can be accused (sometimes out of confusion) by another child or teenager or even an adult of abuse. Sad, but true. We need to protect our teenagers, too.

This whole thing makes me sick and sad.

“As a bonus, I don’t have to do it myself.”

Your 9 year old isn’t there to do your job for you.

Ummmm. As evidenced by the rapant disrespectful behavior of families in public, there are a great many parents out there who are in complete denial of their child’s personal level of responsibility.

This mentality is why many people fear having a large family. Absolutely nothing wrong with teaching an older child to help care for younger siblings.

Your child may know the rules, but that does not matter to a molestor.

Where does this end? If she’s making a sandwich for herself, is it wrong of me to ask her to make one for her hungry brother, too? Or should I be making both sandwiches, even well into her teens and beyond, because it is my job? Should a child be given no household responsibilities that don’t directly relate to his own things because the rest of it is my job? One of the things my 10 year old was supposed to do in Cub Scouts was to plan and make a meal for the family. Isn’t that my job? When do they learn about responsibility and service to others? The family is the best place for an attitude of service to begin. Isn’t is also my job to teach my children how to become responsible and competent adults? If they are never given any responsibilities outside of caring for themselves (which is also my job), I wouldn’t produce adults who had any capabilities or sense of confidence in themselves.

For the record, my 9 year old relishes the opportunity to take younger siblings to the bathroom. When the toddler fusses during Mass, she begs me to let her take him out. Both of these things make her feel like she’s a big girl, and that I trust her with responsibility.

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