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Kids in the locker room: Y not?

I got a note last week from a friend in the neighborhood who swims with her two young daughters at the downtown YMCA. Finding the family changing rooms occupied, she decided to use the regular women's locker room, only to be told that children between the ages of four and fifteen can't enter the locker rooms of the Y, even accompanied by their parents. She and her two children waited in vain for ten minutes for one of the two family restrooms to open up

An email exchange with Bryan Huffman, executive director of the Durham YMCAs, revealed the following thinking:

Our primary goal is to prevent any potential of sexual abuse or misconduct from occurring to children.  Protecting our youngest members is our utmost importance.  While no known misconduct has occurred at the Downtown YMCA, we are not willing to take that chance.  Statistics show that locker rooms, specifically shower areas, are one of the leading public locations that child sex abuse occurs.  By allowing children and adults to shower side by side is inviting predatory behavior to occur.  The YMCA cannot tolerate that risk.  We care too much about children to allow it.


We are currently exploring a more complete solution, which is to build several more family locker rooms as well as add restrooms to the Downtown YMCA.  At this time, I do not know when these additions will arrive as our Board of Advisors is currently evaluating all three of the Durham YMCA facilities and their needs.  I am expecting a recommendation from this group by November, which should include the new additions at Downtown.  Unfortunately, the decision can not arrive sooner as their recommendation deals with a much larger issue – the future of the Lakewood YMCA as a whole.

Apparently, this new policy -- about ten months old -- has raised a hue and cry from a number of downtown Y members who've brought their kids to the YMCA for years and taken them into the regular locker rooms to get changed. Four new temporary changing stations have been added on the pool deck, too, but none of these contain showers or other bath facilities.

Our correspondent suspects the policy may be in place due to concerns from older, childless members who don't want to hear young children being, well, young children in close proximity to them. And she points out that her children would always be accompanied in the locker room, not left on their own.

On the other hand, a bulletin from The Redwoods Group (a major insurer for YMCA facilities) outlines at least one of the risks of having kids in locker rooms (whose bright idea was the camera phone, anyway?) And at least one other YMCA has been going through a similar, if much more public, debate.

I'm curious what the parents out there think -- has this new policy impacted you? Have you switched away from the Y as a result, or are you okay with the current workarounds?

For my part, I'm wondering if this is a unified policy across the Triangle YMCAs, or something unique to the Durham facilities. It's also concerning to imagine (by the time recommendations are finished, fundraising accomplished, and construction completed) parents having to wait, what, two, or possibly three years from the time the policy was enacted until additional restrooms and family showers are added to the facility downtown? (All in the shadow, of course, of the brand-new downtown Raleigh YMCA's grand opening.)


seth vidal

Some of the older people you make mention of are not necessarily childless. They are child-free. My partner and I are not unable to have children we simply have no desire to have them. Your pejorative term and snide remark do nothing to improve your case. I'm generally of the opinion that keeping children in separate facilities until they are old/mature enough to not act like children is a good step. Children frequently don't understand personal boundaries and a space where you are exposed/vulnerable as you are in a locker room seems to be the worst place to test them.


"I'm generally of the opinion that keeping children in separate facilities until they are old/mature enough to not act like children is a good step."

My experience as a parent leads me to think that may be a somewhat self-defeating process. If you want children to mature, you need to at least occasionally put them in situtations where you can model appropriate adult behavior as well as give them a chance to try it out. My kids are pretty much grown, (and they're both girls, anyway, so after about 12 - 15 months this was never a personal issue for me) but not being able to take them into an adult locker room would have definitely got my hackles up, especially if the replacement facilities were inadequate.


This is a ridiculous policy that made me wonder what our world is coming to. My family is a member of the Duke Faculty Club which has no similar policy or problem. We were going to join the YMCA this winter for some indoor swimming. This policy definately has me rethinking this decision.

Comments like Seth's bother me. I don't know Seth other than from his online comments on various listserves, but his comment strikes me as absurd. Banning children UNDER THEIR PARENT'S SUPERVION because some supposed harm might come to them? Should we not allow children UNDER THEIR PARENT'S SUPERVISION to use public restrooms with a very public changing table? Should we not allow children UNDER THEIR PARENT'S SUPERVISION to ride their bikes in the street because a pedophile with a camera phone might come by and snap their picture or they might ride their bike into a car? Come on! Give parents some respect. I know many parents and their out of control children might not deserve this respect, but many other parents with well behaved children do.

seth vidal

If the kids are under parental supervision that actually does something. In the past when I've asked parents to keep their kids from being near me from screaming or running around I've been treated like I asked them to please put their children to death.

I'd love it if kids were under parental supervision. However, they are not and MANY parents do not seem to have any desire to control their children or any care if anyone else is bothered by it.

I agree, however, that the facilities for families/children should be equal in ever respect to the adult facilities.

seth vidal

Oh and to be clear about something: I never said I agreed about the Y's policy relating to them doing this for the protection of the children from pedophiles. That's just ludicrous. I just didn't like the pejorative in the main entry with regard to people who are child-free.

If you want evidence for the ludicrousness of the Y's policy that's for fear of pedophilia then look at the statistics about who are the most common child molesters:
- Parents
- Family members
- Religious figures/Authority figures
- Friends of the family

The percentage of child molestation cases where the perpetrator is an actual stranger to everyone in the family is a shockingly small percentage.

Michael Bacon

I'm still in a little bit of shock from the ridiculousness of this. In my mind, the modern YMCA has always been about children and families. What the hell are you doing when you enact a policy which so clearly imposes on families? If the concern were *actually* about sexual abuse, all you'd have to add was the "accompanied by parent or guardian." Done. This is probably more about rambunctious kids.

I've been a member of the Durham YMCA for over seven years now. (More if you count my days in youth soccer at Lakewood.) I'd estimate the number of times I've been bothered by misbehaving kids in the locker room at three or four.

Dammit, do we need to start a new branch of the YMCA in Durham and buy back our facilities from Wake County?


I work out at the downtown Y typically 4 times a week. This is the first I've heard about this policy (though I am, admittedly and happily, child-free).

I'm pretty sure I see boys between 4 and 15 in the locker room all the time. It's occasionally obnoxious, but not really a problem. Certainly not worth complaining about or leaving the club over.

I'm betting your friend just got unlucky and ran into some stickler for the rules at the wrong moment. I would suggest that she just go right back into the women's locker room, keep her kids from bothering anyone, and 95% of the time no one will bother her about it.

Chuck Clifton

Many of you out there are aware of the community's efforts to save the Lakewood YMCA. As the chairman of the Committee to Save the Lakewood YMCA (CSLY) I have had the opportunity to meet frequently with the Triangle YMCA senior management including the CEO, Sr. Vice President of Operations, and of course the Director of the Durham YMCAs, Bryan Huffman. Along the way I have learned a lot about the Triangle YMCA and its management. While I too find such policies as covered in this post bizarre and largely uninformed by any real public policy studies of pedophilia, I will say that the Triangle YMCA does have truly good intentions in most of what they do. HOWEVER, THEY FUNDAMENTALLY DO NOT UNDERSTAND DURHAM. Over the past several months the CSLY board has invested a lot of time in trying to coach the Triangle YMCA on how to engage with the Durham community with very little positive results.

One small example of this: in the spirit of openness and meeting the community half-way, we have asked numerous times for detailed information about the Lakewood YMCA facility and have received nearly none of it. I have explained to the Triangle YMCA management how the Durham community views secrecy as having something to hide ... largely due to a number of past municipal scandals ... and that it only prevents the development of trust. Alas it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

But, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water (or shower water in this case). The Triangle YMCA has tremendous resources and experience that they can bring to bear on the challenges of the Durham YMCAs. It is worth noting that the Triangle YMCA has the largest youth program of all the YMCAs in the country. The Triangle YMCA is doing what all growing companies do ... they do what they know. They are trying to apply Wake County policies to Durham and it just isn't working. I've been exploring alternative partners to take-over the Lakewood YMCA and I can tell you there are just so few out there that offer what the Triangle YMCA can. But what we can do -- what we MUST do -- is find a way to help the Triangle YMCA management discover the culture of Durham and then leverage that discovery into innovative policies and programming in Durham that will serve our COMMUNITY. If you'd like to be part of this effort, please visit our group site at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/save-the-lakewood-ymca/

Downtown Y member

As a father of two young children, I happily avoid adult locker rooms when I have my kids along. My ONLY concern is for the comfort of the other adult members. The locker room is one place where adults should be able to have relative peace and quiet. By the way- the Y is looking good- big improvement over the last few years. Kudos to the maintenance staff.


I no longer belong to the Y because I had two kids and I don't have to work out right now. I plan to re-join when they get older. When I was a member and child-free and childless and without children, or whatever, there were always lots of kids in the locker room. It did not bother me one bit. Some kids are loud and animated. Some adults are loud and animated. Live and let live. What I don't understand is how a kid in the locker room with his or her parent is susceptible to molestation. Who came up with that?!?


As a currently, but possibly not permanently, child-free person, who plays "Uncle" in numerous playgroups, I can see both sides of the story. On one hand, responsible (and harried) parents do not want to be barred from a facility on a simple supposition that their kids will either wreck the place or open themselves up to abuse (if you believe one or the other reasons for the ban). But perhaps 6 years of personal experience with children in this locker room (compared to 6 previous years at a YMCA 18 and older facility) can give me license to comment on this issue.
The Y ban, in my opinion, should probably be adjusted: raised to 18, and children up to 6 should be allowed under supervision. Between 6 and 16, you get: 1)the rocks in the sauna being used as a latrine; 2)a gaggle of young teen kids opportunistically jiggling locker handles for windfall wallets, car keys, ipods and fun technologies (and of course, leaving one's clothes in the trash on the way out); 3)the thrill of having your privates cause paroxysms of i'm-so-straight-the-sight-of-a-naked-man-makes-me-nauseous machismo from a lek of preteens in the showers; 4)panhandling from 8 year olds; 5)the steam room door being used as carnival ride; 6)loud and vulgar speculation on the sexuality of...well...anyone..fellow teens, seniors..; 7)the usual hollering and screaming that comes from kids just released from school.
And yes, these are examples of kids being, well kids. And yes, these kids are (usually) not under supervision. These are also not isolated events - each is usually a weekly occurance - the Y does what it can, but without some sort of ban, they don't have recourse for kicking kids out. As a parent or not, put yourself in this situation 5-7 afternoons a week, just getting off of work and through a workout. I hope you can understand the extreme irritation the above behavior causes, and the need to restrict access of the locker room. Other Y's have adult-only locker rooms for this reason, and the conversations overheard can be just as vulgar, but usually involve base talk about stock options and golf games.
The fact that there is a family changing area, with an expansion to come, should hopefully indicate that our own Downtown location is moving towards a more segregated facility, where both sides can peacefully coexist.

Lisa B

Say it loud, childless and proud!

What exactly is the difference between "childless" and "child-free," anyhow?


While I'm not a member of the Y and cannot comment on their policies per se (I don't quite understand the concept of indoor exercise), I appreciate Seth making the distinction between childless and child-free. As he pointed out, "childless" has connotations of hardship -- a struggle with one's own biology. Whereas "child-free" is at minimum a recognition that living without children is a choice that some people make, and at best a celebration of that choice.


I love the downtown Y - it's clean and well staffed - and I love the fact that children are generally not allowed in the adult locker room.

"Under parental supervision" means different things to different parents. Some kids are terrors in the locker room with "parental supervision" while others are not. It shouldn't be my problem, either way.


I love the downtown Y - it's clean and well staffed - and I love the fact that children are generally not allowed in the adult locker room.

"Under parental supervision" means different things to different parents. Some kids are terrors in the locker room with "parental supervision" while others are not. It shouldn't be my problem, either way.


"Child-free," in my experience, is usually used by people who want to make it very clear that not having children is something they choose. The more, uh, vocal proponents I've encountered seem to feel that "childless" implies they're missing something or lacking something, which they don't feel to be the case.

(Note: as someone who isn't currently a parent but also isn't "child-free", I have no horse in this race. But it is sometimes entertaining to see the two extremes have at it.)


That's the kind of thing that gives political correctness a bad name, if you aks me.


Hi, I'm new.

My family uses various Triangle Ys (Cary Family, A.E. Finley, and the former Central Y) and I've never heard of this policy anywhere else. I'm really trying to picture the logistics. Does this mean my 12-year-old niece is not allowed to use the restroom anywhere but the "family" locker room? Is that really practical? It is easy to get through a pool visit without showering and with changing in a tent or under a towel, but it could be tough to make it through without ever urinating. Or does the Durham Y have separate restroom facilities? I'd been meaning to visit it, but this makes me disinclined.

In my experience, the facilities at each Y vary wildly, and I don't think most have the "family" locker rooms to even make such a policy a possibility.

Downtown Y member

Don't worry, there are plenty of places for kids to pee at the Durham Y (not including the swimming pool itself). Re-incline yourself to visit. It is a great place!

Kevin Davis

Dear readers: I had no idea of the quagmire I was entering with the phrase 'childless.' I certainly meant no slight to those who choose not to become parents.

I debated putting both phrases into the post, but realized that might only further inflame the conflagration. I was trying to walk right down the middle of the road with this term -- not realizing I was stepping into the path of traffic along the way.

Therefore, I have decided to leave it as it stands -- but I want to assure the group that I means childless as in the Latin sine liberis.

...er, but not sine liberis as in si sine liberis, as to imply a "failure of children" in a marriage, as after Boullenois...

Oh, forget it. :)

Michael Bacon

Oh, don't even try to talk your way out of your inexcusable carelessness now. You've already done the damage, just quit before you do any more.



This is such a bunch of PC horseshit; neither childless nor child-free is a good solution. The first is traditional and more commonly accepted usage, despite its connotation of infertility; the second is too close to "tobacco-free" for my liking (I enjoy the product what built the bull city).

To a lesser degree I have the same problem with "we're pregnant", an expression I'm having trouble with because I woke up yesterday childless and am now something different; I hate babies and yet now I'm having one (I guess this expression is OK, as it's not a medical term).

Yesterday I saw the heartbeat yesterday of our first child. As a libertarian it will be a cruel joke if my kid is born on Tax Day as predicted, but with any luck it'll be a few days later on the holiday I held most dear when living in Boston (Kevin will know what I'm talking about). No, I'm not talking about Evacuation Day.

I can hardly wait until I start caring about this crap. Who the hell goes to the Y, anyway? I thought it was only for poor people and eccentrics -- kind of like the durham public library but with fewer homeless.

Coleen Crespo-Elliott

The discussions have fallen out of the original scope, but it is a free country. The language is getting terrible. I think that people can be offended by the discussion of "Who... goes to the Y....poor people.."


Wow, it never even crossed my mind that I should be offended by being called "childless." But I guess if you go looking to be offended at things, you can find them anywhere.

I belong to the Y; it is the second facility in my 30 years of going to various gyms that I've been in a locker room that was NOT adults only. I'm fortunate that the girls seem better behaved than the hooligans that BGriffin has encountered. My concern is that either the children or their parents are going to expect me to be more, um, modest (e.g., change in the changing room rather than in the open, wrap a towel around me when I walk to the shower). But I prefer to behave as though I were in, well, a locker room.

My personal preference would be a child-free (childless?) locker room. And I can get that--by joining a commercial gym instead of the Y.

BTW, as far as I can tell, the rule is not enforced in the women's locker room. I haven't seen any change in the number or ages of children in there since the policy went into effect.

Michael Bacon

Well, along the same lines as my previous comment, maybe I'm starting to see the light. Let's get the damned kids out of the locker rooms. And can we get rid of the old people too? They smell funny.

And I'm sick of having to prepare for my workout with all of these fat people around. Sorry, I don't want to see your naked flab. If your BMI says you're obese, get your own damn private locker room. Don't make me look at you.

The YMCA exists for my convenience. If you don't match my convenience, get the hell out.


In my experience, it is not well-enforced, but other people's kids don't bother me. We use one of the two family rooms, and have not had a problem with having to wait. It is a nice containment unit. It does take us all a while to get showered, dressed, etc. even though we don't dawdle, and I have wondered at what happens to any people who are waiting... more rooms would be nice.


Michael was probably being facetious, but I see nothing wrong with banning fat people from the gym as long as they are privately run (and I say this as a fat person myself).

You can see this at work in the free market: Gold's is for people who work in RTP and has the occasional hottie for you to get behind in pilates (if you're into that sort of thing), while the Duke Center for Living might be more your speed if you feel embarrassed that you can't see your privates while standing.

North Carolina is weird in that the Y is so successful; I remember when I lived in uptown Charlotte it was my only choice until the schmantzy gym for bankers opened at 100 N. Tryon St. (got a great deal on a joint membership with the private dining establishment on the top floor of the building).

This is what I meant when I questioned the demographic of the Y. As this thread has shown, it's for the more proletarian among us and those that like to work out with their children and possibly inflict them on others. Personally, I jog around the E. Campus wall or use the treadmill; I do miss strength training with weights, however.


"This is what I meant when I questioned the demographic of the Y. As this thread has shown, it's for the more proletarian among us and those that like to work out with their children and possibly inflict them on others."

Really? You can determine that from reading this thread? I am constantly surprised by the people i meet who, in conversation, tell me they belong to the Y. It's a pretty representative sample of the Durham population at large. Including plenty of people in the $100k/year and up income range.

Unless that qualifies as proletarian in your book.

Michael Bacon

I'd like to know what's proletarian about the Y's membership fees. They're higher than many private gyms, although the family rates are lower and they do have more amenities, like the indoor, full sized basketball courts (what keeps me around) and the pools.

You see a wide range at the YMCA, but I'd say lower class folks are probably under-represented there. I can also attest that elected officials are probably over-represented -- there's a couple I see there frequently.

Michael Bacon

And yes, I was being facetious. The YMCA doesn't exist to make a profit, or to find a niche market and serve it. It is a non-profit, tax-exempt and charitable organization dedicated to improving the communities it exists in, particularly with a focus on serving families, young children, and teenagers. Serving petulant "child-free" types who can't stand to be around children has never been part of its mission.

I agree the kids shouldn't be terrorizing the facilities, but as I said above, parental supervision should be plenty sufficient for this.


At the Lakewood Y kids under the age of 18 "will be banned" from the facility if they use the locker room off of the workout area. This defeats efforts like providing teens with specialized workout programs. My 12 year old looks 16 and would like to be able to at least use the bathroom easily while she is working out with me. I appreciate the concern, but she is more likely to run into problems by going to the pool locker room by herself to use the toilet (do I really have to walk a teenagers to the bathroom up there!?).

Y member

Dear concerned rest/lockerroom users of the Y,
These are petty complaints about a stellar organization- the YMCA of the Triangle- Durham Branches. I'm proud to be a Y member and Y Build People Campaign contributor and happy that the management cares enough about the faciliy to maintain a sense of order. Furthermore, the Y serves all of Durham but is perhaps at its best serving the least affluent. Just check to see what percent of the membership receives financial assistance- it is VERY significant. Check out the gang prevention initiative.
Please find something else to complain about!!! And if you really want to improve yourself, volunteer at the Y!


I think it's insane for a mother to not be able to take her DAUGHTER/S into the women's locker room with her!!!
There isn't any harm to anyone if same-sex children are going into their gender appropriate locker room.

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