Hey, Would You Please Close the Door?

Dear Mr. Dad. This is a little touchy but here goes. I have two sons ages 11 and 9. My oldest seems overly shy when it comes to changing clothes in front of other guys. My golfing buddy (whose kids are the same age as mine) and I occasionally take our boys to the country club pool. Because of pool chemicals, we insist that the boys shower and change clothes after swimming. The showers and locker room are communal. Even when it’s only our boys in the locker room they say my son showers in his swimsuit and then goes in a toilet stall to change. I talked with him in private and told him there’s nothing wrong with being naked in a locker room, but it hasn’t helped. Should I be concerned? My buddy thinks I should force him to change with the others to help him get over his shyness. Is he right?

A: Don’t listen to your buddy. Forcing your son to get naked in front of others will only make the situation worse.

Taking your son aside for a private conversation was great first step, but you’ll need to have another heart-to-heart (or two or three) to find out what he’s truly worried about. There are a lot of possibilities:

Is he shy or self-conscious? Some kids are just plain private. If he’s one of them, either let him keep doing his routine or have him shower at home. However, you might point out that taking a shower in his swimsuit might attract even more attention than just being nude. Also tell him that he’s in the majority: most people don’t like communal showers. In fact, it’s so common that many public schools have either installed private showers or banned showers altogether.

Is he different? Tweens are notoriously cruel to anyone who doesn’t seem normal (and their definition of “normal” can be pretty harsh). If your son is overweight or skinny, too tall or too thin, has straight hair or curly, he may fear that the other kids will make fun of him.

How mature is he? If your son is going through puberty and has spouted more chest and genital hair than other kids his age, he may feel embarrassed about his body. The same is true if he has less hair than the other guys. He needs to know that people mature at different ages and speeds. If you’re really worried, talk with his pediatrician.
Is he worried about hygiene? Locker rooms are breeding grounds for all sorts of fungi and bacteria. And showers—despite the fact that there’s a lot of soap around—aren’t much better. People aren’t supposed to spit or urinate in there, but we all know that plenty do.

Below the belt. Most males over the age of 10 feel the need to compare themselves with others. If your son is circumcised and many of the other kids aren’t—or vice versa—he may dread being different. If he’s ever had an erection in the shower (which is very, very common and can be triggered by something as simple as warm water running on his crotch), he may be mortified. And then there’s the daddy of all shower problems: size. This is another issue of people maturing at different rates. Chances are, your son is just fine in this area. You can reassure him that most of the other kids will be so worried about their own package that they won’t be paying any attention to his.

The Public Nature of Pregnancy

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is pregnant with our first child, and complete strangers keep coming up to rub her belly. She seems pretty okay with iit, but it’s driving me nuts. What can I do?

A: As intensely private as pregnancy is, it is also inescapably public. And your partner’s growing belly can bring out the best—and the worst—in people. Perfect strangers will open doors for her, offer to help her carry things, give up their seats in crowded subway cars and buses. In some ways, people’s interest in pregnant women and in the process of creating life is heartwarming. But it’s possible to go overboard.

When my wife was pregnant with our first, People would often come up to her when she was standing in the check-out line at the grocery store and start chatting. Sometimes they’d ask simple questions like, “So, when are you due?” or make pronouncements about the baby’s sex. But some would break out the horror stories—tales of debilitating morning sickness, ten-month pregnancies, thirty-hour labors, emergency C-sections, anesthesia that didn’t work.

And then there were the people who would, without even asking, start rubbing her belly as if she was a Buddha statue or a magic lantern. I kept waiting for her to bite some belly-rubber’s hand off, but she never did. Plenty aren’t as tolerant, though. I’ve heard stories of women reacting to being groped by strangers by screaming, wearing “keep your paws off my belly” t-shirts, slapping their hand, or fondling their belly in return. I always thought she should have told tell them that she had a highly contagious disease that’s transmitted by touch.

Why anyone tolerates this is a mystery to me. Can you imagine how you’d react if someone did the same thing when your partner wasn’t pregnant? Or if you decided to touch some woman’s breasts because they looked so inviting?

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Intrusive friends

Dear Mr. Dad: One of my 11-year-old daughter’s friends spends a lot of time at our house. She often wants to tag along on activities when I’d prefer to spend the time bonding with my daughter. I suspect the other girl’s dad isn’t around much. Is there a way to include this friend in some things but carve out some father-daughter time too?

A: Congratulations on recognizing the importance of spending quality time with your daughter at this critical age of her development. Adolescence is a hormonal and social horror show, and the extreme emotional swings, self-doubt, physical changes, and peer pressure adjustments your daughter is going through will play havoc with her life—and yours.

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