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.