My kids' teachers limit bathroom breaks. Turns out, these restrictive restroom-use policies are everywhere.
My children told me some of their teachers are limiting bathroom breaks to 3 to 4 times a semester.
I thought this was an isolated thing, but I asked parents on Facebook, and it's fairly common.
Experts say limiting bathroom breaks like this can be both physically and psychologically harmful.
"My science teacher limits bathroom breaks. You can only go three times a semester."
This is what my son led with at the dinner table after his first day of school. I have two boys in seventh grade, the first year of junior high where we live. Orientation the previous week had stressed autonomy, agency, and shouldering greater responsibility for one's actions and choices.
"A semester?" I wondered if he'd misunderstood.
He had not. My other son chimed in and said one of his teachers had a similar rule but allowed four bathroom visits per semester versus three.
After dinner, I reached out to my kids' school, Dobie Junior High, via email; within 10 minutes, I had the vice principal on the phone. He told me the school permitted teachers to set these policies and invited me to contact administration again if staff denying my children bathroom breaks became problematic. Insider has reached out to Dobie Junior High and the principal asking for further clarification on the bathroom policy and the reasons for limiting students' bathroom use. They did not immediately respond to the request for comment.
Hearing about the existence of these policies surprised me, and I set out to understand if this was something that was limited to my kids' school or more widespread.
Other parents have also heard about bathroom-break policies from their kids
I asked other parents on my public Facebook page if they'd encountered anything similar. I received more than 120 responses and 18 private messages. Most responses were from parents whose kids had told them of a similar policy, and most also expressed disagreement with restricting bathroom breaks.
"One of my child's teachers set a similar policy — not more than three bathroom breaks per nine weeks," Leanne White Lewis, a parent from Pennsylvania, said. "But the policy in one of my kids' classrooms had an additional incentive for not using the bathroom at all: Kids who didn't leave class to use the bathroom all year were exempt from taking the final exam." Lewis went on to say she understood why the policy was in place but also called it detrimental to kids, both physically and mentally. "I can kind of see both sides," she said. "The administration feels it's the only solution to stop the fights and vandalism. They just aren't looking at the other side. It's so harmful to the kids, there has to be a course of action."
"Where I live, middle-school students are given four bathroom passes per semester and get rewards, such as movie days and snacks, based on how many they didn't use," Heather Holter, a parent of two middle schoolers in Minnesota, said. "The sixth- through twelfth-grade lunch bathrooms are locked because the school is worried about vaping."
Other parents in the thread mentioned systems where students could earn rewards or other perks for not using class time for restroom breaks. More than one parent said their kids limited liquids during the school day to avoid using the bathroom. Many reported instructing their kids to disregard bathroom-limiting policies if they really had to go.
Several parents responded to the original Facebook thread about their experiences contacting teachers and school administration when staff denied their kids bathroom breaks. Parents reported everything from getting doctor's notes to putting 504 accommodations — plans to ensure children with disabilities or conditions that may prevent them from receiving the same quality education still have their needs met — in place that allowed free use of the restroom during school to being able to settle things after having a conversation with the teacher.
What health experts say about the potential harms of limiting bathroom breaks
Dr. Suzanne Zeedyk, a developmental psychologist, said she understands the issues and pressures schools face that influence their decisions about bathroom breaks, but cautions educators against setting or following policies that cause harm to children in the name of teaching kids to follow a schedule.
"Children's needs derive from the biology of their bodies. They need to know their feelings are heard and that adults are trustworthy, and that they won't suffer the humiliation of an accident because they were denied the bathroom. Knowing these things yields a sense of emotional safety," Zeedyk said.
Dr. Tamyra Rogers, a primary-care physician, said that she usually sees bladder damage in people who frequently go hours, or even the whole day, without using the restroom, including teachers. "Over the years, the bladder starts to be nonresponsive. The bladder is basically like a balloon. If you stretch it too much for too long, you lose the ability to contract."
"Limiting bathroom use in school is contrary to keeping kids physically and mentally healthy," Leila D., a registered nurse from Texas with six years of experience working in schools, said. She explained that not using the restroom when you have to "can lead to medical issues, including weakened bladder muscles, constipation, urinary-tract infections, and even more severe issues such as megacolon."
She also stressed the importance of body autonomy. "How can kids learn if we don't allow them to trust their own bathroom urges? These rules are not only controlling, but they deny basic human needs."
How to talk about imposed bathroom-break limits with your kids
Since this deep dive into bathroom breaks started with something my kids mentioned at home, I've talked to them about managing their time during the school day. I've also reassured them I'll have their back if they break a teacher's bathroom rules, but the reality is that my kids are rule followers; they're more likely to suffer in silence than make waves.
If your child needs to use the restroom — due to their menstrual cycle, or for any reason — Zeedyk recommends encouraging them to listen to their body. "Bladders don't follow rules and menstrual cycles don't respect classroom schedules. Like all human beings, children have bodily needs that drive behavior," Zeedyk said.
If parents are concerned that bathroom-break restrictions are becoming problematic, Rogers advises contacting a pediatrician. If necessary, they can provide written accommodations. The next step would be working with your school's counseling services before talking to the principal.
Read the original article on Insider