What can a teenager (or their parents) do when they very strongly refuse to change in a school locker room?

There are plenty of families and students that feel they should not undress in a somewhat public space, for reasons such as:

  • Religious beliefs
  • Personal values
  • Anxiety or mental health issues
  • Physical issues or impairments

How do they manage?

Policies and expectations may be different in different schools and different areas, but answers that apply to your experience with your local school district are encouraged.

Answers should preferably not be limited to only suggestions to remove the child from the school or class. Often that's not viable, and it also does not help address the problem, it simply removes or moves it.

  • 2
    Has this been taken up with the school and are they unwilling to accomadate? Even something simple like "change in the toilets" sounds like it could fix this issue, unless the school is opposed to it.
    – Erik
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 6:17
  • @Erik In my case, it wasn't an option. We weren't allowed to leave the locker room until changed, and the attached restrooms were open with no doors on the stalls. I also couldn't change immediately beforehand in a restroom (most days) because there wasn't enough time between classes to get it done (although I managed to do so on occasion). My school counselor was also unable to assist me, and they were usually of great help with policy issues and were a good liaison to administration.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 6:34
  • Hm. If they don't allow that, it makes me wonder how much there is left for the child to do. It's by far the easiest solution so this sounds more like refusing to accomodate by the school :(
    – Erik
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 7:37
  • For reference, see that sincerely held religious beliefs regarding important life matters (such as nudity) are protected by US law, especially in the workplace. Also, no one but the individual gets to decide what is or isn't a religious belief, and they can be the only adherent and still get equal protection. I've had to look into this because of previous workplace issues. But, educational institutions have different issues they face regarding religious freedom. But clothing choices are also given some protection based on freedom of speech, so there's religion + speech rights possibly at play.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 16:12
  • 2
    Please do not argue with the premise of questions (even in comments). It's OK to ask for clarification, it's not OK to dismiss the problem (against community policy) and it's not OK to provide an answer in comments (not what comments are for).
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 16:47

5 Answers 5


I don't believe in changing or removing clothes in front of others, with a few exceptions.

This caused me problems in high school, because my physical education (gym) classes required a specific PE uniform (school branded shorts and T-shirt, not just a dress code). I refused to undress in order to change clothes, and there were no private places to change provided.

My solution was to wear my shorts underneath my pants for the day, and to wear the t-shirt for the whole day or underneath my normal shirt.

This, of course, was socially unusual and was a point of some typical teasing around the beginning of each semester. (It usually stopped because I gave no reaction and they adjusted to the fact that I did it.)

What I did was not a perfect solution, as I was often uncomfortable wearing extra layers, especially during hot months. Adding an extra dimension to my social weirdness also didn't do me any favors.

My brother also had the same issue and tried my solution, and was less resistant to the teasing, and so he sacrificed greater anxiety (changing in front of others) for a lesser anxiety (being teased).

If your school has a less formal gym class dress requirement than mine did, I would recommend purchasing appropriate clothes that your teen likes that they could wear for the entire school day, or at least until the after their gym period (when they may have more time to change in a restroom afterwards).

In cold weather months, this may mean they need to wear an extra layer over their clothes.

Another user had suggested in comments to wear an undershirt, which I also think is a great idea for dealing with changing tops. It's easy, affordable, and they make tops specifically designed to be worn under shirts during athletic activities. In my day, we didn't have "Under Armour" or similar brands, but we could have used plain white T's or tank tops.

  • 1
    I have followed the development of a KickStarter for the "the Undress" and think this might be of some value to some people in some circumstances. If it is hard to change the environment then it may be easier just to work within the environment. - theundress.com
    – KalleMP
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 6:56

I didn't like to change in front of others, so I simply went to the bathroom stalls and changed instead. Not the most convenient / pleasant, but a simple solution and one that should work at any school (since all schools presumably have bathrooms).

  • Shower stalls may also be a choice if there are too few bathrooms, or they are inconveniently located. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 20:53

It's unclear to me based on the question whether this is a defined religious belief (as would be explicitly protected by the first amendment and federal law), or if this is a belief that is not so protected. Jurisdiction (including country of course) would have a lot to say exactly where the line there is.

If this is based on a religious belief, or something that is protected equivalently to one in your jurisdiction, your school is required to provide "reasonable accommodations". That doesn't mean 100% freedom to do literally anything, but it does mean the school has to help out if it's reasonable to do so. In this case, it sounds like it is - it's not all that hard to allow a student to change in another room, after all, or to change before/after the rest of the class.

If it's not a religious belief, or something equivalently protected in your jurisdiction, you may nonetheless be able to achieve the same result from the school simply by asking. In fact, assuming you don't want to go to court over this, odds are you'll end up with about the same level of difficulty.

There are quite a few helpful guides out on the 'net to how to ask a school for a religious accommodation. SoundVision's guide is a good one, for example. It boils down to asking nicely, finding a teacher (or other staff member) who is sympathetic - even if not the directly relevant one - and thus can argue your side of things for you, and then asking several times if necessary. As long as you're polite about it, and asking for a very reasonable accommodation, odds are you'll get it - it's easier to do that than to fight the bad PR they'll get if you go onto facebook, right?

One thing to consider, though, is (as you note above) the fact that no matter what you do, you will be acting differently than your peers, and as a result it is inevitable that some teasing arises. I don't think there's any solution that avoids teasing entirely; it sounds like your solution to that (ignoring the teasing) worked well, though of course that only works for those who can.

The least-likely-to-attract-teasing solution is probably to see if you can accomplish the gym requirement through a sports team, which is not impossible in some schools (and is, in fact, common); it's unclear what your desire in the question to avoid removing the child from class comes from, but if it's simply from the desire to still have good physical education this is probably just as good (or better). Yes, you'll still have some form of the same issue; but teammates are more likely to be sympathetic than classmates, and a coach might be more willing to make accommodations - or you can 'shop' for one that is.

  • Note: I'm not a lawyer, and the above is not intended to be legal advice, nor is the usage of language necessarily legally specific or precise. (IE, I do know that "Religious belief" has a more technical term related to it - I intentionally do not use that as to avoid sounding as if the rest is as precise.)
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 18:30
  • Looks like your answer duplicated, but this one doesn't have the links embedded.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 18:31
  • Fixed. I deleted it as I thought I'd accidentally marked it CW. Apparently that was the whole thread...
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 18:32
  • Joe, please note the OP's specific request:"Answers should preferably not be suggestions to remove the child from the school or class." I think this is a valid request, as it really does more harm to the child than it does good. Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 21:27
  • 1
    The first version of the question requested non-removal answers. However, I feel that this answer sufficiently addresses other options before going on to say removal or substitution may be necessary. I think that's reasonable. I really wanted to avoid answers that were entirely or primarily about getting out of the class, as that's not the best solution. (The problem isn't really the class, but the changing). I wonder if it'd actually be easier to change in private on a sports team: you're not limited by a short time between periods to find a restroom to change in.
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 2:23

Your question sounds like you want to find a way to help the teenager accomplish the goal of privacy.

Editing my wording to better reflect my intent and meaning:

  1. Go and talk to the teacher in charge in a 1 on 1 meeting. This will show them that it is important to you. Express your viewpoint about nudity and how you'd like their help in the matter. Ask if there is anything that can be done and how appreciative you'd be for their help in this matter. Chances are good they will have a viable option. If they don't you can always go to administration but I'd personally evaluate the benefits of that route vs the potential conflict with my child's teacher that may occur.

  2. Since you have to ask for someone else to allow your request there is a chance they will say no. I just want to encourage you in that possible outcome that there is good reason to still feel okay about the whole thing. The older I get the more I realize I don't control very much in my life. I think it is okay for me that I can't control my own life circumstances very well and I have learned to adapt. I want to share from my life experience that I think you (and the kid) will also be okay in this instance IF you don't get the privacy desired. You own testimony showed you made it through ok.

All I intended to do was encourage you in the event you got a bad response. Clearly a number of people read my choice of words as belittling which was not my intent. In my mind I was giving a mini pep-talk with the intention of saying "keep your chin up, keep marching on! Things are gonna work out for you in the long run! Even if you lose this matchup you've got a lot of winning to look forward to!"

Sadly, I couldn't sleep well with all the misunderstanding of my intent. I hope this clears up my meaning and shows I only tried to be encouraging.

Best of luck.

Edit: As for religious belief the definition of such in the United States is:

Religious belief is "not merely a matter of personal preference, but one of deep religious conviction, shared by an organized group, and intimately related to daily living." United States EEOC v. IBP, Inc., 824 F. Supp. 147, 150 (C.D. Ill. 1993)

  • To #1, I think religious or deep personal beliefs should be respected by educational institutions. I don't think it's an emotional matter to want that, but rather a right. Unfortunately, in my youth I didn't know to frame it in that context so I'm not sure if asking for religious exemption is all it takes. Do you have any experience or familiarity with that? (That is, asking for a change based on convictions, rather than from a stance of "I don't want to")
    – user11394
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 14:59
  • 2
    Thank you for your comment Erica. My response would be that I'm sticking around to understand the question and refine my response. I suppose you are correct, I'm in effect assuming they don't know that. However, it can be a good reminder sometimes that we make issues bigger than they really are. Sometimes the answer is not what you want to hear, so my comment was to indicate that I believe it is OK to get an answer you don't like sometimes. I've spent 30 min or so answering this topic and all I got was down voted and harassed (kind of). I don't like it - but I'll live!
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 16:16
  • 3
    We do tend to get a lot of users (in both comments and answers) saying, in effect, "why does this bother you, just let it go!" and so I'm rather sensitive to content that is dismissive, even when meant well. I definitely do appreciate the point you're trying to make; however, that may be one reason your answer has attracted downvotes (since nobody has explicitly stated their voting reason).
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 14, 2015 at 16:40
  • 1
    Just trying to give a positive upbeat feel to the potential answer of there not bring an option. As for a reference about nudity not being a big deal, I use thousands of years of human history before clothing, and our current culture and every culture in history that had nudity as part of some group of same sex interaction. From every sports team, last 100+ years of our culture, to Greek and roman times, current gyms, and probably 50 more cultural references. Reality is sometimes tough. Just trying to speak truth with a positive spin, I did not mean to sound rude.
    – Adam Heeg
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 2:40
  • 1
    @Erica I don't understand why this issue is a big deal either, the OP never said exactly why it is. If a religious thing, I cannot argue, but if it is personal, well, nudity really is not and should not be a big deal, so get over it. Someday everyone is faced with it, so dismiss it at around age 4 and be done. I agree with this answer in the spirit of saying: "you can't control all of your circumstances, so just press on." To me, that is a valid answer, when living in a world with other people, organizations, etc. Such is life.
    – user17408
    Commented Jun 11, 2016 at 15:50

If your child doesn't have success with the above answers, there are ways to change without showing anything. If female - wear a sports bra to school (so that doesn't have to be changed), and wear a skirt so it is easy to take shorts on and off without showing anything. A bit harder for boys, but they can still wear their gym shorts underneath their other pants, putting them on between classes if it is too hot to wear them all day. For both, a top can be changed easily by putting the new one over the head and tucking it into the collar of the old one. Pull the arms inside the sleeves and pull the new top down inside the old one. Put arms in sleeves of the new one then remove the old one.


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