Respectfully, this is a topic of great concern to many parents. Not a week goes by here behind the scenes at Vacationkids.com that our staff isn't confronted with questions and concerns about topless sunbathing. This is a very debatable and delicate issue that does deserve addressing.
Often parents who are novice travelers are shocked when they find themselves and their children confronted with topless sunbathing. Every family has it's own moral code and beliefs. For every parent that is completely outraged encountering bare breasted women you'll find yet another parent who believes this is natural and totally acceptable. Awareness can help to alleviate shock and embarrassment. Often we live our daily lives surrounded by like minded family, friends and neighbors. Traveling takes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to address ideas that can be completely foreign to us. Being prepared is half the battle. Knowing that topless sunbathing can be a possibility will prepare you as a parent to know how to appropriately address this issue with your children. Expecting the unexpected while traveling is half the battle. I can remember traveling with my then 11 year old son in London one sunny, summer afternoon when we noticed topless sunbathers in the middle of Hyde Park. Although we were both stunned, I simply addressed the fact by saying people from different cultures have different opinions about what is appropriate behavior in public. I did not make a huge deal out of it and thankfully, neither did my son.
It's important to remember that many foreign cultures consider topless sunbathing to be completely normal. There are no laws against it. There are also different social norms as to what is the acceptable age for young girls to wear bathing suit tops. If you are traveling to a country like France or Italy, one would expect to see topless sunbathing. Then again, in today's modern age of airline travel, families may even see topless sunbathing in areas where it is not common or allowed by law. My own family encountered this at a Disneyworld resort when a French family joined us at the pool. The staff quickly had a word with the woman and the cultural faux pas was obvious. Again I had to explain to my son and young daughters why this woman was walking around with no top and a thong bottom.
As you can see from this Disney episode, this puts hoteliers in a very delicate position. Resorts and hotels want to extend their hospitality to all of their guests. How do they choose to dictate what is acceptable behavior around their property? How do they make their guests feel secure without making others insecure or embarrassed? Even if a hotelier has specific rules about topless sunbathing or offers specific adult only areas, it could very well be that the beach area is governed by local laws that do allow topless sunbathing. So your children may be spared from bare breasts at the pool but may encounter them on the beach.
Children are naturally curious about any new experience and are bound to have questions about all sorts of new travel encounters, especially topless sunbathing. As a parent, you'll need to gear your answers and reactions to their appropriate age and level of understanding. Younger kids may take it all in stride. Tweens and teens will have different reactions as sons and daughters will most likely have differing responses too.
If topless sunbathing is something you choose to avoid, then it's best to work with a travel agent that is a family vacation expert. They can offer advice as to the best destinations and resorts where you will least likely encounter topless-ness. Much can depend on the individual resort culture and management. American managed hotels tend to draw more American guests and hence there is less topless sunbathing. The opposite tends to be true with resorts run by some foreign management companies but again much depends on local laws and ordinances.
As a traveler, remember you are an ambassador. Act like a grown up. Don't point, stare and create a scene. Regardless of your opinions on the matter, be appropriate and respectful as this will set an example for your children. Once I was with a group of travel agents inspecting a brand new resort just as a woman was removing her top on the other side of the pool. One woman in our group shouted, pointed and cackled loudly about the situation. Not only was her behavior rude to the hotelier who was our host but she made everyone, whether topless or covered feel embarrassed.
The best parenting advice I can offer here is to sit down with your kids before you leave home and discuss the possibilities of topless sunbathers. This may offer a great opportunity for your family to opening chat about topics that everyone may find a bit uncomfortable. It will give you the opportunity to discuss acceptable and appropriate behaviors with kids that are in keeping with the moral guidelines you choose to set for your own family.