“Too Cool” for Winter

School has started up again this week. That’s meant a return to our regular, and slightly chaotic, morning routine: children who want “just one more minute” in warm beds; who linger too long at breakfast; and who then rush about looking for the homework / book / thermos / hat / mittens that we, their parents, urged them to take care of the night before.

One morning this week after the usual get-out-the-door flurry, a headline in our local paper caught my eye. “Teens ‘too cool’ to dress for the chill?” it asked. An Associated Press article described kids around the country, all of them far outside the Sunbelt, who refused to put on coats, hats, mittens, or even long pants during the winter months. The article quoted Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist in Millis, Mass.: “Wearing bulky winter coats, gloves, boots – unless teen girls consider them high fashion – and hats screams nerd, geek, baby, dork ... uncool!”

It hit me: We have a teenager in the house. Ursula won’t be 13 for another six months, but reading the article I realize that she’s already trying to dress like a teenager. That morning, in fact, we’d battled over her insistence that she was fine, just fine, stepping out into single-digit temperatures wearing a short-sleeved polo shirt and a lightweight fleece hoodie. “I don’t need a coat, Mom,” she’d said in a tone that mixed nonchalance and disdain in perfect teen proportions.

“It’s winter,” I shot back, “and when it’s 7 above zero, you need to wear a coat.” My words mixed parental righteousness and pleading — another sign that we’ve entered the teenage years. She kept moving, and I resorted to throwing her coat into her arms as she walked out the door. It’s quite possible that some inarticulate loud sound — Ursula would call it a yell — also issued from my mouth.

I do know that she brought the coat to school, and I’m guessing that she eventually even put it on. That’s because her school offers two recesses and an outdoor lunch break every day, even for middle school students, and coats, hats, mittens, and boots are required. (Kids don’t go outside if midday temperatures fall below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.) Only homework keeps Ursula from taking full advantage of that outdoor time.

The AP article has been picked up all over, from Delaware to Ohio, and even L.A. (although one has to wonder whether the article there falls into the category of Things We’re Glad We Don’t Have to Deal With). Headline writers clearly had fun: “Fashionable teens give winter gear the cold shoulder,” “Cold better than uncool,” “Why do kids dress for June when it’s January?” But it struck me that by focusing on whether winter garb is hip or fashionable, and secondarily on the permissiveness of parents who let kids out of the house in shorts and T-shirts in freezing weather, the article missed something important.

Teenagers push boundaries, as any former teenager knows. The biggest reason teens today don’t dress for winter, it seems to me, is that they don’t have to. If kids step from warm house to warm car to warm schoolroom and back again, without ever spending more than a few minutes actually outside, then why wouldn’t they choose “cool” over cold? There’s no consequence to leaving their coats behind. But if our children spend more time outside, the “coolness” problem is likely to take care of itself.

I’m grateful that Ursula’s school has my parental back, and also grateful that those three segments of her day keep her acquainted with the weather, and with the importance of being prepared for it. My reaction to that article has also affected what I say to her. Yesterday, Ursula again said that she didn’t need to wear her coat. In a matter-of-fact voice, I said, “In this family, we pay attention to the seasons. It’s winter. Wear a coat.” She put it on.

Learn more
- Read the AP article by Beth Harpaz
- Read winter dressing advice from AMC: "Winter's Children" (February 2010), "Cold Comfort" (December 2005), "Warm Thoughts" (Jan/Feb 2011)

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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