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Help! How Do I Make My Teen Dress For The Weather?

Help! How Do I Make My Teen Dress For The Weather?

By Mir Kamin

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


“P” writes:

This feels dumb but I can’t help being worried. My son (he’s in 8th grade now) started refusing to wear pants ever back last spring at some point. I don’t mean he’s running around in his underwear, but he wears shorts and nothing but shorts, no matter the weather. We’re starting to have some cold days now (it is almost November!) and have even had a dusting of snow and still: shorts! Part of me knows he’s not going to actually end up with frostbite and a tiny part of me kind of hopes he does end up uncomfortable enough one of these days to change his tune. No amount of arguing about “weather appropriate clothing” will sway him. And if I’m being honest, I also worry people will assume I’m a terrible parent for letting him go out on a 30-degree morning with bare legs. (That part I know is silly, but I do.) Help?

8th grade? That makes him… 13 or 14, right? I’d say your son is right on schedule for a common teenage malady: Style Over Sense.

Indulge me for a minute while we step into the Wayback Machine and I tell you a story: When I was in 8th grade a million years ago (I swear this is a true story, even if I’m exaggerating about the million years), you had two options for pants, as a female. Pegged jeans (people my age will remember pegged jeans; basically you made the part below the knee as tight as possible via folding and a complicated array of safety pins) or pleated, tapered (oh, the shame I feel typing that out…) jeans which ended above the ankle. There was also a whole scrunched-neon-socks thing that was popular for a while thanks to Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, but when the ankle jeans started rising in popularity, there was one way and only one way to wear them: without socks. You could wear flats or sandals or fashionable tennies (Tretorns, please, though I never had a pair and I’m still a little bitter) but socks were the ultimate fashion faux pas. I can vividly remember girls who wore socks being mocked for their nerdery.

Was I a nerd? Absolutely. Was I going to endure mockery just to keep my ankles warm, when there were so many things I couldn’t control which were going to draw my classmates’ disdain, already? That was a bridge too far. And so I spent the winter of my 8th grade year in upstate New York—where it regularly snowed a foot or more in a single day—picking my way through snowbanks in short pants and cheap flats, sans socks. I was freezing. And I did it anyway. As did most of my classmates.

I have a very clear memory of asking my mother to take me shopping for some socks at the start of my freshman year of high school, and her responding with something like, “You finally figured out that freezing isn’t any fun, huh?” We’d argued over my socklessness for a year, and it was finally her victory. (So she thought. I wore socks and boots to school, then removed them and put on my flats. Without socks.)

Fast forward to now: I live in the south, so it’s a much warmer climate than the one I grew up in. Surely the stupidity of my youth won’t cycle back around, right? Haha! I’m pleased to report that both of my children wear socks, and although I’ve seen that “shorts all the time” trend in boys here, as well, my son (*knock on wood*) hasn’t joined it. However, in the interest of solidarity, I must confess that no matter how cold it gets here, good luck getting either of my teens to wear their winter coats to school. Is it a fashion thing? An I-never-bothered-to-get-a-locker-and-I-don’t-wanna-carry-it thing? I don’t know. I’ve given up fighting. “No one wears a coat, Mom. Like, literally no one.” And so the fancy wool peacoat my daughter had to have and the expensive ski parka I got my son after his last growth spurt both hang on the coat tree in my office, mocking me. It was 40 degrees here this morning. My son left in a hooded, zip-up sweatshirt and my daughter in a zip-up fleece. It’ll be warm later, so you could make the argument that it was a good compromise, but once we get into sub-freezing morning temps (it happens, even down here) they’ll be wearing the same thing. And maybe hats/gloves, if they can find them.

This is a long-winded way of telling you that this is a thing that teens do, and I’ve yet to hear of anyone dying from exposure just because they’re young and stupid and go to school not dressed appropriately for the weather. In fact, I wrote out this whole response and sent it to my editor only to have her point out that the awesome Wendi Aarons addressed this same issue last year, and even took a reader poll. (You should read her post, too.) Our views line up, but that’s not going to stop me from finishing this out.

Here’s what I know:

  1. Teenagers have been sacrificing common sense for style forever.
  2. Arguing with them about it introduces a power struggle which you’ll feel is about their wellbeing and they’ll feel is about their selfhood. In other words: It’s a no-win situation. You’ll be frustrated and they’ll feel smothered.
  3. Absent a pressing concern about modesty (if he’s going to school naked…?) or safety (is he mountain-climbing in sub-zero temps in shorts, or just wearing them to a warm school building?), it’s probably time to tell yourself that this is not the hill you want to die on. Save yourself for something more important, both for your own sanity and because giving them a little room on stuff like this makes them more likely to pay attention when you do put your foot down.
  4. No one who’s raised teens honestly believes their parents are still dressing them and/or in charge of their wardrobe choices.
  5. Anyone who makes a judgment about your parenting based on what your teen is wearing is probably no one you’d be pals with, anyway. (Also: probably not someone with teens.)

tl;dr: As the song says, let it go. He’ll figure it out. Keep your frustration to yourself and save your energy for the battles which are truly non-negotiable. Also—and I say this to comfort, not to scare—this is just the tip of the teenage iceberg. Buckle up! How you manage this could set the stage for issues to come.


Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


Photo Credit: Emery Co Photo via Compfight cc

Published October 22, 2015. Last updated October 22, 2015.
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • Tiffany

    October 22, 2015 at 11:48 am

    My kids are only 5&7 years old, but I’m laughing out loud right now because everyday for weeks one of them has dressed in head to toe blue, and the other pairs things together so garishly that we’ve literally talked about the possibility of him being colourblind. And then I read this, and it was like I saw into my future…

    • C

      October 22, 2015 at 12:48 pm

      Me too! I have a 5 year old and we’re already power struggling about coats. (Although we’ve made a deal. Under 30? Winter coat. Between 30 and 50? You can choose winter coat or fleece jacket. Over 50? It’s all up to you! In which sometimes he chooses the jacket and sometimes he suffers without.) My coworker (who has a teen) laughs at me and reminds me this is just the teeny tiny tip of the iceburg and I need to get used to it, because by HS, it’s not worth the fight when there’s other more important stuff.

  • Solmaz

    October 22, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    My kid wouldn’t wear jeans or anything other than shorts either. And he is FOUR! I am lucky we live in San Diego.

  • […] With that confidence-inspiring intro, I give you my latest Q&A over on Alpha Mom: How do you make your kid dress appropriately for the weather? […]

  • Jill

    October 22, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    So I have a theory. I too did the no socks thing in high school. I remember standing in snow and losing feeling in my toes, but, hey, fashion….

    Now I have 6th and 9th grade boys and we have the shorts issue. Anyway, I’ve wondered if teens, with their hormones flaring, get hotter like menopausal women. Is that crazy? Meanwhile until they get steadier hormones or common sense (whichever comes first) I really don’t care if they freeze. Their problem, not mine. Plus, they grow out of jeans faster than shorts at this age!

    • Rachel

      October 22, 2015 at 6:15 pm

      I think this might be a thing.  My 11-year-old has always been hot-blooded, but about two years ago started the no-pants-only-shorts thing.  He would get “hot flashes” and we noticed he was entering the pre-pubscent gloriousness.  :/  We now live in NC, where it was THIRTY-TWO degrees this morning, and he rode his bike to school in shorts, completely bundled from the waist up (heavy coat, scarf, gloves, beanie under his hood and helmet).  He swears it’s because he gets hot inside the school.  Whatever he wants to do is fine, so long as all the parts are covered!

  • Brenda

    October 22, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    My brother is 25 and he’s probably been wearing shorts year-round for a decade, despite the upper mid-West winters. He’s just more comfortable that way. He’ll even shovel in shorts sometimes.

  • Cheryl S

    October 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    I agree with Mir and everyone else. Not the hill you want to die on.  My daughter has been an “interesting” dresser since she was little.  I fully expect that these clothing things will start again soon (She’s 10 now)  Let him freeze.  He’ll either put on pants or tough it out. Either way, he’s not going to die (Unless you live in the Tundra!)

  • diane

    October 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    It’s not just a teen thing. I work for a university in SE Wisconsin. Any time the temp is above 32 degrees F, we see shorts and sandals, on both guys and gals. Since college kids never schedule their classes until after 10 or so, the temps usually have come up a few degrees from the overnight low.
    Unless the wind chill is horrid, we rarely see true winter coats on the kids. Well, except for the foreign students, who are bundled up like polar bears.

  • Debbie Havens

    October 22, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I have one in the house (the last of four) at age 16 is total opposite.  He’ll bundled (over-bundled) when the temps start to dip into the mid 50’s.  Don’t wanna see the parka til you really need it.  Its a never ending guessing game I think. 

  • Jenni

    October 22, 2015 at 4:40 pm

    Back when my step daughter was in 2-4 grades, we had some crazy rules about what the high had to be for her to wear shorts vs pants and skirts with or without tights/leggings. You know because in elementary school they have recess. When she moved back in with us in 9th grade the first cool day when she came down in shorts, she expected me to tell her to change, but at 14-15 & not being outside during the school day, it didn’t really matter. At this point, the most i will do is inform her of the weather, “hey, totally up to you what to wear, but did you know it is only supposed to be 50 degrees?” Sometimes she changes, sometimes she doesn’t, sometimes she comes home after school and changes into pants & a sweatshirt & huddles under a blanket because she is cold, but it has definitely gotten a better response than trying to tell her she has to change.

  • Dave

    October 22, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Nate is twelve. He does not appear to perceive that the seasons are changing, nor does he yet care what other people think about the way he looks, but he does spend several hours a day at school, during which time I can, if I wish, go into his bedroom and remove all the shorts and short-sleeve shirts. If I didn’t, he too would wear shorts all year (or possibly long pants all year, depending on what season it was when I stopped fighting it). I can’t wait until he’s officially a teenager.

  • Crickett

    October 22, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    As long as my 10 year old looks decent (no rips or stains), what she wears is her business. She just recently started wearing jeans, but only skinny jeans because they’re stretchy and more comfortable. I’ve started making her come along to pick out clothes so that I don’t buy something she absolutely won’t wear. I do have Veto power though, but I use it sparingly. I don’t mind if all she picks out are shorts, but I insist that the inseams are longer than the 1″ that so many manufacturers think is appropriate for her age. Like they say: Not my monkey, not my circus!

  • Alyssa

    October 22, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    I think that there is also the issue that if you make a big deal about it / fight about it they may have a “I can’t change because I’ll have to listen to the “I told you so” from Mom” reaction. If you let it go and he’s freezing, he may put on pants because what he wears is up to him.

  • Brigitte

    October 22, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Ditto everything you said!  Here in our New England town I know several teen/tween boys AND over-40 adults who do this.

    And have my own memories of going all winter with a tiny black windbreaker and those Chinese flats shoes (anyone remember those?).

    I think kids have much better curculation than we do . . . 

  • Jessica

    October 22, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    I live in the Duluth, Minnesota, area and most recently worked at a high school. It doesn’t matter what the temperature is (-50 with windchill at times) or whether there are three feet of snow on the ground: a lot of the boys want to wear shorts all of the time, so they do it. I just scratch my head and sigh. They insist that they are warm all of the time, so it doesn’t matter what we or their parents say.

    That said, I never owned a true winter coat until I moved to Minnesota in my late 20s, because I didn’t really like the feeling of being overly bundled up. I didn’t even have “real” gloves, just those crappy stretchy things. Now I own a super heavy coat with a hood, another hat, mittens, gloves, and a scarf! I was living in a northern area of Illinois, so it did get below freezing regularly, but I didn’t really care how cold it was until it was regularly below 0 degrees F when I moved to MN. Now I can’t seem to get warm! 😉

  • Jenny

    October 22, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Ha…in middle school I absolutely refused to wear a hat or a headband or a scarf or anything.  And of course, I insisted on leaving the house with wet hair half the time.  Those things did not work in Iowa in January.  My mom and I had such battles.

    And now at age 36?  I don’t give a crap and I swear I wear a hat when it gets to 40 degrees.

    Kids are stupid. 🙂

  • Katherine

    October 22, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    My kids are generally pretty reasonable about what they wear, but neither one likes wearing a winter coat. When my older son was about 16, he didn’t like the coat we had and refused to wear it, preferring just a thin hoodie. I figured he could just be cold, until the day when DH was taking him somewhere when the roads were iffy. We insisted that he at least take the winter coat and hat and gloves in case they got stuck and had to walk. He didn’t have to wear the coat, but he did have to have it. 
    I did buy him a coat of his choice when he had to go to Boston in January. But now he is in college in Houston and has no real need of a winter coat . 

  • Jeannie

    October 22, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I personally gave up this fight when my kids were around 3 or 4. Don’t want to wear weather appropriate clothing? Fine. Until they were 7 or so I’d bring whatever it was with me anyway. Most of the time they would ask for it before we had gone much more than a block or two. 

    Now my oldest is nine. I let him choose whatever he wants; if it’s not appropriate for the weather, I will mention it in a casual “hey, it’s going to rain later. Sandals might not be good.” Most of the time now he will change but if not, I don’t say anything else. Being cold / wet is an excellent learning experience. 

    Any other person who might judge clearly doesn’t have kids. 

    I do feel compelled to add here, though, that I live in temperate Vancouver so the weather is never dangerous. My attitude is likely easier to do here!

  • Susan B

    October 22, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for the pegged jeans flashback – that’s a memory I could have done without.

    I have given up buying my 8 & 11 year old kids long sleeve shirts.  They just flat out refuse to wear them.  (“It gets too hot in my classroom”).  They are actually good about pants if it’s cold, and they will wear sweatshirts (hoodies usually), but never long sleeves.  I figure they’ll get around to it eventually and we have enough other things to argue about.

    • Megan

      October 23, 2015 at 2:45 am

      As the mother of a teenage boy who only wore shorts for  two years I frequently remind myself of my brothers words to our mom as a teenager. “Coats are for kids whose mothers are cold”

  • MR

    October 26, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    I see this every day during winter. I drive by several bus stops to take my girls to their daycare/school and at every bus stop are kids huddled up freezing as they try to stay warm in their t-shirt or hoodie. Only one wore a jacket, although one girl did have a giant blanket that she had wrapped around herself. I mean, seriously? I don’t understand how she thought that looked better than a nice coat. Anyway, I remember a guy at my high school that always wore shorts, even if there was snow on the ground. And we lived in the Pacific North West, so snow meant it was COLD. He wore boots, and he wore a jacket, but he still wore shorts. Never once did it even occur to me to think, “I can’t believe his mom let him go out in that?!” No. However, I did go up to him and give him crap, because he was a friend and, hello, it was COLD. He shrugged and said he didn’t like pants and he wasn’t that cold. I said I didn’t understand that, but whatever, and off we went to class. So, nobody is going to blame you, OP. And it isn’t just your kid. But, at some point, some “cool” kid is going to rebel by wearing a coat, and then all the kids will start doing it. lol

  • K

    January 5, 2018 at 7:01 pm

    This makes me happy – I love all the comments about parents just letting it go. Clothing as a tween/teen is SO much more than clothing. It’s all tied into identity and autonomy and exploration. It’s just a weather inappropriate choice to parents, but to them it’s a statement of control and so much more. Even if it’s just “he’s more comfortable”, it’s still a big deal to him. I’m all for giving autonomy and natural consequences (especially if the consequences are “you will be uncomfortable and look silly to sensible adults – hardly a true consequence until one is a sensible adult themselves!) at pretty much any age. And those consequences carry into almost everything. Don’t study? Failed a test. Fail enough tests, you don’t graduate. All natural consequences that kids can understand, if we let them test them out and make the choice themselves and do the sensible thing. There are bigger, mug more important things than shorts or pants 🙂