Help! How Do I Make My Teen Dress For The Weather?
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.
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:
- Teenagers have been sacrificing common sense for style forever.
- 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.
- 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.
- No one who’s raised teens honestly believes their parents are still dressing them and/or in charge of their wardrobe choices.
- 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.