Shelley Rogers Landes' sons Jack Rogers, 12, left, and Maxwell Rogers, 9, play on a mound of snow in Fishers, Ind., on Dec. 30. Jack is wearing no gloves, no coat or boots. Some teens and tweens are chillin' out, literally and figuratively, in their sweatshirts and kicks both in the Lower 48 and Alaska.
PHOTO courtesy Shelley Rogers Landes
NEW YORK Among the great spectacles of winter, along with the northern lights and frozen lakes, are coatless kids.
No coat, no gloves? No prob!
These teens and tweens are chillin' out, literally and figuratively, in their sweatshirts and kicks. Maybe a boy will accessorize with a baseball cap, and a girl might choose stylish boots but nothing weatherproof, please! Some boys even wear shorts year-round, and many parents say they've given up the fight.
For example, Jack Rogers, 12, of Fishers, Ind., was wearing shorts last week. "I know lots of kids who do that," he said.
His grandma doesn't understand. "It's 15 degrees. Why doesn't he have a coat on him?" she asked.
"I told her, 'I have to pick and choose my battles,'" recalled Jack's mom, Shelley Rogers Landes. "I need to let him make decisions that really are inconsequential at the end of day."
In a telephone interview, Jack explained his reasons for dressing light in winter: "Coats are just a hassle, putting it all on. It makes me bulky. I just like to be in short sleeves."
He doesn't mind gloves, but boots? "Nah, I don't like 'em." If his sneakers get wet, he says, "it doesn't really bother me."
Carleton Kendrick of Millis, Mass., a family therapist, says that for teens, "wearing bulky winter coats, gloves, boots unless teen girls consider them high fashion and hats screams nerd, geek, baby, dork ... UNCOOL!"
He added: "Short of real and present danger of your teens getting frostbite, let them deal with being cold to be cool."
Autumn O'Bryan said she was shocked, after moving to New Hampshire from Los Angeles, to see "both girls and boys with sweatshirts and sneakers in a blizzard waiting for their bus. I even saw a couple of boys with short-sleeve shirts. The only hats were baseball hats and no gloves or boots on anyone." O'Bryan had been fighting with her son about wearing a coat, but "after that I gave up and have never brought it up again."
In Alaska, of course, the dangers of frostbite and hypothermia are real. "Our teenagers are the same as everyone else's they think they're Superman, they're invincible but our weather is different," said Shelby Nelson, spokeswoman for Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. She said local media, schools, police and other officials work to get the message out to kids that dressing warmly is a matter of safety. Even a car ride can turn deadly if you break down and have to walk a mile in 20-below zero weather.
Dr. Art Strauss, an emergency room physician at Fairbanks Memorial, said that in places with milder weather, parents need not worry as much as they do in Alaska. If teens are "going off to school in 30 or 40 degree (above zero) weather with less than ideal coverings, they're probably OK, as long as they do not find themselves stuck outside for a long time at those temperatures," he said. And contrary to what some parents may think, Strauss said raging teen hormones do not raise body temperature. "There is not any truth to that," he said.
Wendy Kerschner of Adamstown, Pa., says her 14-year-old simply doesn't mind cold air on his legs, so he "wears shorts to school almost every day." Her husband doesn't think it's a big deal, since the only time their son is outside is waiting for the school bus. But like a lot of moms, she does wonder: "What must my neighbors think of me!"
Some parents refuse to capitulate to the "dress-like-it's-June" mentality. "It is worth the fight," said Mara Woloshin, mother of a 14-year-old in Portland, Ore. "Kids will work to wear parents down.
"At the same time, very few parents know that a gentle 'no way' goes a long way toward gloves and a hoodie. It's our job as parents to make men out of boys and try to civilize them in the process!"
Cris Taylor, also of Portland, says her son has lost three jackets and sweatshirts this school year. She says kids reject outerwear partly due to "laziness! A coat, hat, gloves is just too much for them to keep track of and deal with." The teen tendency to live for the moment is a factor too, Taylor says. When her son is inside, "he doesn't think it through or plan ahead and realize that we are going to be outside and that he will then be cold."
While girls may find some winter fashions like Ugg boots or cute knit hats appealing, Kevin Nadal, an assistant professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, says "boys at this stage are dealing with developing their masculinity. So in many ways, toughing it out by not wearing warm enough clothes may be a way for them to appear manly."
Strauss says alcohol ingestion not teenage machismo is the No. 1 cause of hypothermia cases seen nationwide by emergency departments.
And in Alaska, frostbite is seen most often among people of all ages who are unprepared for extreme cold. Just going out to retrieve the paper in flip-flops and getting locked out in subzero temperatures can result in frostbite or hypothermia, Strauss says. And tourists who fail to cover their ears while outside watching the northern lights sometimes develop "Dumbo ears" severe swelling, blistering and redness.
"This should make any teen with any shred of vanity wish to wear a hat in colder temperatures," Strauss said.
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, January 5, 2011.