Parenting Teens: Winter Coat Edition

by | Parenting Teens

I posted the picture you see above on Instagram recently. It shows the choices my teenager and I made about what was appropriate to wear outside in the snow. Clearly, posting about this incident meant I had some opinions about life with teenagers in the caption.

If you have a teenager or ever were a teenager, and you live(d) anywhere where the temperatures dip, you probably are aware that winter is a time when the opinions of parents and teens about what is appropriate attire really start to deviate wildly from one another.

I’ve seen the posts of moms of teenage boys lamenting about how the kid is always in shorts no matter the frigid temps. Or perhaps the picture is of a kid sledding in a hoodie sweatshirt and the mom is wondering about the expensive coat she bought that remains unused. I remember the fights with my own mom who was sure I needed a hat on or else I’d catch my death of cold while I waited for the school bus, while I was sure if I wore a hat to high school ever that I’d surely catch my death from embarrassment!

It may seem trivial, but this is the perfect example of a time when tuning in and learning what you really want can make all the difference for them. This developmental time for the teenager is one for shaping identity. They are learning to trust their own instincts and to do that, they really need their parent not to question or undermine them at every turn. Teenagers are  learning about who they are and what they are worth through the choices they make and the feedback they get from those choices.

When I was 16, I knew with 100% certainty that my ears being cold was totally worth the cost of me not looking out of fashion in front of my peers. At 45, I wear a hat every day starting almost as soon as I’ve put my summer swimsuits away because I’m a cold weather wimp. However, each of my kids is much more like 16-year-old me.

In our house it’s coats. Nearly every morning I find myself wanting to ask my high school boy if he’ll really be warm enough in only his zip up sweatshirt.

I did ask actually,  nearly every day for a couple weeks. Finally, I heard (really heard) that he says he is not cold, and I had to start believing him. I may be shivering at merely the thought of him outside in only that flimsy sweatshirt, but  my body temperature should not dictate how he dresses. There is a time for guidance and a time to let them choose their path.


Let me tell you a story that illustrates a bit of a difference.

This same kid, who goes to school in a hoodie (and with wet hair and no hat-somewhere my mother is laughing at me!) everyday was getting dressed in the same attire to go out with his dad to get our Christmas tree. It was nighttime and very cold.

Instead of reprimanding or nagging him, dad somewhat gently (everyone has their limits) reminded the teenager that last year he only wore a hoodie and complained the whole time about being cold. This year, dad was clear with the teen that he was not going to tolerate that same behavior (see what I mean about somewhat gentle?). Dad still left the choice of what to wear up to the kid but clearly set the expectation about how kid may feel and how dad would handle it.

Kid chose the winter coat and a hat (there you go, mom!) and then later, they all complained about different stuff during the tree-seeking mission but at least they weren’t cold! (Look, I never promised an end to all complaining.)

I’m learning that the less I nag my teenagers and the more I allow them to make their own choices about relatively little things like this, the more this helps them grow into thoughtful people.

Thoughtful people who, when faced with bigger things,  will make good decisions because they’ll have learned that I trust that they can and in turn they’ll trust that they can. That is always the goal.

Every time you want to fight with your teens about things like cold weather gear or anything else that’s really opinion and not solid fact, ask yourself this:

do I want to do the thing that will help build their confidence or say the thing that reminds them that I think they don’t know themselves or how to choose well?

After all, their bare legs in December will never really make YOU cold at all.