No shoes, no coats, no problem

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 7, 2011

Why aren’t you wearing a coat?
It’s a refrain heard in houses around Rowan County as kids prepare to head out the door into winter weather.
When temperatures dip into the 30s and lower, most adults are happy to throw on a coat and maybe, just maybe, even button or zip it up.
Our kids?
Not so much. “Dressing for the weather” is not a phrase that resonates with many of them.
Drive by a few bus stops this month, and you’ll surely notice plenty of coatless teenagers, and you’ll also see them wearing the same shorts that they’ll be wearing in June.
Jeff and Robin Daye’s school-aged boys, Jacob and Patrick, leave the house in shorts on cold mornings, as does Roger and Sandy Greene’s son, Chase. These boys are not anomalies by any means.
Vicki Medlin says that when her sons, Timmy and Tommy, went to Salisbury High School years ago, she’d beg them on winter mornings to put on their coats, to no avail.
One day, a custodian at the school approached Timmy and Tommy, offering to get them coats to wear.
“They laughed and offered their sincere thanks,” Vicky says, “but told him they had several coats but did not want to have to deal with them at school!”
April Sherrill also deals with coatless children, and when she asks why they’re without one, she hears a few common refrains: “I don’t know,” or “I’m not cold.”
Other kids, like Brendan Bourque, son of Ann and Peter Bourque, try to use logic to explain their choices: Brendan explains that “it doesn’t get cold in the south.”
A look at parenting message boards indicates that a lot of parents are seriously concerned about the issue, chiding their peers who refuse to fight the winter clothing battle.
While some parents insist on a certain standard of dress during the winter that includes outerwear and excludes shorts, others favor a “live and let freeze” approach, saving the confrontations with their children for issues they consider more important.
“When your kid is going through adolesence, some battles are not worth the fight,” says Loretta Hall. “If your son wants to wear shorts in January, he’s the one who will freeze,” she says.
Well, not literally. But parents in colder climes — Alaska, say — do have to worry about the possibility of things like frostbite, with even a simple trip to school being potentially life-threatening if a car breaks down in frigid weather.
Some parents don’t worry much about their kids being coatless but find the flip-flops-in-winter habit to be worrisome.
Greg Rogers says his son Nic wears flip-flops even when it’s snowing.
“That boy ain’t right,” he says, echoing the sentiments of parents everywhere about their own kids’ clothing choices.
Gordon Furr says that his own resistance to outerwear is something he shares with his son.
Both he and his son Kelse wear cargo shorts all winter and “maybe if it is really cold a pullover sweater with no shirt.”
“Being Furrs, we have built-in insulation and hefty heaters,” he adds. “Can’t stand to be wrapped in a bunch of heavy clothes.
“There have been winters where I never even brought a coat down from the storage closet.”
Melanie Miller is an adult who says she rarely wears coats (and never in the car) and doesn’t even own many long-sleeved shirts. Her son, however, unlike many of his peers, wears lots of layers in the winter.
Teresa Bolton, also an adult, says that it has to be in the 20s or lower for her to don a coat.
“I can’t stand coats!” she says. “I find coats bulky — especially when I’m behind the wheel. Give me a sweatshirt or a layered sweater set and I’m happy!”
West Rowan football coach Scott Young is known for wearing shorts year-round.
“I’m wearing shorts today,” he said, when we caught up with him Thursday.
Young’s reason is practical: most of the time he’s inside, where “shorts are just more comfortable,” he says.
“It’s a convenience thing, it’s a comfort thing. It’s not a macho thing by any stretch of the imagination.”
It’s not that he doesn’t feel the cold when he’s outside; in fact, he spent some time in Florida over the holidays and much prefers the milder temperatures.
If he’s going to be outside in the winter for an extended period of time, he does wear pants, he says.
Pediatrician Chris Magryta takes a practical low-stress parenting approach on the issue.
Children’s rejection of winter coats is understandable, if you realize that their bodies are different, he says.
“Children have a higher metabolic rate,” he explains, “so they burn energy faster.
“Children by nature can tolerate colder temperatures better than adults can,” he says.
So when your teen insists that he’s not cold, then he might actually be telling you the truth.
If kids are simply on their way to a bus stop or getting to school, not wearing a coat is probably not a big deal, he says. The danger, however, is getting trapped somewhere where it’s cold.
That’s why Magryta makes sure that his own children at least carry a coat with them so they can put it on if they actually do start to feel cold.
“If they get caught somewhere without a coat and get cold, they can get their bodies stressed and get themselves sick,” he says.
That’s not to say that stepping outside without a coat, or with a wet head for that matter, will cause you to “catch your death of cold” — that’s a myth, he says, but if you’re cold enough to stress your body and lower your immune system, then cold can be a factor in illness. So your mom, it seems, wasn’t entirely wrong.
Magryta probably has a better understanding of how teenagers feel than the average adult, since he’s somewhat like them. He admits that he typically wears less clothing in the winter than the average adult.
He admits that he has a higher metabolism than most people his age.
“I burn energy more,” he says. “That’s why I’m so skinny.”
He notes that it’s 40 degrees outside as he’s talking to me on the phone. One of his colleagues is wearing a pea coat, but not Magryta.
“I’m standing here in one thin shirt and I’m not cold,” he says.
So parents, maybe you really just need to chill out on this one.