Fighting the Age-Old Teenager “Coat War”

winter coats, teenagers

Winter rears its fierce head with below zero temperatures and wind chills later this week. Bundling up in winter gear will keep you safe and toasty if you have to go outside, but there will be teenagers who refuse to wear a coat, even in the coldest of weather.

During winter, teens can be found shoveling snow or running to the car in shorts or traipsing across the school parking lot in blistering cold winds, dressed in a sweatshirt. Teens who don’t spend long periods of time outside during a school day may get away with a sweatshirt with a hood for warmth, but adolescents who have recess, or walk to or from school need better protection from the cold.

Behavioral health experts say the battle of the coats reflects a natural part of growing up. It’s not necessarily about warmth, but about adolescents making their own decisions and parents deciding which battles are worth fighting.

“When parenting in general, the end goal is having an independent adult who is capable of making good choices,” said Jonathan Ponser, LCPC, manager of Behavioral Therapy Services at Memorial Behavioral Health. “In order to reach that point, parents may have to give up some control and allow them to make some mistakes. That doesn’t mean your teen gets to make all of the rules. It simply means setting general expectations versus ironclad rules. Allowing some degree of flexibility can decrease power struggles and help to maintain a positive relationship.”

Consider these tips if you find yourself on the front lines of a coat battle.

  • Have coat discussions ahead of time instead of at the door as you are leaving.
  • Without belittling, explain how quickly frostbite can set in.
  • Let your teen pick out a coat they like.
  • Provide options – a heavy coat or a less heavy, but still warm coat.
  • Preplan! Negotiate a temperature in which the teen will wear a coat.
  • Offer a compromise: they carry the coat with them regardless of whether they put it on. That ensures they have necessary protective gear with them.
  • Remind them how their decision-making in situations like this helps determine your ability to trust them to make good decisions, which leads eventually to more freedom.

“Teens tend to be more egocentric and also focused on interpersonal relationships,” said Ponser. “Those two things together mean a teenager is more likely to opt toward being fashionable versus practical. From their perspective, appearing in a negative manner in front of their peers may seem worse than a warning about frostbite.”

So in the end, the compromise may look like a hoodie. Just make sure it’s a heavy one!

Additional Resources

Worried About a Friend or Scared for Yourself? Mental Health Resources for Young People

Seasonal Forecast: Chance of Dry and Itchy Skin