Winter is here and my kids insist on wearing shorts. Is it OK?

Fads are hard to fight, as we all know

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Winter is here. No seriously, son. Why are you wearing shorts, and where's your jacket? 

How many of you reading this right now have said something similar to your child?

The struggle is real for Overland Park, Kansas, mother Kati Bernard. The daily battle she faces in the winter with her 12-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son probably unfold each morning in most households before the school bell rings.

Shorts in the winter. Yes, it's a thing.

Bernard’s son started wearing them in elementary school.

"He didn’t walk to or from school, so I didn’t put too much thought into it as he didn’t spend much time outside," Bernard said.

But by the fourth grade, her son started walking home from school in the winter elements.

"Parents would always say, ‘Hey I saw (your son) walking to school in his shorts and orange sweatshirt,'" Bernard vividly recalls. "As if they were somehow mocking me for his clothing choices."

But by the time her son was at the age to walk home by himself, Bernard felt he was old enough, in her mind, to be making choices about his clothing.

And medical experts will agree, it is completely OK to let them wear shorts in the winter as long as it is not for an extended amount of time.

"Is it smart, and would I do it? No. As I don’t like to be cold," said Dr. David Smith, youth sports medicine medical director at the University of Kansas Health System. "But there is no truth to the old saying that if you don’t cover your head and stay warm you will get a cold or other illness."


The battle with the coat

The motto in Bernard's house: If you’re dumb, you freeze.

"It obviously didn’t affect him, because he didn’t start wearing pants, mind you, sweatpants, until seventh grade," Bernard said. "So, there were many years I didn’t fight that battle."

And the coat – it’s still not worth it for Bernard.

"They will wear one to sled, but that’s about it," Bernard said. "Neither one has a locker, and there is no way they’re carrying one around. You know, they don’t think that’s ‘cool.’"

Fads are hard to fight, as we all know.

"Kids and adolescents are under peer pressure to conform to the trends and feel accepted," Smith said.

As for Bernard’s daughter, she’s always been practical until this year. Now, she insists on wearing shorts, T-shirts and sandals (with socks, of course).

"I’ve noticed other kids in her school are wearing pants at drop-off, so I think she’s just trying to be independent," Bernard said.

For her son, Bernard said it is because all the other boys were doing it, too. She goes back to her motto and believes her daughter will correct herself when she gets cold.

"There are way too many other battles to fight with them," Bernard said. "She still has to wear a mask to school daily, and she does that willingly. So to me, that is a better fight to pick -- if she wouldn’t wear it."

Encourage common sense

Smith offers some suggestions for parents, like Bernard, who might be facing this daily winter dilemma.

"Draw upon your best parenting skills to try to encourage common sense," Smith said. "But remember many times, the more you push, the more your children and adolescents push back." 

Or you could just "grin and bare it," Smith said, by showing up to their activity in shorts for a brief embarrassment, and they might rethink their bare legs.

"I used this tactic with my children as they were growing up with a simple threat that what they wear was fair game for Dad to wear," Smith said with a laugh. "It worked fairly well as they knew Dad would follow through on the threat."

But in all seriousness, Smith said parents should make sure they are monitoring the amount of time and the extremes of the weather conditions when their kids step outside in shorts to help mitigate the risk of hypothermia and frostbite.  


"And be willing to provide the appropriate outerwear when they ask you to purchase their clothing," Smith adds.

Bernard said she might start marking on a calendar how many days her daughter sprints home from the bus stop freezing. But, she is fine with that.

"They don’t get to make very many decisions for themselves so why not let them have this one," Bernard said.

So, the next time your kid comes down the stairs, and it’s 1 degree outside, let them learn by their mistakes – it’s OK.