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Explained: Why do kids insist on wearing shorts when it's freezing outside?

Posted February 2, 2014
Updated February 4, 2014

This is a hot topic among my mom group this time of year: Why do kids - adolescent boys in particular - insist on wearing shorts when it's freezing outside? Just the other day, as snow and ice covered the ground, I saw a tween boy trudging through the snow in shorts on his way to get frozen yogurt.

Is there something going on internally that makes them hotter than the rest of us? Or is it just cool to be cool? 

I checked in with Dr. Sarah Ryan at Rex Pediatrics to get some answers. Before our interview, Ryan, mom of a nine-year-old daughter, polled her own Facebook friends to get their take on the topic and was surprised to see the quick response.

"It drives parents crazy," Ryan said. But it probably doesn't have to, she adds.

Ryan said you can probably blame the kids' maturity level on their fashion choices. It's no longer cool to dress the way mom wants.

"They are starting to have their independence from parents, they are starting to fall into a peer group pattern," she tells me.

Ryan also points out that kids are typically more active than the rest of us so they may not legitimately be getting cold. In other cases, it might be comfort. Maybe they just don't like the feeling of pants on their legs, she said. And, in some cases, especially for the kids on the autism spectrum, it could be a sensory issue, she added.

If it's 30 degrees or even 20 degrees and kids are running from car or bus into the school entrance, naked legs are probably something parents don't need to worry too much about, Ryan said. The kids should be fine. (And, let's face it, in many cases, kids have their Nike Elite socks pulled up so high that really only their knees are exposed).

But parents do need to worry about prolonged exposure to the cold, she said. Wearing shorts in sub-freezing temperatures on a long walk home from school probably isn't the best idea. And parents should talk to their shorts-loving kids about what they might do if they get stuck in a broken down school bus or car and have to wait in the cold for help.

A good compromise might be to have a child pack a pair of pants in their backpack for emergencies, she said. Families also could set a temperature threshold to determine when pants are required. The National Weather Service has an online brochure with information about the wind chill and how to avoid frostbite.

"If it goes below 20 degrees, wear pants," Ryan offers.

Parents also can use the experience as a lesson for their kids. If kids don't dress warmly, they'll eventually learn that they do need to don more jackets and pants and fewer shorts when it's cold, she said.

That's what happened with Ryan and her daughter. Her daughter refused to wrap up for an outdoor, cold weather soccer practice one week despite her mother's requests. She got cold. The next week, she bundled up on her own.

But, if you're still worried about your kids being too cold, Ryan said the fight shouldn't be over pants. Focus on a hat.

"You lose 40 percent of your body heat through your head," she said.


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  • sryn Feb 8, 2014

    Thank you LuvstoQ for bringing this up--I researched this further. Many sites still list high percentages of heat loss through the head. This stems from a military study done in the 50's in which heat loss was measured in bitter cold situations in people wearing arctic survival suits with their heads exposed. Some more recent studies in people wearing swim suits exposed to the cold, only 7-10% of heat loss comes from the head. However, the face, chest, hands and feet are more sensitive to the cold. Also, the younger the child, the larger surface area of the head in proportion to the rest of the body, so more heat is lost. Although the absolute percentage of heat loss is variable, it still makes sense to wear a hat to prevent heat loss from the body, especially if one's legs are exposed! Here is one site that gives a brief synopsis:
    Sarah Ryan, MD

  • glarg Feb 7, 2014

    "A good compromise might be to have a child pack a pair of pants in their backpack for emergencies"

    Emergency Pants?

    And kids today dont have any space left in their backpacks. Especially not for optional clothing.

  • beaupeep Feb 3, 2014

    View quoted thread


  • RGMTRocks Feb 3, 2014

    On another front, my 17 year old daughter never wears a coat! I do make her keep one in her car but she never puts it on. She says she doesn't like coats and she's not outside long enough for it to matter anyway when she goes in and out of school or other places. She's a smart girl with a good head so even though it aggravates me, I don't fight that battle. If she gets cold enough, she'll put one on and if she breaks down somewhere or finds herself outside for longer than usual, at least she has one available! Pick your battles. I pick mine carefully and this is not one worthy of a fight.

  • Taffy Feb 3, 2014

    My son 20 years ago did the same thing. I wasn't even aware of it until the Chorus teacher referred to him as "Legs" because he wore shorts all winter. He left for school shortly after I left for work & he was home when I got off work. We still tease him to this day!

  • RGMTRocks Feb 3, 2014

    Hahahahaha!!! This is not only a tween/teen kid issue. My workplace is casual and we have SEVERAL employees who wear shorts year-round and yes, they say their rule is to wear long pants - and even a coat! - if the temp falls below 20 degrees. They're ALL MEN - so go figure! They're happy so whatever. Apparently, it's a male thing.......

  • beaupeep Feb 2, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Bless your heart, your child must be younger.

  • luvstoQ Feb 2, 2014

    Old wives tale -
    The only reason that story gets told over and over about losing so much body heat from your head is because that is usually the part of the body exposed - ask snopes!!

    Cool, or not, my child would not be wearing shorts in below freezing weather!!