Why Don't Teenagers Wear Coats?

A quest to find an answer to this universal concern.


Is anyone else’s kid blue? Not Smurf blue, but just kinda tinged in blue? If so, it’s because not only do many kids refuse to wear a coat, but they go to school in shorts and t-shirts when the temperature has dipped well below freezing.

We all like to think we are bringing up our kids to have more common sense than the common fruit fly, but when I see them in shorts and hoodies shivering at the bus stop in an ice storm in February, I have to wonder.

This week a reader emailed me asking how she can get her teenager to wear a warm coat. My first thought was, “Good luck with that sista, because it ain’t gonna happen.”  Then I thought, “This misguided woman sincerely believes I can help her. I should try to find an answer.” And so began my quest.

First, I googled how to get kids to wear winter coats and found The Today Show actually did a piece on this, as well as the NY Times. People were blogging about the anti-coat issue from England to Canada, where they have serious winters. Clearly, it’s a universal issue.

Do you want to know what I didn’t find? An answer.

Furthering my quest to understand and therefore formulate a solution to this issue, I did a very scientific study on teenagers and their coat-wearing habits. By this I mean I asked my kids and all the students I saw this week why they don’t wear coats. 

As for my son, I stopped buying him coats years ago. He never wore them, so what was the point? Since I have never seen any of my students in anything heavier than a hoodie or North Face jacket, I wanted to hear what they had to say.  Every single one of them, boys and girls, said some variation of:

  • My locker:
  1. Is not convenient
  2. Is too small for a coat
  3. Will make me late for class by going there
  4. Is in an unknown location 
  • I’m never really outside for more than a minute.
  • I go from a warm house to a warm car to a warm school 
  • I don’t get cold
  • Coats aren’t cool

This is a “pick your battles” kind of situation because non-coat-wearing is the social norm and isn’t changing anytime soon. In one case, I was telling a student that I went to a really big high school yet I wore a coat, put it in my locker in the morning, and got it after school, to which she looked me dead in the eye and said, “Sue, kids are just lazier now.”

And so ended my quest.

Sue Schaefer is a student advocate, academic coach, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com.

You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

Susan Schaefer December 10, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Hi Saul, To clarify, I am no longer a classroom teacher. When I was, of course my students addressed me as Mrs. Schaefer. Now I have a private practice and work with older teens and allow them to call me Sue, which I prefer. I understand you and other readers may not agree with this decision, in which case you may address me as Mrs. Schaefer (this is a joke). Sue
Barbara Schwarz Bennett December 10, 2011 at 05:05 PM
I can't really understand the purpose of your comments Jessica.They are laced with violence and unconstructive criticism. It feels more like a defensive personal attack against Sue, rather than a constructive contribution to the topic presented in the article. If you want to make a statement about parenting in our society today, why don't you just write your own article and start your own conversation. I don't know that the education section of the West Hartford Patch is the place for this kind of hostility.
Richard December 10, 2011 at 05:54 PM
It looks to me like you don't have any children, Jessica, because you are living in a fantasy world where they are robots who blindly follow everything their parents tell them. It is quite normal for teens to establish their own identities and express their individuality, but not in your world. As effective parents, we pick our battles and don't feel a need to fight with them over the small things. If we do fight over everything, as you seem to advocate, they will tune us out over the more important issues and we will need to worry if they are able to make good decisions in life. Also, I have read a couple of your personal attacks on Sue Schaefer and they are both wrong and misplaced. I read these articles every week and find that Sue offers excellent advice on many relevant issues, most of which are education related. Why don't you channel your anger toward people who really deserve it and leave Sue alone.
Mark Kalina December 10, 2011 at 07:20 PM
I see no "violence" in Jessica's remarks, frustration yes, violence, no. This is nothing new, BTW- when I was in Middle and High School, many moons ago, it was not cool for boys to wear coats. This "habit" pre-dates me too.
Jim G. December 10, 2011 at 08:52 PM
+1, Mark. Fa cryin' out loud, I have Mad Magazine articles from the 1970s making fun of kids standing around freezing with each other. Nothing new here.
Peter Dinella December 10, 2011 at 09:58 PM
Teenagers don't wear coats because they want to be "cool". The simple answer is usually the right one.
Saul Freedman December 10, 2011 at 10:38 PM
Wow - comments that are not in concurrence with the columnist are now deemed "violent" and "hostil[e]." Very chilling Barbara.
Susan Schaefer December 11, 2011 at 12:24 AM
Jim, Jim, Jim.....Nowhere do I claim teenagers refusing to wear coats is a "new" issue, although I do wonder why you keep Mad Magazine articles from the 1970's. This was a question from a reader and something that baffles many parents. Sue
Jim G. December 11, 2011 at 03:14 AM
Marcia, Marcia, Marcia... I was responding to Mark K's comment. And for "have" expand that to "have in mind," although I do have the complete collection of Mad in my research archives, in digital format...
Sarah Calatayud December 11, 2011 at 02:18 PM
I can't believe how many of you just reigned what was meant to be an amusing and lighthearted article into an opportunity to vent your frustration and desire to complain about something. Really? If you responded negatively above about anything with a serious tone in your comment, you need to take a good look in the mirror. Grow a sense of humor for Pete's sake - no, make that for YOUR sake. If you can manage to improve your sense of humor, and decrease your level of bitterness toward students, other people with a better sense of humor than yours, and former teachers who (God forbid!) allow young people to address them by their first names (the horror! Because of this, society has gone to Hell in a .handbasket!!)
Heather Lovey December 11, 2011 at 02:28 PM
@Jessica and Elicia, TOTALLY NOT " 'nuff said"!!!! - did you really take all this so seriously? Sarah, you had me laughing in my coffee. You are so right. Lighten up, people. I can tell by the kinds of comments you've made here whether you are happy or sad people, in general. It's just winter coats, not race relations or nuclear disarmament. Can't really understand how anyone got so fired up about this! GREAT and funny article, Sue (Or, for Jessica's sake, Mrs. Schaefer). Let the kids learn by their own experience. They're not hurting themselves or anyone else. (And for those of you who STILL believe not wearing a coat in the cold gets you sick, please read up - it doesn't).
Heather Lovey December 11, 2011 at 02:33 PM
Jessica, how does this have anything at all to do with a lack of parenting? I think it's actually EXCELLENT parenting to let kids learn by experience. And why is it bad for college freshman to transfer from their original school to a new school exactly? I missed the point there. But I feel like I should say something positive, so..... I like your skillful use of the word "uptick".
Barbara Schwarz Bennett December 11, 2011 at 02:34 PM
Saul,these comments against Sue's articles go back 3 weeks already. If you go back you will see a history of unnecessary hostility. I'm not seeing any constructive criticism or just plain frustration in Jessica's comments. I wouldn't see that as a problem. The attacks seem personal and seem to have an underlying agenda of causing harm to the columnist. Sue contributes interesting, thought-provoking articles each week and I would hope to see them honored with constructive comments, both for and against, as long as it was done with respect. There is always room for opposing views, but that's not what's been happening here.
Jim G. December 11, 2011 at 05:05 PM
One more reason I dislike the blog format - it will always attract a certain component that sees the comment box as open mike night. We've had a succession of folks here who ring in on every topic with the same long-winded, tiresome rant, whether there's the slightest connection to the original article or not. Since there's no continuity between comment threads, it happens over and over before they either wander away or the brass notices and steps in. I suggest a universal policy of ignoring comments that aren't relevant to the topic and focused on the conversation. Just gasoline on a fire to try and argue with these (heh, heh) cross-Patch types.
Saul Freedman December 11, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Wow, so even asking a simple question around here is an affront? Take your own advice, CALM DOWN.
Saul Freedman December 11, 2011 at 05:22 PM
Barbara, I'm guessing you missed the portion of a previous column where Ms. Schaefer referred to Jessica's comments from a column prior. Ms. Schaefer posited that Jessica had just emerged from a "cold war bomb shelter" because of her spirited disagreement over spanking.
Susan Schaefer December 11, 2011 at 06:49 PM
Saul, again, to clarify...I did not use Jessica's name, she did that herself when she posted her comments. Also, I did not write that article because she disagreed with my position on spanking. She wrote a comment on my article , "Why Does My Kid Have ADHD," that the answer (to ADHD) is "consistency, structure, and discipline-including spanking from a very young age." Although I agree that kids do need those things (not the spanking, of course), none of it is the "answer" to ADHD.
Saul Freedman December 11, 2011 at 11:12 PM
That is correct Susan, you did not use Jessica's name. You only quoted her comments (http://westhartford.patch.com/articles/why-does-my-kid-have-adhd#comment_1912415) from the ADHD article regarding spanking in paragraph 2 of your spanking article (http://farmington.patch.com/articles/spanking-is-not-the-solution). Allow me to now quote you: "This reader believes, “Spankings, from a very young age would solve the majority of problems with today’s kids.” Among the many questions I have for that reader, the first one is, “How young are we talking here?” Three months? Six months? In utero? However horrified I was, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. After all, she could have just emerged from her cold war bomb shelter and not yet had the chance to get up to speed." 1) You quote Jessica 2) You state that "[a]fter all, she could have just emerged from her cold war bomb shelter and not yet had the chance to get up to speed." Ergo, you were referring to Jessica when you made your cold war quip.
Megan Bard (Editor) December 11, 2011 at 11:41 PM
Hi folks, Please stick to the topic at hand: "Why Don't Teenagers Wear Coats?" Thanks, Megan
Loretta T December 11, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Some parents can't afford coats for their children. Most kids are wearing North Face or some other name brand coat. Could you image as a teenager now a days walking into school with a coat from Walmart or Kmart. Kids can be cruel and some kids rather freeze their butts off then be made fun of.
Steve Majerus-Collins December 12, 2011 at 04:06 PM
I was in an old middle school recently that has big lockers like I remember from school days. A group of teenage girls was standing there gawking at them, talking about how if only they had lockers that big they could actually wear a coat. But the high schools don't have lockers large enough for the job anymore. I think it has something to do with fire codes, actually, that make it harder to line hallways the way they once did.
David Ryan Polgar December 12, 2011 at 06:53 PM
@Loretta has an interesting theory. Most coats have an attached social status value with their logo, so I would be curious to see if some students would rather go cold than adverstise their lower-priced coat.
Jim G. December 12, 2011 at 07:20 PM
I don't know about in general, but I recall the must-have coats crumpled on the bedroom floor as often as the no-name ones. Not convinced it's a big part of the reason...
Mark Kalina December 12, 2011 at 08:20 PM
I think its a teen thing- plus as a teenager I was rarely cold... I ran to the bus stop - so I think its not so much not wanting to wear a "no name" winter coat as its just kids being kids. If there are "label" issues with winter coats and I am sure there are some, all the more reason to have school uniforms or clothing without external logos- i.e. North Face and so on...
Eva December 12, 2011 at 08:46 PM
No kidding, John! My son's backpack nearly put ME in traction when he asked me to hand it to him the other day!! I imagine the workout he gets from lugging that around all day is enough to keep him warm. However, the reason(s) he gave me for not wearing his coat to school is a combination of the mentioned answers: because his locker is too small, he doesn't want to lug it around with him all day, and he's only outside for a minute anyway. Bad parenting? Or just plain smart?
Lisa Lenkiewicz December 12, 2011 at 10:39 PM
I may be remembering this wrong, but I seem to recall my kids saying coats weren't allowed to be worn inside their high school and there was no room in their locker. (Plus, the locks on their lockers never worked.) That said, when they go from their car to school, they don't feel they need to be encumbered by a coat. It just seems to be a pain for them. For those who walk to school, I suppose if they get cold enough, they'll do something about it. As one child told his mother, "Just because you are cold doesn't mean I am."
Perry Robbin December 13, 2011 at 02:23 AM
As someone closer to my youth than my burgeoning adulthood, the "warm house to warm car to warm school" argument was always how I felt about it. I just didn't need a coat every day. I didn't want to misplace it and possibly lose it at school because I really never wore it inside. On days when I knew I'd be outside for a while, or if I was going to shovel snow or something, I'd wear a coat. I never really understood the battles my mom (who, if she's reading this, I love deeply) and I would have over it – I never found a reason for having a coat if I was spending maybe 5 minutes of my entire school day outside. Even as an adult, if I'm not going to be outside for a while, I just wear a sweatshirt. I'd rather have something light that works for the trip from car to building that I can stick in my bag, rather than a big bulky coat I have to cart around once it serves its short-lived purpose.
Skip Cashwell December 16, 2011 at 08:25 AM
One has only to peruse the latest reports on the level of learning achievements our union teachers imbue in our teen students to understand why teens don't wear coats: they don't know whether it is spelled "cote" or "coat" - perhaps we should, as parents, take an active role in the education of our teens and call things to keep one warm, JACKETS.
Jack R. January 08, 2012 at 12:10 AM
I was thinking of your column the other day as my daughter refused to wear a coat to the bus stop. It was a bit chilly but I didn't make a big deal about it. Next day when temps were in the teens, she's all bundled up. Turns out they do wear coats when it gets cold enough. Had a chuckle thinking about it.
Susan Schaefer January 09, 2012 at 09:53 PM
Thanks Jack, you made my day!


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