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Hot Topics: When kids wear shorts in the cold, parents learn to chill

March 24th, 2014 12:19 pm by Vikki Ortiz Healy

Hot Topics: When kids wear shorts in the cold, parents learn to chill

This seemingly never-ending cold season has prompted acts of rebellion by students, not to mention by some decidedly defiant adults. (Chris Ware/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)

Chicago Tribune

(MCT)

No matter how long cold weather drags on, or how much snow continues to fall, 12-year-old Matt Reedy knows what he'll be wearing to school next week.

Shorts, of course.

"They're really comfy for me," said Matt, a sixth-grader at Barrington Middle School, in Barrington, Ill., a Chicago suburb. "My mom will be, like, shivering, and I don't have one single goose bump on my leg. I just don't get cold."

Call it superhuman, or call it teenager. But this seemingly never-ending cold season — in Chicago and across much of the rest of the nation — has prompted acts of rebellion by students, not to mention by some decidedly defiant adults.

The bare-legged behavior has some parents, school administrators and average passers-by wondering how to respond to those who insist on showing flesh when it's frigid.

"Almost daily, I see all the kids come out to the buses, and it amazes me, there are still kids that come out without a coat," said Craig Winkelman, principal at Barrington Middle School, which has 1,000 students at its Station Campus. "I really wonder if, when we look at it, are they more resilient?"

Michael Bradley, a psychologist and parenting expert based in Pittsburgh, says that when it comes to teens, it's important to remember that the rebellion is likely a normal stage of brain development, in which adolescents push away parents and authority figures in the process of becoming their own persons.

Whenever possible, parents have to let the world teach their teenagers lessons, and save their ammunition for more critical issues such as drugs, sex and violence, said Bradley, author of "Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind."

"Those are the things that you go to war for," said Bradley, whose own 16-year-old daughter went to school in a short-sleeved T-shirt one cold day recently. "Short of that, almost everything else is not really life-threatening. You just counsel one time and when the kid says you're crazy, you get out of their way and let their kneecaps freeze off."

Bradley added that he also secretly stashes an extra hoodie sweatshirt in the trunk of his car for his daughter, just in case.

Shari Haug, an eighth-grade teacher and mother of a 15-year-old in Elmhurst, Ill., gets a double dose of exposed legs between her work and home life. She's learned to keep her mittens on and her mouth shut, even when relatives ask why she can't keep her son, Evan, covered up from the elements.

"I will tell you what I told my own mom when she questions him: He owns jeans. He owns dress pants, and everything he needs for cold weather. And he's 15," Haug said. "At some point, he has to make those decisions about what he is and isn't going to wear."

For now, Evan, a freshman who usually walks or bikes to school but gets rides when it's unusually cold, has decided that shorts are his favorite. Preferably nylon basketball shorts in navy blue or black. Never in neon colors, he said.

"Jeans were kind of holding me back, so I started wearing shorts," said Evan, who occasionally feels numbness in his knees from the habit. "It's nice and warm in the school, so there's no reason to wear jeans."

On the Northwestern University campus, Rachel Nussbaum shakes her head at the sight of her classmates, typically young men, wearing athletic shorts on the way to class.

As co-editor in chief of Stitch Magazine, the university's student-run fashion publication, Nussbaum can relate to the feelings of resistance people feel after months of freezing weather. But there's a more stylish way to do it, Nussbaum insists.

"I think that long underwear is definitely picking up speed as a trend, as a coping mechanism," Nussbaum said. "It can be done really well if you layer right, get all your bases and skin covered. It can have a fashionable look."

In that spirit, Andrea Kang, a 21-year-old senior at Northwestern, wore shorts and short skirts with knee-high socks and tights throughout the winter of below-normal temperatures.

"I'm just super-ready for it to finally become warm," Kang said. "This is one way of me kind of protesting."

Maureen Reedy has pleaded with her son, Matt, to put his pants on all winter: What if the car breaks down and we're stranded? And don't you just feel cold?

But ultimately, she knows her son, a good student and respectful boy who wrestles on the school team and sings in the school choir, is currently influenced by forces stronger than her parental wisdom.

"He's very well-known for wearing the shorts," Reedy said. "I think he thinks that's the cool little niche that he's got going on."

Ken Henderson, a 28-year-old lawyer who has purposely worn shorts outside this winter, suggests a little empathy.

A member of the Lakeview Polar Bear Club, Henderson was disappointed this year when icy conditions along Lake Michigan forced the group to call off its January plunge — an organized way to do something summery in the winter — for the first time in 10 years.

Since then, wearing shorts, or just forgoing the winter hat, scarf and mittens, has offered a small form of revenge, he said.

"The polo shirts in the closet are going to start calling my name. I'm done with the long sleeves and sweaters," Henderson said. "If it gets above the freezing mark, it's fair game."

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