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Why don’t some teens dress for the cold?

WATCH ABOVE: It's been bitterly cold in Edmonton for days now but you wouldn't know it if you were gauging the temperature at a high school. Kim Smith looks into why teenagers don't always dress for the elements.

The bitter cold that many parts of Canada have been experiencing could be creating frustration and conflict for parents with teenagers.

Why do some teens refuse to dress for the elements? And as parents, when is it worth the fight?

We took our questions to registered psychologist Kimberly Knull, at Momentum Walk-In Counselling in Edmonton, to find out how to deal with teens who don’t always dress appropriately for the winter.

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Kim Smith, Global News: In your expertise, why do some teens refuse to dress for the cold?

Kimberly Knull, registered psychologist: Teenagers are at a place where, developmentally, they rely so much on their peer group for their self-worth. If they see their friends not doing up their jackets, or wearing running shoes instead of winter boots, they follow the trend.

READ MORE: Is it OK to swear around kids?

Another phenomenon that happens with teenagers is they actually feel that people are always looking at them. That’s just a normal developmental stage where they feel like if they have a pimple that everyone can see it. Or if they’re sad that everyone knows about it. It’s just a brain stage that they go through. So I think they feel under scrutiny a lot and then try and fit in with their peers by doing similar things.

Kim Smith: When is it worth having the struggle with teens to try and convince them to dress warmly?

Kimberly Knull: I’m even having that struggle with my elementary school kids. Number one: education. So letting kids know what the temperatures are and what the risk factors are. I know it’s really important to let kids know that their skin can freeze in under a minute (in temperatures like Edmonton has been experiencing). They may not have that information because they may not have that life experience.

WATCH: Extreme cold hazards: wind chill, frostbite and hypothermia

Extreme cold hazards: wind chill, frostbite and hypothermia
Extreme cold hazards: wind chill, frostbite and hypothermia

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However, there needs to be — within reason — a little bit of letting kids test it out. Maybe ask them to put some mittens in their coat pockets. But if they refuse to wear them when they’re going out the door, at least the minute they’re cold, they can stick them on. You really have to balance safety with letting them try things out on their own. It’s really an individual family’s choice on that.

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Kim Smith: So developmentally, this is a phase that we have to wait for teens to grow out of?

Kimberly Knull: My kids are not quite teenagers yet and we’re already having these conversations because we definitely see kids in the neighbourhood and kids at school who, on days like today, are wearing hoodies and no socks in their shoes. We talk about the dangers physically of this bitter cold.

If you can have those conversations in terms of safety, that’s really important. Even just sending hats or scarves in the backpack, so they can wear them if they need to, is really helpful. There can be an element of letting kids try it on their own and seeing if they can dress themselves appropriately. A big part of it is giving them the information they need to make a good decision.


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