LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
Today in our personal health segment, winter myths revisited. First, why kids hate to wear coats, and will going without coats make them sick? Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.
ALLISON AUBREY reporting:
One of the most logical things a person can do before going outside on a cold winter day is to put on a coat. If this sounds like a statement of fact, talk to teenagers.
Mr. KENDRICK MCCLOUD(ph) (Teen, Silver Springs, Maryland): There's nothing in the world that could make me wear a coat.
Mr. KARAN DEVORE(ph) (Teen, Silver Springs, Maryland): It's not cool to wear coats.
Mr. MCCLOUD: I don't really like coats, they're uncomfortable.
AUBREY: Kendrick McCloud and Karan Devore are 16-year-olds from Silver Springs, Maryland. They say they prefer to wear loose layers on this 35 degree day. They put cotton button downs over sweatshirts.
Mr. MCCLOUD: We, like, walked to the mall, but it wasn't really that cold today.
AUBREY: Kendrick says his choice of clothing is reasonable. Girls in his class, he says, walk around in flip flops and tops that expose their belly buttons. Fashion trends may come and go, but Karan says his mother's expectations about bundling up hold steady.
Mr. DEVORE: Yeah, she's like, Oh, you're going to sick and we're going to have to pay medical bills, and stuff. I just say whatever. Put it on and then take it off later.
AUBREY: When she's not around?
Mr. DEVORE: Yeah, when she's not around.
AUBREY: Karan says he hasn't been sick so far this year. He doesn't buy the myth that being cold can give you a cold. And pediatrician Lynne Wagoner says, in this instance, the science seems to be on his side.
Dr. LYNNE WAGONER (Pediatrician, Maryland): A winter virus is not caused by going out in the cold air. It's a viral transmission.
AUBREY: Meaning the way you catch a cold is by coming into close proximity to someone who already has a cold. Acknowledging this does not stop most parents from acting on instinct. Bundling kids up, satisfies a deep seated parental impulse to protect, and culturally, it's considered the right thing to do.
Ms. COURTNEY MURPHY(ph) (Mother, Maryland): Babies are swaddled all the time, and we wrap up in blankets.
AUBREY: Mother Courtney Murphey says old ladies in grocery stores will stop you if your toddler isn't bundled. But what Murphy's learning with her own 2-year-old is that the coat revolt starts early. Toddlers throw tantrums over bundling up and by kindergarten...
ELLEN (Kindergartner, Maryland): I don't like putting on my coat.
AUBREY: Six year old Ellen says coats are too tight and make her hot. Ellen's mom, Ann Mosier (ph), says her younger daughter is even more challenging.
Ms. ANN MOSIER (Mother, Maryland): She's an escape artist. If you put, if you manage to get the coat on her, it will off before you're out of the car.
AUBREY: Pediatricians say kids who pull this stunt aren't just trying to be difficult. The issue is immature sensory processing. Many toddlers and preschoolers would rather be as they came into the world: naked. And as they adapt to the world of clothing, extra layers, particularly coats, add to their heightened perception of constriction.
Ms. WAGONER: And it feels like they're being really tightly bound. And it feels bad.
AUBREY: There's another legitimate reason that kids ditch their coats. Six-year-old Ellen says parents don't seem to get it.
ELLEN: They don't understand that kids don't notice that they're really cold because we're running around, crazy.
AUBREY: They're comfortable because they're active, just as an adult taking a job in cold weather doesn't need as many layers as someone who's just standing around. So, when it comes to forcing a coat on your kids:
Ms. WAGONER: They really don't need it, probably, as much as we all fear they do, to be totally bundled.
AUBREY: Of course this advice does not apply in extreme temperatures. Sometimes parents must take charge.
Ms. LISE ELLIOT (Neuroscientist): But, growing up also demands increasing independence.
AUBREY: Scientist and mom, Lise Elliot, who's written widely on early child development, says, watch what happens when kids make their own decisions.
Ms. ELLIOT: Kids learn great through experience. Logic is a great teacher, and if they choose not to put that coat on or those snow pants and they go out and they get really wet and really chilly, chances are next time they might think twice about it.
AUBREY: Backing off does not come naturally, but with coats, mom Ann Mosier says, in mild winter weather, it makes sense.
Ms. MOSIER: If your fingers are starting to turn blue, then we'll talk. But, it's not a battle worth fighting.
AUBREY: Common cold researchers may revive this debate over the importance of covering up. In one experiment, scientists in the UK found a link between cold feet and catching a cold.
Allison Aubrey, NPR News, Washington.
WERTHEIMER: You can read more about the study of cold feet at npr.org.