Checklist for Measuring Age-Appropriate Media for Children

Children take in a variety of media each day

Kids are exposed to all kinds of media each day.

Children are exposed to different kinds of media every day. TV shows, movies, YouTube videos, music, and even the ads they see flash across their smartphone while playing a game are all different types of media that many children take in on a regular basis. As a parent, how can you be sure that all of the media that your child is consuming–consciously or not–is age-appropriate?

While you might not be able to be there to monitor what your child is absorbing every minute of the day, there are ways to measure how suitable different types of media are for children and shield your children from what they might not be old enough to see yet. This checklist can help you measure whether different types of media are age-appropriate for your children.

  • Have you watched the show, listened to the music, or played the game your children want to check out? If you have, you'll be more prepared to decide whether you find the media in question age-appropriate for your children. If not, consider doing some research about the media in question to give you a better understanding of what your children will experience when engaged with it.
  • What's the rating of the media your children are taking in? Many TV shows, movies, music, and games come with ratings, but other resources can help you get an idea of how age-appropriate different types of media are. Common Sense Media is one such resource that publishes its own rating determinations for different types of media and can be a great place to look for a second opinion.
  • Consider the moral or significance of the media they are being exposed to. Does the message of the show they're watching or game they're playing align with the values you're working to instill in your children? 
  • Are stereotypes being upheld in the media your children are consuming? Stereotypes are portrayed in many different shows and books, but will your child be able to interpret what they're watching? If you don't think they will understand, you may consider shielding your children from it until they can make sense of what it is they're being exposed to.
  • Will your children understand what's going on in the story or game? For example, if one of your children is very young, they might not know how fantasy works in every show they watch or game they play. Be careful not to scare or confuse them too much by exposing them to something they might not be prepared for.
  • Is the language being used in the song or movie age-appropriate for your children? Are there innuendos being used that might go over their heads or be inappropriate for them to experience now?
  • What does your co-parent think? Have a discussion with your co-parent about the media you both feel comfortable allowing your children to consume. You may have the same feelings about what's appropriate and what's not, but if you don't, it's still important to know where you each stand on this issue so you have a better idea of what your children may be viewing when with their other parent. It may even be helpful to document any big decisions you make about age-appropriate media for your children in a place where both you and your co-parent can reference it whenever necessary. If concerns arise, bring those to the attention of your family law or mental health professionals to find a way to resolve this matter. 
  • The truth is that you might not be able to screen every type of media that your children are exposed to. However, you can instill values and guidelines in your children that help them to screen media on their own and know what may or may not be appropriate to watch, play, or listen to. To do this, give your children some insight into what is and what isn't appropriate for them right now. You may not have to go into great detail as to why something isn't appropriate, but try to give them more of an explanation other than just saying "no."

Measuring age-appropriate media for your children is a process that will evolve as your children grow and mature. All in all, remember to keep their needs in mind as you expose or prevent your children from taking in different types of media. They may not need to be exposed to a certain song or film today, but it could be important for them to experience these things in the future. Work with your co-parent to decide what your children should be exposed to now and what should be held off until the future.