How We Rate and Review

Behind the Common Sense Media ratings system

Common Sense Media publishes independent ratings and reviews for nearly everything kids want to watch, read, play, and learn. We never receive payments or other consideration for our reviews. Our unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and are not influenced by the creators or by our funders.

Because media profoundly affects our kids' social, emotional, and physical development, Common Sense Media rates media based on age appropriateness and learning potential. We rely on developmental criteria from some of the nation's leading authorities to determine what content is appropriate for which ages. And research on how kids learn from media and technology informs our learning ratings. Our goal is to give you trustworthy information so that you can decide what works for your family. We know every family and every kid is different -- but all families need information to make great media choices.

Understanding our ratings

For each title, we indicate the age for which a title is either appropriate or most relevant (as in, most likely your kids will see it) and assign an ON (age appropriate), PAUSE (somewhat edgy for the age), or OFF (not age appropriate) rating.

ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
PAUSE: Know your child; some content
may not be right for some kids.
OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids any age.

Additionally, for apps, video games, and websites, we indicate the learning potential of a title in terms of whether it's BEST, VERY GOOD, GOOD, or FAIR for learning -- or not for learning. Update: In March 2013, we expanded our learning rating scale from three to five points based on feedback from our users and advisors and to better differentiate products. Tell us what you think. (See below for more details on learning ratings.)

Best: Really engaging, excellent learning approach.
Very Good: Engaging, very good learning approach.
Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
Fair: Somewhat engaging, OK learning approach.
Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

We help you decide: What’s appropriate at every age

Our age-rating bar quickly tells you whether something is right for a given age. This is great if you have more than one child.

We call out the minimum age for which the content is appropriate or relevant. Sometimes a movie or a game is right for an 11-year-old, and sometimes it's something an 11-year-old wants to see or play. Not necessarily the same thing! Either way, we bring it to your attention. Each of our ratings and reviews is based on fundamental child development principles. Select your child’s age to learn more:

Why we rate something ON, PAUSE, or OFF for an age

Right below our ratings, we have a list of specific content categories that offer in-depth information on each title. Each category is rated on a scale of 0-5; if no dots are filled in, that means the content is either not applicable or doesn't rate on our scale. If three are highlighted, that means there’s a fair amount of that type of content, and five highlighted dots indicates that there's lots of it.

Why we rate something best, good, fair, or not for learning

We look at several aspects of each app, video game, and website we review to determine its learning rating. Titles that score high on many of the dimensions are rated Best for Learning; those that score low receive a Not for Learning rating.

Dimension Sample Criteria
Engagement Is it engaging, fun, absorbing?
Learning approach Is the learning central and not secondary to the experience? Is it relevant and transferable to real life? Does it build concepts and deep understanding? Do kids get exposure to a diversity of people and situations?
Feedback Do kids get feedback about their performance? Does their experience (e.g., game play) adjust based on what and how they do?
Support and extensions Are there opportunities and resources to support, strengthen, and extend learning? Is the title accessible to a variety of audiences?

Is it any good?

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

The best!
Really good
Just fine
Don't bother

What parents need to know

This is a short guide to all the essential information that parents need to know to make a decision quickly -- or manage a decision that’s already been made.

What's the story?/What's it about?

A brief summary of what the experience is like. For movies, DVD, books, and music, this is a plot summary. For games, apps, and websites, it's a description of what happens in the course of interacting with the title.

Explore, discuss, enjoy

Our kids are really influenced by the everything they see, hear, and interact with. We offer families discussion starters and offline activity ideas to help them think about and extend the messages and content of the media they consume.

What kids can learn

This is a brief summary of the subjects and skills that kids could learn. It gives parents, teachers, and kids the essential information they need to decide about a title’s learning potential.


Subjects and skills

Looking for engaging games that require critical thinking skills? Apps that exercise creative muscles? Websites that encourage vocabulary building through collaboration? We analyze titles for the subjects and skills they cover, and offer these details in a simple, searchable format.

Subjects include both academic areas and extracurricular activities.

  • Language & reading: Reading, writing, listening, and speaking in English or other languages
  • Math: Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus
  • Science: Physics, astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology
  • Social studies: History, geography, government
  • Arts: Visual arts, dance, theater, music, film
  • Hobbies: Developing areas of personal interest and passion

Skills include key skills that kids need to think, live, work -- and succeed -- in the world of tomorrow.

  • Thinking & reasoning: Logic, strategy, problem-solving, thinking critically and analytically
  • Creativity: Developing novel solutions, making new creations, innovation
  • Self-direction: Motivation, taking initiative, effort, personal growth, learning how to learn
  • Emotional development: Self-awareness, handling stress, developing resilience, empathy, perspective-taking
  • Communication: Convey messages effectively using multiple forms of expression
  • Collaboration: Teamwork, respecting other viewpoints, cooperation, meeting challenges together
  • Responsibility & ethics: Integrity, respect, embracing differences, learning from consequences
  • Tech skills: Digital creation, evaluating media, social media, using and applying technology
  • Health & fitness: Movement, fitness, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, physical and mental health

How kids can learn

Curious about how a particular app, game, or website can help kids learn? We tell you about the degree to which titles are fun and engaging, designed well for learning, and provide opportunities to support and strengthen learning.

How parents can help

Like any teaching tool, the learning potential of a media or technology title depends on who's using it, and how their learning is being supported by the teachers, parents, and friends in their lives. This section provides tips about how to extend learning to real life and offers ideas about what types of kids would benefit from the title.