How We Rate and Review by Age: 13 Years

Behind the Common Sense Media ratings system

What's age appropriate for a 13-year-old?

The way our kids consume and create media profoundly affects their social, emotional, and physical development. That's why, when we make assessments about age appropriateness, we rely on developmental criteria from some of the nation's leading authorities to determine what content and activities are best suited for each age and stage. Below you will find the developmental guidelines we use in establishing our age ratings and recommendations. But even as we rely on experts, we know that all kids grow and mature differently. Our age-based reviews and ratings are a guide -- but ultimately, you're still the expert when it comes to your kids.

What's going on at age 13

Cognitive development: At this age, teens' thinking begins to include perception and insight. They can grasp more abstract concepts and are capable of thinking of hypothetical situations.

Social and emotional development: Young teens can be very self-absorbed, as they're increasingly aware of their own feelings and are prone to focus on conformity and the importance of appearance -- not unexpected, given that acceptance by their peers continues to be of utmost importance. But at this age they're also capable of ethical decision making. Expect a wide variety of mood swings -- in rapid succession.

Physical development: At 13, most kids are going through puberty, though they can be in a wide variety of different stages. The accompanying hormonal imbalances can trigger strong emotions that kids don't always understand. Sex experimentation can begin, and body consciousness is a big issue.

Technological/digital savviness: Teens are technologically savvy but not emotionally mature, so their skills outpace their judgment. It's important to drive safety basics home: No password exchanges, no clicking on contests and revealing personal information, etc. Also, at 13, teens are no longer subject to COPPA, which means they can visit websites -- and Facebook is the big one -- without their parents' knowledge or permission. If teens have a profile on Facebook (or another social network), adults can prepare them by discussing what "friending" is (at this age, all teens should "friend" their parents), explaining how to set privacy controls to their strongest settings, and making clear what is and isn't appropriate to post. It's age-appropriate for teens to explore their identity online, but they shouldn't use anonymity to hide. Emphasize the importance of being a positive force online via flagging, untagging, and standing up for people who are being harassed.

What's age appropriate at age 13

Educational value: Teens can now glean educational value from less straightforward situations, and gaining an understanding of negative situations can be educational -- especially in an historical context. Continue to expose teens to a diversity of experience, ethnicity, race, and socio-economic situations.
Positive messages: Teens can handle exposure to more complex social issues -- like wealth, poverty, crime, and racism. Also pertinent are authority issues, anger, and peer pressure, as well as sexual initiation issues and mores (but no explicit content).
Positive role models: As young teens try to fit in with their peers, they may be struggling with figuring out how to make good choices and defining what ethical behavior is. Use media characters and situations as a starting point for discussing appropriate behavior and what makes choices right or wrong. Anti-social or discriminatory behavior should have consequences and be discussed.
Violence and scariness: PG-13-rated movies and T-rated games carry much more violent content. Young teens may now be able to handle more depictions of non-graphic violence, but all violence still needs to show consequences. And even if kids enjoy light horror and/or suspense, keep an eye on how they react to such portrayals, and discuss emotions as necessary. Scenes of torture and gratuitous violence aren't age appropriate.
Sexy stuff: Sexual situations carry a lot of weight, as many teens are starting to experiment themselves. So while light sexual humor (mostly body part-related) and making out are age appropriate, sex that's gratuitous or that contains violence of any kind isn't. All more serious/advanced sexual behavior should be by responsible adults and have consequences. When teens see something sexual in the media, you can use it as a jumping-off point for discussions about healthy and responsible sexual behavior.
Language: By 13, teens can handle moderate profanity, such as "Jesus" (used as an exclamation), "piss," "ass," and "s--t."
Consumerism/commercialism: Teens may enjoy learning more about the tricks that advertisers use to make viewers want to buy their products. Talk to them about lighting, music, camera angles, etc., and even make it a contest to find all the ways that the director of the commercial is trying to make viewers want what's for sale. See if kids want to create their own commercials for products that they enjoy. Parents and teens can also discuss the food advertised in commercials and clarify their own family's food choices.
Drinking, drugs and smoking: Any underage substance use needs to show explicit consequences. Adults abusing substances should also face consequences. Discuss acceptable behavior with your teens, and make a clear distinction between the reality and media glamour of substance abuse.
Online privacy and safety: As teens wander into sites not protected by COPPA (Child Online Privacy and Protection Act), the responsibility for staying safe and private shifts to the teen, not the organization. All teens must be grounded in a deep understanding of privacy settings and the personal power to protect not only their own privacy but that of their friends -- especially when it comes to forwarding anything compromising or embarrassing, as that will (correctly) be called cyberbullying.