What's age-appropriate for 13- to 14-year-olds?

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 13–14?

Cognitive development: Teens are perceptive and insightful. They can grasp abstract concepts and consider hypothetical situations. While they can fall for naïve opinions and one-sided arguments, they can think deeply and pick apart and face moral and ethical questions (even if they might not be ready for the answers).

Social and emotional development: Teens are increasingly aware of their feelings and tend to be self-absorbed. They're also intensely interested in/concerned with their peers and what their peers think of them, from their appearance to their actions. They may feel self-conscious about their physical changes, feel pressure to conform to cultural gender norms, and become intolerant of cross-gender mannerisms and behaviors. They continue to shift their focus away from family, and they can be dramatic. Some teens are at risk for developing antisocial behavior. On the plus side, it's easier for kids this age to make ethical decisions, and they're developing their own ideas about social issues -- which they may be excited to discuss.

Physical development: During this period, most kids are going through puberty, though they can be in a wide variety of 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. Teens have the ability to handle more complex issues, but they're also trying on different social personas. Their avatars and screen names can express their inner identity issues, but online anonymity can make teens both brave and mean. (Online life can also become highly sexualized at this age.) Kids this age know right from wrong, but they have to learn how to apply ethical behavior to the internet -- for instance, when it comes to uploading video or photographic content (which becomes big at this age). For teens, texting and instant messaging overtake most other forms of communication. Both of these can be invisible to parents, so it becomes crucial to establish a code of conduct for them. Video chat also needs strong boundaries, as do the videos that kids create and upload. Remind teens that they can untag themselves whenever they're identified, and stress that they need to respect others' privacy as well. Kids this age should be encouraged to balance online social time with offline social time; parents should watch out for screen-addictive behavior replacing real contact.

What's age-appropriate at age 13–14?

  • Educational value: Teens now can glean educational value from less obvious lessons. They can understand that negative situations can be educational, especially in a historical context. Continue to expose teens to a diversity of experiences, including different ethnicity-, race-, and socioeconomic-related situations. It's important for teens to become global citizens. Learning how other societies behave is a critical 21st-century skill.
  • Positive models and messages: Teens can handle exposure to more complex social issues such as wealth, poverty, crime, and racism. It's a time of major changes: Teens may show a lack of respect for authority figures, express anger strongly, suffer peer pressure, and begin experimenting sexually. 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. Talk about how transgender characters in movies and on TV are often the targets of bullying. Although teens are generally pretty good at understanding the plot of a story, it may not occur to them to reflect on subtle themes or messages. Consider asking them what they think the takeaways are and whether they're what the author probably intended.

    Teens are often very aware of social divisions: by clique, neighborhood, race, etc. It's important that they see positive representations of social differences and material that offers insight into conditions experienced by different groups. Look for shows that feature boys and men expressing their emotions in constructive ways, having diverse interests (other than only sex), and being kind or friendly to non-heterosexual characters. Comment positively on healthy, supportive, and fulfilling cross-gender friendships and relationships. As teens watch content that is more adult and play more adult games, they will take in more sexual, racial, and ethnic stereotypes. Be ready to talk about what teens are seeing. Ask (rather than tell) your kid what's problematic about stereotyped or demeaning representations. Encourage them to think about what's realistic and why particular portrayals may be harmful.

  • Violence: Exposure to violent media content can encourage and increase aggressive behavior. More realistic and more interactive forms of media violence such as first-person shooter games may have mostly negative effects. It's appropriate and important to clarify what types of content are acceptable to your family. Teens should avoid content that contains scenes of torture, gratuitous violence, and/or sexualized violence as entertainment (horror and slasher films). Call out such content and discuss why it's problematic. Depictions of sexualized violence are only appropriate if the portrayal emphasizes how destructive such acts are and has a clear, pro-social message. Representations and discussions of violent situations now can be more nuanced, as teens are able to think in abstract and ethical terms. At this age, children can grapple with historical contexts of violence, including violence experienced by particular social groups.

  • Fright: Teens often seek out scary/horror content looking for thrills, particularly when watching as a group, but they can still be frightened and can still have bad dreams. Know your child, talk about scary content they may be watching, and help them make reasonable choices. Teens can experience empathic fear for a character, particularly in content that seems realistic to them. Depictions of sexual threat and rape may be intensely upsetting. Teens may also be more likely to encounter and be upset by news stories, including global threats such as terrorism or climate change. As at all their ages, it is important to listen to your children's concerns rather than mocking or belittling them. If your child does get frightened or upset, coping strategies can include discussion and truthful reassurances as well as a hug and distraction.

  • Sexy stuff: At this age, many teens have matured physically, and some have become sexually active. They can understand a range of sexual behavior, from romantic to violent, so it's critical to talk with them about what they see and think, even though it can be a tough conversation. Teens continue to seek out content about sex and contraception, and they often do so from magazines, films, TV, and online. Provide reliable, accurate information to help prevent confusion and anxiety. Call out and discuss representations that involve pressure/coercion to have sex and/or stalking, particularly if such behavior is presented as romantic and attractive. Ask (rather than tell) your teen why such content is problematic. Content that pairs sex and violence as entertainment is inappropriate and problematic. Be aware of sitcom or film portrayals that normalize constant pursuit of sexual partners or that treat sexual "conquests" as humorous. Avoid or discuss disrespectful portrayals of characters as sexual objects or as sexual aggressors. When teens see something sexual in the media, adults can use it as a way to talk about healthy and responsible sexual behavior. For example, consider (at least occasionally) pointing out instances when characters don't discuss contraception and approving when they do.

  • Language: Teens try out many forms of rebellion. One of the simplest has to do with language they know will drive adults (especially their parents) crazy. They may write it in their texts, post it on their profile pages or blogs, or listen to music with raw lyrics. Each family has different rules about swearing, but it's important for parents to set them. Be sure to explain the difference between cursing and hate speech or anything that demeans others. Race-, gender-, and sexuality-based slurs are not appropriate.

  • Consumerism and commercialism: Adults can help teens understand advertisers' tricks of the trade. Point out product placement in movies, TV shows, apps, and games. Make sure that teens don't click on free online contests or giveaways, since they scrape personal information that can be used to target teens with ads (some are also are full of spyware and malware).

  • Drinking, drugs and smoking: Teens are curious about media with images of smoking, drinking, and substance abuse. Talk to them about how movies and TV portray cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs. Point out the differences between fictional glamour and reality. Many teens start smoking in part because they see their media role models making it look desirable, so they need to hear the truth. Similarly, media content may provide a way to talk about other unhealthy or risky behaviors, such as eating disorders or reckless driving.